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Political scientist: Don’t expect congressional term limits any time soon

Bill Martens, Wisconsin Public Radio

A constitutional amendment establishing term limits for member of Congress is “unlikely” to pass, according to a De Pere-based political scientist.

The issue came up this week when one of the Republican candidates for Wisconsin’s 6th Congressional district wrote a column about his support for such an amendment.

State Rep. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, wrote that all members of Congress should follow the Founding Fathers’ example of being citizen legislators and serve for a limited term.

“The people we elect to Congress forget where they came from and the people they represent far too often,” Stroebel wrote. “The current system isn’t working and things must change.”

The problem, according to Charley Jacobs, an assistant professor of political science at St. Norbert College, is that elected officials like to be in charge.

“I’m not sure that members of Congress are going to vote a constitutional amendment to limit their own power and their own terms in office,” he said.

Jacobs referred to one of the points of the Republican Party’s Contract with America in 1994.  It called for 12-year term limits, but failed to pass the House.  In 2006 -- 12 years later -- Jacobs said that 25 of the members who said that they would step aside after a dozen years continued to serve.

“Once you get in power, it’s hard to give it up,” he said.

“Unless there is some citizen movement at the national level -- and there is a vehicle you can do that by trying to call a constitutional convention -- I don’t really see (a constitutional amendment) happening,” Jacobs said.

Shortly after Stroebel’s column was published, state Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-Campbellsport, released a statement pledging to serve no more than five two-year terms. Hours later, state Sen. Joe Liebham, R-Sheboygan, issued a release vowing to serve no more than six terms.  Stroebel then said in a statement that he had no intentions of serving more than five terms.

Stroebel, Grothman, Liebham and Tom Denow of Oshkosh are all running for the seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Tom Petri, who is retiring after serving 18 terms in Congress.

The primary election is Aug. 12.  The winner will face Winnebago County Executive Mark Harris in the Nov. 4 general election.