Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah - a longtime advocate of limiting terms in Congress - now says that despite press reports to the contrary, he never personally promised to limit his own service to no more than 12 years.
He says he has merely supported limiting service for all members to 12 years - without putting the limit on himself.That difference means he technically broke no promise to voters when he said this week that he does not feel bound by earlier stances to retire after his 12th year in 1992 at the end of his upcoming term.
When the Deseret News earlier this week asked him if he felt obligated by his earlier "pledge not to run for more than 12 years" in office, he said no. He did not at that time say he had never made such a pledge until after stories on his comments appeared.
Hansen sent a light-hearted note to the Deseret News offering to buy a dinner if it could find he personally had ever vowed to serve no more than 12 years. "Where is the pledge or promise by myself to serve no more than 12 years in Congress that everyone's writing about?" he wrote.
Meanwhile, Hansen also wrote a letter to the editor of a newspaper on Capitol Hill - "Roll Call" - saying it too had incorrectly said he had vowed not to serve for more than 12 years. The paper had also added it expected Hansen to keep his word "because he is a Mormon."
Hansen wrote, "Should term limitation become law, I'll be the first one out the door at the end of the next Congress. But term limitation is an idea which will only work if it is applied equally to all members of Congress."
That's because power in Congress is based on seniority, and a state suffers if its members stay a short time compared to members from other states.
But Roll Call attacked Hansen in an editorial, writing: "We're more charitable, but some might call it hypocrisy. We referring to the disturbing tendency of members of Congress to advocate 12-year term limits while serving much longer than that themselves. A letter . . . from Rep. James Hansen, R-Utah, is a case in point."
The Deseret News also contacted Hansen's most recent opponent, Democrat Kenley Brunsdale, who has already vowed to run again in 1992, about whether his opposition research had turned up a pledge by Hansen not to serve for more than 12 years.
It had not. The closest it came was a column by Hansen on June 14, 1982, about limiting terms. In it, he said serving 12 years in Congress may be too much, and "I would personally support limiting service in the House to eight years."
Brunsdale also found a 1984 Salt Lake Tribune story saying Hansen "said he envisions serving another two or three terms but believes in the theory advanced in a bill he is sponsoring that would limit congressmen to six terms."
Hansen has co-sponsored bills to limit terms in every Congress that he has served. He is also a co-founder and vice chairman of the Coalition On Limiting Terms.
All that evoked an attack from Brunsdale. "Jim and George Bush have the same problem. They want people to read their lips but forget what they say. The only real thing he stands for it to get re-elected."
Hansen is not the only Utah politician who has taken such stances. Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, is also an advocate of limiting service in Congress to 12 years, even though he's been in the Senate for 16.