Dear Jim Hansen:
I am writing an open letter to you. It's to help figure out why you decided to claim - incorrectly - that you never promised to limit yourself to 12 years in the House, despite your longtime support of such a limit on Congress as a whole.I was surprised when you told me in an interview that you now feel free to run for a seventh term in 1992. That's despite bills you have sponsored for years to limit House service to 12 years. And you are also vice chairman of the Coalition on Limiting Terms.
To make sure I understood you, I asked if you felt that way despite your pledges to serve for no more than 12 years. You said yes. You did not then claim that you had never made such a promise about your own service. That would come later.
Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, also supports limiting service in Congress to 12 years, although he's been there for 16 so far. He also has claimed that it makes no sense to limit himself as long as the rest of Congress does not. That stand has not hurt him politically.
But after my story and others appeared, you made some puzzling statements.
You wrote me and "Roll Call" - a newspaper on Capitol Hill - claiming you never made a pledge to personally limit your own terms. You also made me a bet. Let me quote it:
"Where is the pledge or promise by myself to serve no more than 12 years in Congress that everyone's writing about? I think we should discuss this over dinner, Lee. Let's go to Hugo's at the top of the Hyatt Regency. And if you can show me such a pledge or a promise, I'll even buy! But if you don't produce this pledge, as I know you won't, then you can pay for the dinner!"
I wrote another story about your new claim. At that time, I couldn't find an exact pledge by you to limit your own service.
The closest I could find was a statement from a column you wrote in 1982 saying that maybe even a 12-year limit in Congress was too generous, and you added, "I would personally support limiting service in the House to eight years."
It looked like I might have to buy you dinner. But then Tom Gorey, the Washington correspondent for the Salt Lake Tribune, came to the rescue.
He swore that he remembered you making such a pledge to him. And his newspaper's library found it. In a 1983 story - when you were in just your second term - Gorey asked if you would step aside after 12 years.
You replied, "Absolutely . . . I would never go over a bill that I have put so much emphasis on. I think I'd be the world's biggest hypocrite."
That all brings up the question of why did you, especially at this early date, even bring up the idea of not being bound personally by your proposed term limits, and then making it a bigger deal by claiming incorrectly you never promised to limit yourself? After all, you have said you are undecided about whether to run in 1992 for governor, the Senate (if Garn retires) or re-election to the House. A fourth option you have listed is to retire.
Your actions suggest you have likely ruled out the options of retiring or seeking the governorship. Term limitation probably would not become an issue if you run for the Senate because all term-limitation bills I have ever seen would allow 12 years in the House plus 12 years in the Senate.
That all suggests that you are probably leaning toward running for a seventh term in the House. And maybe it suggests you want to get controversy about possible hypocrisy out of the way early.
Maybe we should talk about this over dinner. Let's say at Hugo's - especially since you offered to buy.
Sincerely, Lee Davidson