Merrill Cook and his Independent Party will continue their citizen initiative petition drive to put term limits and runoff elections on the Nov. 8 ballot, even though Cook said two months ago he wouldn't.

Cook said Thursday that he can't trust Utah lawmakers to keep their promise on term limits, so his citizen initiative effort will continue.Cook, who is running for the 2nd Congressional District seat, started the initiative term-limits petition more than a year ago. He amended the petition to include runoff elections last year.

House Speaker Rob Bishop, R-Brigham City, said earlier this year that he believes Cook's efforts at term limits would succeed. He and other Republican leaders, while opposing term limits per se, agreed to sponsor a more lenient term-limitation bill during the 1994 Legislature, in part to head off Cook's effort. Bishop worked with Cook to craft a bill that Cook could support (see box), and it passed.

"I was sincere in agreeing" with Bishop's bill, Cook said Thursday. But statements made by Sen. Lane Beattie, R-Bountiful, during the final night of the session turned Cook around. Beattie, who just this week was elected president of the Senate, says he spoke from the floor about his personal dislike of term limits.

Beattie said he added that if term limits were to become part of Utah law, he favored Bishop's bill (which he co-sponsored) instead of Cook's petition. Cook says Beattie then privately told some legislators that the Bishop bill could be changed or repealed in the 1995 session, after the 1994 election.

Beattie denies that. He says Cook purposely is misinterpreting what he said - which was that the new term-limit law is just a law and could be changed or repealed at any time.

In March, Cook sent out press releases asking Beattie to call him and promise not to repeal the law. He threatened to continue his petition drive if Beattie didn't. Beattie never called Cook, but he did tell the Deseret News that he won't move to repeal the law as long as citizens want it.

Put off by Beattie's "refusal to make such a commitment to me," Cook says he told party supporters a week ago "to go full steam ahead with gathering the signatures. We'll get this on the ballot, I promise, and we all know it will be adopted."

That's probably bad news for the re-election campaign of GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch. Polling by the Deseret News and KSL-TV shows that Utahns overwhelmingly support term limits, especially for U.S. senators and representatives. And an August 1993 poll by Dan Jones & Associates shows that 96 percent of Utahns think U.S. senators should be limited to 18 years or less in office.

Hatch has served 18 years and is asking Utahns for six more. Democrats have let it be known that their main argument against Hatch's reelection will be longevity in office. Their slogan: "24 Years Is Too Long, Down The Hatch."

Having a term-limitation initiative on the ballot could pose a dilemma for would-be Hatch supporters. They'd have to vote to put a man in office 24 years, then turn the ballot page and vote to limit his term to just 12 years.

"I hope to heck (Cook's term limit) is not on the ballot," Bruce Hough, state GOP chairman, told a University of Utah audience this week. Hough says the initiative is just a personal effort by Cook to help himself. The runoff election section of Cook's petition would apply to Nov. 8's general election. So, if Cook finished second in the 2nd District race (as he finished second in the 1992 governor's race) and the winner didn't get more than 50 percent of the vote (which would be likely in that scenario), then district voters would have to come back and vote again to determine who would go to the U.S. House.

"Our decision to continue the petition has nothing to do with runoffs," said Cook. "First, we're going ahead because of threats to repeal (Bishop's) term-limitation law. Second, I really think I will win the (Nov. 8) election." As the winner, who may not get 50 percent of the vote in a tough three-way race, "I would probably have to face a runoff election, not good for me as a candidate, but very good for the citizens. The independent or third-party movement will only grow across this state and nation and we need to have runoff elections so the (officeholder) is elected by a majority - not minority - of the voters," Cook said.



Term-limit tussle

Bishop's law limits federal, state terms to 12 years

All state and federal elected officials limited to 12 years. Term limits start in 1994, so no one obliged to retire until 2006. Term limits for U.S. senators and representatives from Utah won't apply until 24 other states also adopt them, so limits for U.S. senators and House members from Utah may not take effect for years to come, if ever. No term limits for elected county officials.

Cook's petition limits all but U.S. senators to 8 years

All county, state and U.S. House members limited to eight years in office. U.S. senators limited to 12 years (two six-year terms). Law doesn't apply to current officeholders, so county, state and U.S. House members not limited until 2002; U.S. senators not limited until 2006. Runoff elections required in all races (city, county and state) if no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote.