In 2010, more than a few candidates told voters they wouldn't stay in Congress long if they were elected. With 2016 fast approaching, the first of those term-limit pledges are starting to come due, heralding the return of a long congressional tradition: reneging on term-limit pledges.
Rep. Dan Benishek, a third-term Republican from Michigan, announced Tuesday that he would seek reelection in 2016—even though when he first ran for Congress, he said he'd be retiring by next year. He made his move after dancing around the issues for weeks. "Right now, he is focused on veterans' issues," Benishek spokesman Philip Christofanelli told National Journal last week, "and any future political decisions will be made in due time."
Pressed to explain what decision had to be made, given Benishek's 2010 term-limit pledge, Christofanelli repeated the same statement. But on Tuesday, Benishek told a Michigan radio station he would try to stay in Congress. In a statement, Benishek said he "recognize[s] this conflicts with past statements I made when first running for office. "¦ I believe I bring a unique perspective to overcoming those challenges as well as others facing families throughout the 1st District, and my hope is voters will agree."
Benishek is far from the first member of Congress to go back on a promise to retire early, and he wouldn't be alone in winning reelection in spite of it. Benishek had very close races in 2010 and 2012, but he won his 2014 campaign fairly easily against retired Maj. Gen. Jerry Cannon, who is considering another run. Another Democrat, state Rep. Scott Dianda, is also considering waging a campaign.
One of Benishek's swing-district GOP colleagues has already made good on his own self-imposed term limit. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania won't run again in 2016 despite the pleadings of numerous Republicans in his district. And a few of Benishek's colleagues from the congressional class of 2010 never got the chance to be tested on term limits.
Allen West planned to serve no more than eight years but ended up with two after he lost to Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy in 2012. Former Reps. Jon Runyan and Tim Griffin decided to retire from Congress after only two terms each. And Rep. Chris Gibson said in early January that he won't run again in 2016, meaning he'll only get three-quarters of the way to the eight-year maximum he set for himself. Gibson is now exploring a gubernatorial bid in New York.
Over the next few years, a few more of Benishek's fellow members from the 2010 class will have their pledges tested. Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Wis., said he'd leave after eight years. Reps. Andy Harris and David Schweikert said 12 years was enough for them when they first ran.
Meanwhile, numerous incoming members of Congress have signed the U.S. Term Limits pledge over the past few years. While freshman Rep. Gary Palmer, R-Ala., committed himself to serving no more than five terms in Congress, he also signed the pledge to support a constitutional amendment limiting House members to three terms and Senate members to two. Eight of Palmer's fellow freshman Republican colleagues also signed the pledge, but we'll have to wait until 2020 to see if any of them decide to apply it to themselves.