Former Congressman Matt Salmon was scheduled to speak during an energy symposium last month in Albuquerque, N.M.
Before the session began, the moderator, ABC newsman Sam Donaldson, noted that Salmon had taken the somewhat unusual tack of keeping his word to constituents about a voluntary term limit.
Salmon ran for office in Arizona on the pledge that he would leave at the end of his third term. Then, when the time came in 2000, he stepped aside. The usual course would have been to weasel out of his pledge and run again.
"Do you regret keeping your word?" Donaldson asked.
"I don’t regret keeping my word, but I regret giving it," Salmon replied.
Salmon figured he had guided meaningful legislation through Congress, particularly during his third term. There was more work to accomplish, but he entrusted others to finish the job.
"For me, it really got down to that I never really figured out a good way to come home and tell my kids that it’s OK to break your word," he said.
One of the people Salmon entrusted to finish his work was his successor, fellow Republican Jeff Flake, who similarly pledged to honor a self-imposed term limit.
Flake won a third term Nov. 2. He officially weaseled out of his pledge with a three paragraph release Friday.
"When I first ran for Congress in 2000, I said that I would serve just three terms. While I did see the potential downside to self-imposed term limits at that time, I thought that the pluses outweighed the minuses. I was wrong," Flake stated in the release.
Here are the highlights of Flakes’s new analysis of term limits:
On the plus side: A self-imposed term limit opened the Mesa-based congressional seat for him in 2000.
On the minus side: A self-imposed term limit would have opened the seat for someone else in 2006.
Salmon, who is seeking the chairmanship of the state Republican Party, was careful not to criticize Flake about the decision. However, Salmon said he discovered certain advantages to his own self-imposed term limit.
It forced him to learn the nuances of Washington and pursue his agenda with haste.
"I don’t agree with people who say you can’t be effective by only staying X amount of terms," he said. "You can be very effective."
Salmon used his time to shepherd Amy’s Law, a gettough measure for murders, rapists and molesters. He pushed for the Do Not Call bill, which passed after he left.
Furthermore, he was able to support measures to privatize Social Security and to create federal tax credits for education, which initially were considered political poison.
"As a term-limited guy, my thought all along was, ‘OK, well, if the people turn me out one term early, it’s not the end of the world.’ It liberated me," he said.