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Stearns seeks re-election despite term limits pledge

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ST PETERSBURG -- A GOP representative who promised years ago to push for term-limits in his initial congressional campaign is again seeking office, hoping to claim a 13th term in the nation's capital.

Rep. Cliff Stearns of Florida's sixth congressional district in north-central Florida, made limiting the amount of time Congress members can serve a constant trope of his early legislative career, beginning with a stern pledge in the 1988 general election.

ÒI believe in term limits and I'm going to abide by it myself. I plan to be out of the House after 12 years,Ó Stearns told the St. Petersburg Times in 1988.

"I believe in term limits and I'm going to abide by it myself. I plan to be out of the House after 12 years," Stearns told the St. Petersburg Times in 1988.

He later reiterated to the Gainesville Sun in 1995 that he would serve "no more than 12 years, even if Congress does not adopt its own term-limit restrictions."

Stearns added in that 1995 interview that "to give it your all for 12 years takes a pretty good effort."

Stearns was also a proud supporter of the Republican Party's Contract with America in 1994, spearheaded by then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Section 10 of the contract included the "Citizen Legislature Act," a bill that would introduce a 12-year limit on the terms of House representatives.

The bill was never brought to the floor.

An extensive search of Stearns' congressional website back to October 2008, yields no mention of imposing or honoring term limits for Washington D.C. legislators.

"Rep. Stearns supports term limits that apply to everyone because term limits would only work if it applies to all members," his office wrote in an email to Florida Watchdog.

"Stearns was an original cosponsor of H.J.Res. 73, which would have imposed term limits, and Stearns voted for it. However, the measure did not pass. Stearns also voted for H.J. Res. 2, another piece of term-limit legislation, but again this measure did not pass."

Stearns will seek re-election in the 3rd District rather than challenge current 5th District and fellow GOP Rep. Richard Nugent in the Republican primary Aug. 14.

"He tries to tell you with a straight face that he's still in favor of term limits," said state Sen. Steve Oelrich, R-Gainesville, who will face Stearns in the GOP primary.

"But nobody has held his feet to the fire. I'm not planning on going up there to retire in Washington, I'm going to shake up the system," Oelrich told Florida Watchdog.

"There are term limits for the presidency and there ought to be term limits for the Senate, the House and the Supreme Court," said Democratic businessman J.R. Gailliot of Fleming Island, who will face the winner of the GOP primary in the fall.

"It is one thing to say that we need change, but too many politicians use that mantra and too many politicians just become so entrenched in a broken system," Gailliot told Florida Watchdog.

Other candidates in the GOP primary include Clay County Clerk of Courts James Jett and veterinarian Ted Yoho of Gainesville. Independent candidate Phil Dodds of Alachua will also be on the ballot.

They did not return calls to Florida Watchdog.

"In the current political environment we have a situation where term limits are polling at the highest levels ever and the Congress is polling at record lows," said Philip Blumel, president of U.S. Term Limits, a Fairfax, VA-based advocacy group.

His organization has acquired pledges from 184 congressional candidates in the current cycle, promising to either sponsor or co-sponsor legislation to cap the number of terms legislators can serve in federal office.

Stearns is not a signatory.

"We are getting untold amounts of support and enthusiasm for the idea of introducing term limits at large," Blumel told Florida Watchdog.

Yael Ossowski is a reporter with Florida Watchdog, which is affiliated with the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.

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