Gov. Rick Scott has kicked off his U.S. Senate campaign with a strange commercial that pitches a long-doomed concept — term limits in Congress.
“There’s more than 41,000 zip codes in America,” the governor begins, writing with a red marker on a blank white-board map of the United States. “In all but one zip code, they want term-limits on Congress. It’s common sense.
“The only place that doesn’t want term limits on Congress is right here — Washington — where all the career politicians are.”
At which point the governor boldly draws a large X on the approximate longitude and latitude of Greenwood, West Virginia — not Washington, D.C.
All right, so he’s not the smoothest or most electrifying presence on television. Neither is his Democratic opponent, Sen. Bill Nelson.
But, considering the massive tonnage of money Scott has accumulated for this campaign, you’d think he could afford to do one extra take of his debut ad, just to get it right. At least put your big dramatic X somewhere within Uber-ing distance of the District of Columbia.
Scott’s choice of congressional term limits as a topic is as safe as it is cynical. He proposes a 12-year cap on tenure, which would be six terms in the House or two terms in the Senate.
The idea is popular with many voters of both parties, but especially with conservatives. Enactment requires a constitutional amendment and, before that can happen, two thirds of both houses of Congress must pass the measure and send it to the states for ratification.
Don’t hold your breath.
Kanye West will be approved as the next CIA director before term limits are ever embraced by the full Senate. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been there 33 years and has no interest in voting himself or his creaky pals out of a job.
In January 2017, two hard-right Republicans, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rep. Ron DeSantis of Florida, jointly introduced a constitutional amendment that would set Congressional term limits. That was basically the first and last you heard of it.
Since Scott’s own party controls the House and Senate, the reaction of many fellow Republicans to his term-limits proposal could best be described as good-humored indifference. They know it’s a non-starter, dead as a doornail.
But they also know it plays well on the campaign trail, where Scott likes to rant against “career politicians.” (To be fair, he doesn’t really rant. His android style of delivery peaks at modulated complaining.)
It will be surprising if we don’t also hear about the term-limit crusade from DeSantis, who’s now running to take Scott’s place in the governor’s mansion. DeSantis is one of only four members of Florida’s 27-member House delegation who as candidates signed a pledge supporting term limits.
Only 15 states restrict the time served by their legislators, and Florida is one of them. The law went into effect here 18 years ago, yet there’s no evidence that it has drained the political swamp in Tallahassee.
If anything, the swamp is deeper and smellier. Lobbyists wield as much clout as ever, which is why many ex-lawmakers end up as lobbyists.
A measure that would have extended the legal waiting period from two years to six years died in the last session of the Legislature. Clearly, some term-limited senators and representatives were contemplating future employment options, after their political careers come to an end.
When asked about Scott’s promise to impose term limits on Congress, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican, said there’s already a healthy turnover in Washington and no need for a constitutional amendment.
“One could argue if there were term limits, there would be no seniority,” he said. “But is that a good thing for the country, to have no experience?”
It’s a predictable response from an eight-term congressman, but the point argued by Diaz-Balart is widely voiced by opponents of term limits, inside and outside of government.
He didn’t criticize Scott directly, because there was no need. The governor’s proposal poses no threat to Diaz-Balart’s job because it has zero chance of passing.
“In Washington, they say this can’t be done. That’s nonsense,” Scott insists in his campaign ad.
The ad itself is nonsense — calculated nonsense, aimed to tease voters with an appealing pledge that’s impossible to fulfill, and easy to forget about later.
Scott’s next campaign commercial will be coming soon. For the sake of credibility he should lose that red marker, or at least steer clear of zip codes in West Virginia.