Endangered congressman?

Former allies target a term-limit promise-breaker.


Jake Tapper
May 5, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)

The war between U.S. Term Limits and Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Wash., is getting ugly.

As Salon News recently reported, U.S. Term Limits, the Washington, D.C., group headed by Paul Jacob, and Nethercutt used to be close allies. Indeed, one of the ways that Nethercutt won his 1994 race against former House Speaker Tom Foley was by pledging to term-limit himself out of office by 2000.

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After a few years in office, though, Nethercutt stopped returning Jacob's phone calls. Then, in 1998, word got out that Nethercutt was waffling on his earlier pledge. So Jacob and U.S. Term Limits decided to help him keep his promise, albeit unwillingly. They're planning on doing to Nethercutt what they did to Foley, the man they helped Nethercutt defeat: demonize him out of office.

In early April, U.S. Term Limits made a sizable media buy -- about $38,000 -- to run TV and radio ads attacking Nethercutt in his eastern Washington state home turf.

"We already know George Nethercutt wants to break his word on term limits. Can we trust him on anything else?" the ad begins.

"Nethercutt says he'll protect the dams on the Lower Snake" River, the announcer continues, citing a local controversy important to Nethercutt's constituents, "But in Congress, he voted for the Endangered Species Act 12 times. Voted to give millions to the bureaucrats. The same ones who want to breach our dams and devastate our local communities."

Is it true? Not really. The Endangered Species Act itself hasn't come up for a House vote since Nethercutt took office in January 1995. U.S. Term Limits is taking issue with the fact that Nethercutt has voted to fund certain agencies -- like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, for instance -- that play a role in implementing the Endangered Species Act. And as a result of the ads' ambiguity -- as well as some phone calls placed by Nethercutt himself -- the local ABC and NBC affiliates have pulled the ads from the air.

"Their argument taken to its logical conclusion is that if you vote to fund the federal government, then you're voting in favor of the Endangered Species Act," says Ken Lisaius, Nethercutt's press secretary.

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That's not how Jacob sees it, of course. "As usual, [Nethercutt]'s trying to have it both ways," Jacob says. "It happens all the time -- politicians vote to fund the agency, and then they tell their constituents that they're against most of what the agency is trying to do. And that goes back to the core problem in Congress: that they're playing the system for their own benefit."

Jacob adds that neither he nor his organization have a position on the Endangered Species Act. "We just thought it was an interesting example of politicians whose actions and words are contradictory," he says, "and when it comes out they don't even quite see the contradiction -- which may be a sign that the politician's been in Washington too long."


Jake Tapper

Jake Tapper is the senior White House correspondent for ABC News.

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