Groups tar McCollum as traitor on term limits
By ADAM C. SMITH
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 12, 2000
As a young lawyer embarking on his first political campaign, Bill McCollum pledged to fight for congressional term limits. Now a 20-year veteran of Congress, the Florida Republican still insists members of the U.S. House and Senate should not be allowed to serve more than 12 years.
And as McCollum hits the final stretch of his campaign for Connie Mack's Senate seat, some of the nation's most ardent term limits advocates are trashing him as a turncoat.
"He bills himself as numero uno on term limits, but he's been the No. 1 hypocrite in the House," said Paul Jacob, head of the Washington-based advocacy group United States Term Limits, who is contacting Florida media about McCollum's record on term limits.
McCollum has faced these charges before. In 1997, another group, called Term Limits America,attacked McCollum as a term limits opponent and threatened to launch a TV campaign denouncing him if he ran for the Senate against Bob Graham. He didn't, and so far Term Limits America has stayed out of this Senate race.
"It looks like he's about to beat himself anyway," said John Michael, chairman of Term Limits America.
Michael is rooting for Democrat Bill Nelson in the Senate race, though Nelson openly opposes congressional term limits.
"I'd rather have an honest person in there than an absolute worthless phony like McCollum," Michael said.
Nelson himself served 12 years in Congress and is now the state insurance commissioner. Like the 56-year-old McCollum, Nelson, 58, has been in public office most of his adult life.
McCollum, who in the early 1980s started his own non-profit term limits advocacy group, could not be reached for comment Wednesday. But he has previously dismissed suggestions of inconsistency in his term limits stance.
He would have gladly stepped down earlier, he often says, if only term limits opponents such as Ted Kennedy and Dick Gephardt, both Democrats, agreed to do the same.
He blames rigid term limits advocacy groups for helping damage the term limits movement by being too inflexible and fighting alternative term limit proposals such as his (four terms in the House and two terms in the Senate) that have a shot at passing. Most term limits groups support limiting House members to six years and senators to 12 years.
The general chairman of McCollum's Senate campaign is Phil Handy, a Winter Park financier who launched the 1992 "Eight is Enough" referendum, in which Florida voters overwhelmingly approved term limits. The amendment to the state Constitution capped both legislative and congressional terms, but the federal part was later struck down.
"Bill McCollum is a friend of term limits, and I speak for Florida term limits more authoritatively than probably anybody in the state," said Handy, who used to be on the board of U.S. Term Limits. "They just don't like people who don't buy into their particular (term limits) formula."
Jacob, of U.S. Term Limits, said McCollum was the rigid one, opposing any term limits proposal that didn't have his name on it, and refusing to lead by example.
Other term limits advocates in Florida's congressional delegation, including Rep. Tillie Fowler, R-Jacksonville, and Rep. Charles Canady, R-Lakeland, made and followed pledges to serve no more than eight years.
McCollum has long been on the forefront of the term limits movement. He takes credit for helping put term limits in the Republican Contract with America, though the GOP leadership never made good on that pledge. In 1995, McCollum's proposed constitutional amendment to cap terms at 12 years was 63 votes shy of winning the necessary two-thirds majority of the House.
In a Senate race between two career politicians, term limits doesn't come up much as an issue. When asked, McCollum says he still strongly supports capping terms, but he also touts his government experience and know-how.
Reached by phone Wednesday, Nelson said congressional term limits would leave unelected staffers with too much power and influence.
"The seniority system has always been the institutional glue of Congress and for members of the Senate to be more effective for their state," Nelson said.
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