Those who are jumping all over U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., for breaking his term-limit pledge should keep two things in mind:
First, he announced before the September primary election what he was considering. Second, no longer being a self-declared lame duck could make him a more effective congressman.
Particularly in the past year or so, Flake has drawn considerable criticism, including from this editorial column, for ineffectiveness due not only to his promise in 2000 to serve no more than three terms if elected, but also for his ideological rigidness that seldom leaves room for even constructive compromise.
Former East Valley legislator Stan Barnes, himself a conservative, gave Flake a vigorous primary challenge this year, mainly on the effectiveness issue.
Although Flake has won re-election, he’s acknowledged that his critics weren’t all wrong. He says he wants to be more effective, primarily at reining in the size and cost of the federal government.
Flake has told voters that he will not sacrifice his libertarian principles in order to "get along" with his colleagues on Capitol Hill who’ve been on a four-year spending spree. That is commendable. This country needs more representatives with Flake’s limited-government philosophy who refuse to cave to every wealthy special interest that comes along.
But his efforts to put curbs on the ballooning federal budget during his first two terms were largely shrugged off by the GOP leadership in the House because they knew Flake would be gone in a couple years. Those who have clout in Congress are those who’ve been around awhile, as well as rising stars who likely will be around in the future.
By announcing earlier this year that he was considering breaking his three-term pledge, Flake gave voters ample opportunity to turn him out. They didn’t. When asked by the Tribune why he raised the issue before the election, thus risking voters’ wrath, Flake replied: "So I could live with myself."
That is commendable as well, as it shows his principles go beyond politics, and right to core values known as character.
Flake has also told the Tribune that he will work harder to effectively represent key Arizona and East Valley interests in Congress. He said he will stay in closer touch with East Valley mayors, as well as with leaders in business and education.
But he cautions that if he is asked to do something that goes against his principles — such as circumventing the prescribed appropriations process by tacking expensive earmarks onto legislation — he will continue to say no.
Fair enough. Over the next two years, his constituents would be wise to assess his performance not on one broken promise but on his renewed commitment to be more effective.