Exit Interviews

Do term limits matter? Just ask Congress' quitters.


Does anyone remember the mania for term limits, the quaint idea that legislators ought to be citizens who hold political office for relatively short periods of time? A few years back, term limits were hotter than July and widely perceived as a structural cure for Big Government.

Away from Washington, the term-limits movement has been a huge success. Eighteen states have enacted term limits on their legislators; tellingly, all but two of the laws came about via ballot initiatives. This year alone, 380 state legislators will leave office due to term limits.

At the national level, however, the story is very different. Twenty-three states limited their congressional delegations, but a 1995 Supreme Court decision declared such laws unconstitutional, reasoning that only the federal government could set additional qualifications for service in Congress. Not surprisingly, Congress couldn't quite muster the votes to do this and term limits ended up being the only item in 1994's Contract with America that the House failed to pass. This summer, even the Republicans, who had once championed the idea, dropped the term-limits plank from their official party platform.

So when it comes to Congress, it's up to individual legislators to limit themselves–and there seems to be less and less pressure on them to do so. Things were very different in the early '90s: Twenty-two freshmen elected to the House in 1994 promised to serve no more than three terms, and a handful elected in 1992 had vowed to serve no more than four terms. The most notable was a nobody from the state of Washington, George R. Nethercutt, who beat then—House Speaker Thomas S. Foley in 1994 by painting him as "a creature of Washington D.C., born and raised in the system."

Surprise: Nethercutt's six years are up and he's found D.C. to be quite an agreeable town. So he's broken his promise. Two other congressmen have turned similar vows into lies. Scott McInnis (R-Colo.) decided a life in D.C. suits him well. Martin T. Meehan (D-Mass.), one of two Democrats who pledged self-control in 1992, has similarly concluded that his district needs his services on a continuing basis. (In declining to be interviewed for this piece, a spokesman says the congressman has "moved on" from the issue.) Interestingly, such backsliders are the exception. To date, 15 of the 18 self-limiters whose clocks have expired have either already honored their pledges or will this November, when seven House members will not stand for re-election.

This summer, Reason Washington Editor Michael W. Lynch and Reason D.C. summer intern Katherine Mangu-Ward visited with five of the seven leavers–Reps. Charles Canady, Helen Chenoweth-Hage, Tom Coburn, Matt Salmon, and Mark Sanford–and talked about their time in Congress, the merits of limited service, and their plans for the future. All display uncommon principle by voluntarily leaving Congress, and for that, they deserve no small measure of respect. At the same time, they make a strong case, often unintentionally, for relief that they are leaving office–and greater discomfort with the colleagues they leave behind.

Mr. Reluctant
Rep. Charles Canady (R-Fla.)

Charles Canady is a professional politician raised in a political family. At the relatively tender age of 30, he entered the Florida House as a Democrat, switched parties in 1989, and lost a run for the state Senate in 1990.

In a sense, Canady marks the success of term limits. Unlike others who are philosophically committed to term limits, Canady took the pledge to advance his political career. Elected to represent the Sunshine State's 12th District in 1992, Canady pledged to serve just four terms. At the time, there was a term-limit initiative on the Florida ballot for which Canady expressed support. Somebody suggested he pledge to limit himself regardless of the initiative's fate. "So that's what I did," says Canady.

Canady claims term limits haven't affected his voting record or positions. He has worked on lobbying reform and religious liberty issues. In a decidedly less freedom-loving moment, he also supported the Defense of Marriage Act, which was designed to deny gay marriages equal standing to heterosexual unions. He also served as a House impeachment manager and was the leading House opponent to racial preferences in government contracting and hiring.

Though done with Congress, Canady's hardly done with politics: His next stop is a role in Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's administration.

Reason: Did the term-limits pledge make you a different congressman?

Charles Canady: I can't point to anything that I did specifically because I knew I was term-limited. But it does keep things in perspective. It helps you remember that what goes on here inside the Beltway is not all there is of reality.

Reason: What's the most absurd program you've come across in your time in Congress?

Canady: That would probably be a tough call. The problem is that every program has some constituency in favor of it.

Reason: Offend a constituency. Give us a good one.

Canady: I don't want to single out any particular program. I'm sure I could…

Reason: Here's a program you unsuccessfully worked to kill: racial preferences. Can you talk about that?

Canady: My simple view is that it's not right for the government to divide people into categories and groups based on their race and gender. The government should treat people as individuals, and should not define people on the basis of their biological characteristics. I think that is discrimination, and I'm opposed to discrimination.

Reason: A lot of people say they support that position. Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey, for example. Why weren't you able to pass your legislation?

Canady: It's complicated. Ultimately, we failed to move my bill forward because I failed to have a majority of the Judiciary Committee support the bill. That's the simple explanation. I think our leadership had mixed feelings about it.

Reason: What is your largest source of frustration with Congress?

Canady: One thing that has frustrated me is the way debates tend to proceed. The proponents of a particular proposal will exaggerate the benefits of that proposal and the opponents of the proposal will exaggerate the problems of the proposal. So you get these extremes in the rhetoric when the truth is really somewhere in between.

Reason: Like the debate over the North American Free Trade Agreement?

Canady: Some people said NAFTA was doomsday for the whole U.S. economy. Others said we would enter the Promised Land if we just pass NAFTA. I opposed NAFTA. I thought that on balance NAFTA would be of some small benefit to the overall U.S. economy. But it was pretty clear to me that it was going to be of significant detriment to the part of the country that I represent. And I couldn't justify having my constituents suffer serious harm for some very, very small overall benefit.

Reason: You were an impeachment manager. You were widely praised for the scholarship you brought to the task. Yet your team blew it in the end. Any regrets?

Canady: I have no regrets about the actions that the House Judiciary Committee took, or that the House took in impeaching the president. The president lied under oath before a federal grand jury. He lied under oath in a civil deposition in a civil rights case. He engaged in other conduct that involved the obstruction of justice. Those are facts.

Under the Constitution he had the duty to make sure that the laws are faithfully executed. That's the role assigned to him by the Constitution. He stepped outside that role and became a lawbreaker. An obstructer of justice. That's just unacceptable.

Reason: Is it really possible to cut government?

Canady: The government we have today is here because there are constituencies that demand these programs. If you ask the average American about government, they are skeptical about government, they don't want government to get out of control. But they don't want to see any significant reduction in the parts of the government that provide benefits to them.

Reason: Do you ever tell your constituents that what they want will hurt them in the long run and that they shouldn't have it?

Canady: Sometimes I'll tell people, "I'm sorry. I can't do it."

Reason: But do you ever say, "I can, but I shouldn't do it"?

Canady: If there are things that people bring to me that they want me to sign onto, I will tell them, "I'm sorry, I am not comfortable doing that." I'll tell people, "I don't know that we can afford this." But I really try not to tell people what is in their interest. I operate on the general assumption that people who come to me are intelligent and they are a better judge of their individual interest than I am. I've got to make a judgment not about their individual interest but about the collective good of the country and the good of my whole constituency.

Reason: What's next for you?

Canady: I'm going back to Florida, where I will serve as general counsel to the governor of Florida.

Reason: Are you going to take your Impeachment Chair with you?

Canady: Oh yeah, that's going with me for sure.

Range Rover
Rep. Helen Chenoweth-Hage (R-Idaho)

If we can't have good government, then we might as well have entertaining government. On that basis alone, Rep. Helen Chenoweth-Hage's six-year tenure in Congress has been a rousing success. When she ran for office in 1994, she held "endangered salmon bakes" to call attention to her opposition to the Endangered Species Act. After she was elected, her Idaho office displayed boxes of "Spotted Owl Helper," according to Michael Barone's Almanac of American Politics. Ask her about this today, and she'll hand over an eight-ounce can of "Sockeye Salmon," and point out that if it's endangered we shouldn't be able to purchase it.

Her personal life was good for a few laughs, too: A harsh critic of Bill Clinton's marital misbehavior, Chenoweth eventually had to cop to an affair with a married man after she aired an ad attacking the president.

Chenoweth-Hage is a strong supporter of property rights and the interests of Western ranchers, whom she feels are abused by the bureaucrats administering federal lands. She once sponsored legislation that would have forced federal agents to ask permission from local sheriffs before enforcing federal law. Her strong support of the Second Amendment and of limiting federal power–and her sympathetic comments regarding the militia movement–led a number of mainstream journalists to question her sanity.

Though always controversial, she was re-elected twice to represent Idaho's 1st District, garnering 55 percent of the vote in 1998. She plainly admits she'd like to run for a few more terms, but she's willing to live by her pledge.

Reason: You expressed some regrets about taking the term-limits pledge.

Helen Chenoweth-Hage: I don't regret taking the pledge; I regret that I signed on for only six years. I think that it takes a while to figure out your new job, and this is a very complicated job. Ten to 12 years would probably be a better time.

Reason: How do you want people to remember you?

Chenoweth-Hage: That I have been true to real Republican principles. For instance, when we were working on the Contract with America, we passed a bill that said that the federal government may not acquire any more private property. Since then we have moved so far to the left with regards to private property rights that we passed a bill in Congress this year that would allow $3.4 billion to be transferred directly from oil-producing facilities offshore to the secretary of the interior, which he will spend to acquire private property.

It's been people like Tom Coburn, Mark Sanford, and myself who have constantly said, "Let's not forget who we are and why we are here." And that is to protect individual rights, American sovereignty, and private property. If there is not a force of law and justice to protect private property, then we have lost the basis of our freedoms.

Reason: You opposed the deal that re-opened the government in 1995.

Chenoweth-Hage: I did. Got in trouble with the speaker [Newt Gingrich], too. That was the moment the Republicans started moving away from controversial issues. It was at that point in time, in history, that the ball moved from our court to the president's court.

Reason: What is the greatest threat to American liberty?

Chenoweth-Hage: Too much federal and state government. The lack of respect of people working in government for individuals. An idea that certain people who occupy powerful positions in the administration can make better decisions about an individual and their life choices than can that individual.

Ranchers in my district and throughout the West have a whole plethora of government agencies telling them how to raise their cows and how to take care of their land.

Reason: At one time you said that the extreme views of the militia members have to be understood in their context. What are your views on the militia movement?

Chenoweth-Hage: We have developed a sort of thought police back here in Washington, D.C., who try to tell us who we can associate with, what we can say and what we can think and I object to that. I am very uncomfortable with people who act violently and speak violently. It offends my nature, as it does most Americans. But even if we are uncomfortable with a group of people, even if we don't agree with them, as an elected official I have always believed that we should protect their right to freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, their Second Amendment rights.

Reason: One of the things that you were involved in last year was a call for a day of prayer, fasting, and humiliation before God after the Columbine school shootings. Is that a particularly good use of Congress' time?

Chenoweth-Hage: In the Revolutionary War and the Civil War there were 200 such resolutions passed. They are commemorative resolutions that simply remind us that the leaders of the nation would like to call for a day of fasting and reconciliation. This country was founded on the recognition that our freedoms do not come from the state, they come from God, and that the role of the state is to protect life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, as stated in the Declaration of Independence. For leaders to recognize those God-given rights and where they come from I think is perfectly appropriate and I will be presenting that resolution again.

Reason: What's next for you?

Chenoweth-Hage: Right now, my plan is to go back to Boise and set up business with my daughter doing environmental, natural resources, and contract-consulting work.

House Doctor
Rep. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.)

"Most of them are egomaniacs," says Tom Coburn of his congressional colleagues. "There are not many normal people up here."

Coburn was elected to represent Oklahoma's 2nd District in 1994 and quickly became a player in the annual budget process, working with other conservative members to limit spending. A medical doctor who has maintained his family care and obstetrics practice while in office, he has also made AIDS a top priority, authoring a bill that would require newborns to be tested for HIV if their mothers hadn't been tested for the virus.

Mindful of his declaration that normalcy is in short supply in Washington, it's worth pointing out that Coburn is convinced that there's a national epidemic of venereal disease (gonorrhea comes up quickly and easily even in casual conversation with the congressman). He gives his congressional colleagues and their staff an annual presentation on the subject, providing C-SPAN with some of its racier moments. That's no small accomplishment during the Clinton years.

Coburn doesn't think he'll miss Congress and Washington and has no plans for future political office. Instead, he'll return to his medical practice.

Reason: What prompted you to run for Congress?

Tom Coburn: I was nauseated at what I saw going on. I thought people other than politicians ought to get involved. And I believe in term limits. They set you free from both party and procedural guidelines to do what you think is right.

Reason: Is your voluntary leaving a loss or a gain?

Coburn: It's a gain. Hopefully, more people will see the wisdom of a short period of service up here. Why would you want to come up here to stay? Ask yourself that question. What is it that addicts someone to Washington? Most people who want to do that have a deep-seated insecurity or they wouldn't be up here in the first place.

Reason: Have your priorities changed since you first showed up in D.C.?

Coburn: No. They include a marked decrease in the intrusion in our lives by the federal government at all levels. A restoration of liberty and freedom. I am 52 years old and I can tell you that you have less freedom compared to what I had. You can measure it and define it. There are not more than 160 people in the House who believe in limited government. They may say they believe in it, and that is the difference between a career politician and a term-limited one. The former will say whatever they need to get re-elected, but what you have to do is measure their votes. They'll vote exactly the other way.

Reason: You've been outspoken about trying to get Congress to stick to the 1997 spending caps.

Coburn: We are so far above the budget caps set in 1997. The agreement we have made with the president on controlling spending and decreasing the size of government was a sham. He knew it and our leaders knew it. And they perpetrated a fraud on the American people.

We are just like second-century Rome and Greece. We are declining as a nation because our leadership and our government now use farce to state their cases, and there are too few people who are willing to stand up and challenge that, including the media. Consequently, the very tenets of our liberty are going to be taken away.

Reason: What are some of the perks of power?

Coburn: It's about being called "Congressman." C.S. Lewis had this concept called the "inner circle." Man is constantly trying to get into the inner circle and the reason you want to be on the inner circle is because there is notoriety in it, but also because you can elevate yourself above those that are outside the circle. This is the reason this is such a great job: There are only 435 in this inner circle, out of 270 million people. It is the ultimate inner circle. And then if you are a committee chairman, you are in the next inner circle. And then if you are in leadership, you are in the next inner circle. And then if you are in the conference committee in leadership, you are in the next inner circle. It is elitism, elitism, elitism–chasing something to elevate yourself.

Reason: What is the most absurd program you have come across in your time in Congress?

Coburn: There's tons. The advanced technology program. We subsidize major, multi-billion-dollar corporations in the country to advance their technology. Your tax dollars go to General Motors, IBM, Exxon-Mobil. It is ludicrous. And there's the sugar subsidy that elevates the price of your sugar.

Reason: Talk about your HIV/AIDS issues.

Coburn: I think history is going to show that this country was a miserable failure when it came to this disease. We have a million people walking around today with HIV. Had we handled it the proper way, the number would be about 50,000 or 60,000. The proper way would have been national testing, partner notification, and accountability. If you have HIV, you have the obligation to never give that to anybody. Just like if you have tuberculosis, you have an obligation to not give that to someone.

Reason: National HIV testing, a registry–actions like that have been taken in Cuba.

Coburn: The reason that such programs have been successful in Cuba is because of accountability. If indeed you do get HIV, you dare not give it to someone else. The spread of this disease would stop tomorrow if everybody that has HIV today didn't give it to anyone else. We need partner-notification and contact-tracing. Just like we've done with gonorrhea for 20 years in this country. We've never violated anybody's civil rights. We said, "You have this, you need to be treated. We need to know your partners so they can get treated and so that they won't give it to anyone."

Reason: What have you learned from your time in Congress?

Coburn: That six years is enough.

Another Kind of Salmon
Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.)

Matt Salmon, the Republican representative from Arizona's 1st District, is a budget hawk who nonetheless supports huge government spending for space, science, and the Stealth Bomber. He's not a man big on second, third, or fourth chances, be they for child molesters or for speakers of the House.

He sponsored "Aimee's Law," also known as the No Second Chances for Murderers, Rapists or Child Molesters Act, which would make states that release anyone convicted of these crimes from prison responsible for prosecuting individuals for any subsequent crimes they commit in other states. He took part in the unsuccessful 1997 coup to oust Speaker Newt Gingrich and he battled Gingrich again in 1998 after Republicans suffered unexpected losses in the November election, going on Larry King Live and announcing he had the votes to deny Gingrich the speakership. He considers his part in forcing Gingrich from office to be among his major accomplishments.

Salmon, who served four years in the Arizona Senate before coming to Congress in 1994, is for the moment tired of the legislative life–too many egos to deal with, he says, and not enough opportunities to really make a difference. That said, he openly acknowledges an interest in being governor of the Grand Canyon State. For now, though, he's headed into private consulting, certain he will make use of his fluency in Mandarin Chinese and do something with China.

Reason: Why did you take the term-limits pledge?

Matt Salmon: Having served in the state legislature, I got a pretty good taste of how the long-termers tended to vote. Professional politicians–I don't care whether they are Republican or Democrat–just have a different view of money. When we talk about tax cuts, most legislators say, "That is going to cost us so much money." And I'm like, "Cost us? What are you talking about? It's their money to begin with."

Reason: What's been your biggest surprise in Congress?

Salmon: The degree of partisanship amazes me. There's not really an ounce worth of difference between what they propose and what we propose, or what we end up voting for. We act like we are doing this big, mean, ugly fight. We try to draw these distinctive lines, but the lines are really blurred. Ninety-five percent of it is theater. When you look in the eyes of the appropriators, I don't see a lot of difference between the Democrats and the Republicans. When it comes to pork barrel spending, I don't see a big difference here on Capitol Hill.

Reason: What have been your major accomplishments?

Salmon: Not going insane. (Laughs.) That's one major accomplishment.

Reason: How would you know if you had gone nuts?

Salmon: I don't know. Do you think I'm insane? I think my major accomplishment hasn't been so much what I've been able to accomplish as what I've been able to stop. Recalcitrants like me dug in their feet on some of the budget measures and I think we made a difference. I consider one of my best accomplishments sending Newt Gingrich packing. It was me who stood up after the last election and said, "I have seven votes with me." I went on Larry King Live and several other shows and two days later he resigned. After I announced that I had seven votes he started calling around to different people trying to shore up the support, have them come around and drop a ton of ugly on me.

Reason: Why did Gingrich need to go?

Salmon: He had become so gun-shy of taking on the president in any kind of a fight that he'd been neutered–Newt had been neutered. When the government shut down, the biggest mistake we ever made was to open it again. My constituents were thrilled to death to have the government shut down.

Reason: Why do so many of your colleagues want to stay in Congress?

Salmon: There are several reasons. You are kind of a mini-celebrity. You go back to your district, and people wave at you, they know who you are, and they treat you like you are something special. You come back here and it's like la-la land. You really are controlling billions upon billions of dollars. You get to go on national TV. People treat you way smarter than you are. They treat you like you are a rock star or something.

Reason: You're a budget hawk, but you like the space station and B-2 bombers. In fact, you want to fund the bombers at a higher level than even the Pentagon does. And you want to publicly fund a space station.

Salmon: The Pentagon has compromised itself time and time again with this administration. When I saw the strategy that they came up with for Kosovo, it became pretty clear to me that they are no longer independent thinkers. The Stealth Bomber technology is one that, if we get into a major conflict, we are going to be thankful that we've got.

The second issue is the space station. My belief is that without a space station, NASA really doesn't have a clear mission. I believe that space exploration is beneficial not only in the advances that it has helped us with on the environmental issues, but also the ancillary benefits, the biomedical advances that we have made, the technical advances.

I also support government spending on research and development. I believe very strongly that government has a major role to play both in biomedical and in technological things if we are going to maintain our edge as the world's superpower.

Reason: Do we really need the government involved in this?

Salmon: The private sector's idea is to compete with each other to make the better widget. But if we are talking about breaking new technologies, I just don't see it happening in the private sector. If we cut the taxes way back and provided major tax incentives for them to be in research and development, that is another route we can go. Absent that, you got to have government.

Reason: Are you going to run for a higher office if Sen. John McCain gives up his seat?

Salmon: No. I'm not running for Senate. I'm not interested in coming back here. The only other job I might run for would be governor of Arizona. I believe that position can really make a difference. But right now, I am ready to go back and make an honest living.

Free Duck
Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.)

Republican Mark Sanford ran for Congress in 1994 because he wanted to do something about the deficit, the debt, and Social Security. The GOP establishment wasn't happy–he was a developer, not a longtime pol who'd attended all the right dinners and functions–and they did their best to defeat him in the primary. They sent the likes of Tom DeLay, Dick Cheney, and Jack Kemp to South Carolina's 1st District to campaign against him. "I was like, 'Why are you people here? I don't know who you are,'" recalls Sanford.

Once in office, Sanford was among the early advocates of privatizing at least part of Social Security. He also wants to free Americans to trade with Cuba. And he's famously cheap –a valuable and rare character trait in a politician. Domestically, this led him to oppose pork barrel spending, even in his own district. Internationally, it led him to pay a Cuban family $35 a night to put him up during a 1999 visit rather than stay at a hotel. On a personal level, it leads him to sleep on a futon on his D.C. office floor, rather than rent an apartment. At least he won't have to break a lease when he leaves town.

Reason: Talk about the tradeoffs congressmen must make to be effective and how term limits may affect these tradeoffs.

Mark Sanford: The rarest of all commodities in Washington is independence. Some people told me, "You know, Mark, you are a lame duck before you've even started." I'd respond, "You're wrong. I'm a free duck, and there's a big difference." What you want is the freedom to go down with Tom Coburn last year and offer hundreds of amendments to the agriculture bill just to gum up the works. Now everyone in your own conference hates you. But you don't care, because it's what you think is right.

Reason: Would you have been a different congressman without the limits or would you have done the same things?

Sanford: Very different. You can see why in the agriculture bill: Last time around, Congress restored the mohair and wool subsidies that we had taken out in the Freedom to Farm Act a few years back. That happened because the people who passed the Freedom to Farm Act went native. Term limits force you to maintain that perspective of back home because you are up here for a while and then you are going back there. It's an anchor that keeps you attached to that other perspective.

Reason: You once said that being a congressman wasn't that hard, that it should take six months to grasp the basics. Do you still believe this?

Sanford: In the 9 a.m. Republican conference meeting today, a certain unnamed Californian stands up and says, "This is real simple. It's shirts versus skins. We're shirts, they're skins." It's all the very elementary stuff on trading marbles. Any kid who has a set of marbles in the back yard or Pokémon cards or baseball cards and learns how to trade them knows everything you need to know about Congress.

Reason: Why does the trading always seem to go one way then? People seem to trade more for more, which leads to the growth of government every year. Why don't you ever make a new program contingent on killing an old one?

Sanford: That is the structural problem of democracy: diffuse costs and concentrated benefits. I'll have 100 visits in a week in the office. Ninety-nine of those visits people will say, "Mark, we really appreciate what you are doing on the deficit and debt and trying to reduce government spending. Keep it up. But we are here to talk to you about this one program and why it is very important." Who's going to take a trip to Washington to save 2 cents on the price of sugar because of the sugar subsidy?

Reason: You talk about concentrated benefits and diffuse costs. But you once testified in favor of anti-dumping action on steel, saying, "Imports now comprise over 30 percent of U.S. consumption. Georgetown Steel, in my district, had been forced to reduce prices substantially to meet import competition, and suffered financial losses." Isn't this a classic example of concentrated costs, which is the flip side of concentrated benefits? These imports may be bad for that company in your district but they're good for consumers.

Sanford: It wasn't an inconsistency. There was a steel bill that had anti-dumping provisions and would have provided a bailout to steel mills. I voted against it because I didn't think a bailout for steel made any sense.

I remember standing on the back of a tractor-trailer at the Georgetown Steel mill to explain that vote. It's a fairly daunting thing to stand up before a couple thousand steel workers and say, "I am going to vote against you and here's why." Basically I said that you've got the executive branch to administer the existing law and you've got the legislative branch to create new laws. What we can't simply do as legislators is create new laws if the executive branch is not adhering to existing laws.

Then I said to the sponsors of the bill, "Look, there is already a law in place that says we will not allow dumping. Because they're not enforcing that law, you guys want to create a new law that also happens to cost a lot of money."

Reason: Is it just impossible to stand up on that tractor-trailer to talk about the gains from trade and comparative advantage?

Sanford: You could if you want tomatoes thrown at you. I was the only guy in the South Carolina delegation to vote to give the president fast track authority on trade legislation in 1998. I walked through the comparative advantage with constituents. If you think about it, you've got a trade deficit with your favorite restaurant that you like to take your wife to on Friday evenings. Or with the movie theater or the bowling alley. And you don't mind having a trade deficit with the bowling alley.

The issue is: Can you afford that trade deficit to the bowling alley? Voters respond, "That's all well and good, but the bottom line is that my ability to go to that restaurant on Friday night rests on my keeping my job. My mortgage payment depends on this job, and if I lose this job, I am not certain that I will be able to find a job paying as well someplace else and I lose my house."

Reason: What's the biggest surprise you've had in Congress?

Sanford: The local will always trump national. Tip O'Neill said that all politics are local. He was exactly right. Whatever is in the best interest of one's chances of getting reelected is what drives the institution. It's selfishness in that "I-have-got-to-stay-up-here-to-do-good, fight-other-fights" way.

These people become your friends and you don't want to disappoint them. Even though I've only been here six years, some of my best friends in life are other members of Congress and I am going to miss them when I go. And if I had been here on the 20-year program, I would be that much more hesitant about disappointing them. Because nobody likes to disappoint anybody.