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Kimball Dean Parker: Sen. Mike Lee’s hypocrisy on term limits

Lee is all in favor of limiting congressional terms until it affects him.

(Susan Walsh | AP photo) In this Nov. 10, 2020, photo, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Sen. Mike Lee was one of the nation’s most vocal advocates for term limits — until it came time for him to leave office.
When Lee ran for U.S. Senate in 2010, he campaigned on the idea that the Constitution should be amended so that U.S. senators could only serve two terms. Throughout his campaign, Lee criticized his principal opponent, Sen. Bob Bennett, because Bennett had promised to only serve two terms but stayed longer.
After taking office, Lee’s fight for term limits intensified. His statements on the issue have been frequent and cutting. In a blog post on his website, Lee calls that the arguments against term limits “a ploy to increase the power of Washington elites at the expense of everyone else.”
In a hearing on the issue, Lee compared senators who support term limits generally but not while they’re in office to Saint Augustine during his conversion to Christianity, who stated “Lord, grant me chastity and virtue, but not yet.” (sic)
Lee observed, “It’s always easier to wait to do the right thing, especially in Washington.”
In 2017, Lee doubled down on his crusade for term limits and signed a pledge that “as a member of the U.S. Congress,” he would “co-sponsor and vote for the U.S. Term Limits Amendment of three (3) House terms and two (2) Senate terms and no longer limit.”
Lee’s best friend, Sen. Ted Cruz, also signed the pledge.

Lee is now nearing the end of his second term in office. Given his record, one would assume that Lee would abide by his own standard and forgo a third term. But in a stunning reversal, Lee has made clear that he intends to run again in 2022, undercutting arguably the most prominent stance he has taken as a politician.
The act is indefensible. There is little doubt that the most powerful statement in support of term limits would be for Lee to practice what he preaches. Indeed, one of the most impactful political acts in world history was George Washington opting against a third term as president of the United States — a precedent that lasted for 32 subsequent presidents and was eventually enshrined in the 22nd Amendment.
Lee will likely argue that his work on term limits is not done and that he needs more time. But the very act of running for a third term renders him a disingenuous and ineffective advocate for the cause. In fact, given his unwillingness to follow his own standard, any future support for term limits by Lee will likely do more harm than good.
Lee’s reversal on term limits highlights a troubling trend: When faced with the opportunity to increase his power and influence, Lee has repeatedly abandoned his principles. He has overlooked skyrocketing debt, violations of religious freedom and blatant threats to democracy and the Constitution, all in the name of currying favor with President Donald Trump and others in power.
It leaves Utahns to wonder what Mike Lee really believes in. At the moment, it’s unclear. Lee’s only discernible guiding principle is self-interest — a dangerous attribute for a senator in the age of insurrection, misinformation and Trump.
If Lee wins in 2022, he will undoubtedly run again in 2028, and again in 2034, and so on. It will lay the foundation for Lee to be Utah’s senator-for-life, a position he is unfit to hold.

Kimball Dean Parker

Kimball Dean Parker is the founder and CEO of SixFifty, the technology arm of the law firm Wilson Sonsini. Kimball is also the founder and director of LawX, the legal design lab at Brigham Young University Law School.
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