Utah Sen. Mike Lee has advocated for term limits since he was elected 12 years ago, though he has refused to put limits on his own service until Congress enacts such limits across the board.
The two-term Republican has co-sponsored legislation over the years to limit House members to serve six two-year terms and senators to serve two six-year terms, though he did not sign on to the latest iteration last year.
On Thursday, Ally Isom, one of Lee’s Republican opponents, said it’s time for the senator to live up to those words, while pledging to serve no more than two terms herself if elected.
“I call on Sen. Lee to honor his commitment, to shut down his campaign, finish the work we sent him to do and to come home to a grateful state,” she said in a news conference on the front steps of the Utah Capitol.
“As a candidate for a third term today, Mike Lee is no longer a credible voice for limiting the time of service by those elected to represent Utah.”
The framers of the Constitution knew it would be healthy to routinely rotate those serving in public office, Isom said. It protects against corruption and dishonesty and prevents careerism, she said.
“To that end, today I commit, as Utah’s next senator, publicly, unequivocally, to serve two terms and then come home,” she said.
The Lee campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment. He has repeatedly said in fundraising emails that he is being attacked by his challengers.
Isom is among at least three Republicans, including former state legislator Becky Edwards, challenging Lee for the GOP nomination.
Isom, a longtime Utah business and community leader, said her pledge means she will focus on things that matter most to Utah and not waste time on “frivolous or partisan distractions.”
“When you stay too long, you start to enjoy — even fuel — political theater and staged committee diatribes and hearings where no one is listening anymore. You start actually needing the job and become reluctant to relinquish power,” she said.
Asked if has heard Lee explicitly state he would serve only two terms, Isom said there are many witnesses to his conversations about that during the last election.
“In the convention, there are several delegates who will tell you that he made the commitment in private, and on the public record he has talked about the value of term limits,” she said.
Isom said she found it “interesting that as we approached an election,” Lee didn’t sign on to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s last bill calling for a constitutional amendment on term limits. Isom said she would “absolutely” support a constitutional amendment on term limits.
Polls over the years have shown Utahns strongly favor term limits for members of Congress.
Lee has often spoken about the need for term limits in Congress. He also said he would not impose one on himself without a law in place but would honor it if it were passed.
During his 2010 election campaign, he told the Deseret News that term limits “provide the only effective means of eliminating the seniority system in Congress.”
On his own blog in 2017 he wrote that “government of, by, and for the people requires elected representatives who are more interested in securing the common good rather than maximizing their own power and prestige.” When insiders defended the power of incumbency, Lee called it “a ploy to increase the power of Washington elites at the expense of everyone else.”
In a 2016 speech at the Heritage Foundation, Lee said voters shouldn’t buy politicians’ argument that their states would lose money, power and influence without representatives who have seniority and authority.
“It’s attaching a very high price tag to our most fundamental of rights, our right to vote,” Lee said, adding term limits is the best way to eliminate that argument.
Isom said career politicians measure success by the number of cable TV appearances rather than the number of bills they pass that are signed into law. They also use taxpayer dollars to send a “pricey, 55-page, glossy” annual report to voters, as Lee does, instead of spending time in Utah communities.
Isom ended the news conference with some parting words for Lee: “Senator, come home. Twelve years is long enough. We thank you for your service. We know it has not been easy for you or your family. We know the pressures are immense. Come home to Utah. Senator, come home.”