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zzGeorge Nethercutt, running on term limit pledge, defeats House Speaker Tom Foley on November 8, 1994.

HistoryLink.org Essay 5517 : Printer-Friendly Format

On November 8, 1994, voters in Eastern Washington's Fifth Congressional District give political newcomer George Nethercutt a narrow victory over Tom Foley, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives and the longest-serving Representative from Washington. Foley is the first House Speaker to be defeated for re-election in 134 years. Nethercutt has campaigned on the need for change and pledges to serve only three terms. Nethercutt later rescinds the term limit pledge, seeking and winning five terms.

Historic Defeat

Foley, first elected to the House in the Democratic landslide of 1964, became the most prominent casualty of the 1994 Republican landslide. Four other Democratic House members from Washington (Maria Cantwell, Jolene Unsoeld, Jay Inslee, and Mike Kriedler) were also defeated, and nationally the Republicans regained control of the House for the first time in 40 years. Even if Foley had won his own election, the Republican majority meant that Georgia Republican Newt Gingrich would have replaced him as House Speaker.

The last House Speaker who lost a re-election campaign was William Pennington, a one-term representative from New Jersey, who was elected in 1858 as a member of the nearly defunct Whig Party, then defeated in the Republican victory of 1860.

Pledge Rescinded

Nethercutt, a Spokane attorney, was a political unknown when he entered the race against Foley. He benefited from a strong anti-Congress and anti-incumbent mood across the state and country, while Speaker Foley seemed to personify the institution that voters disliked and distrusted. Foley angered some constituents by joining a lawsuit to overturn voter-approved term limits. Nethercutt made term limits and Foley's length of service an issue. He pledged that he would serve only three terms (six years), and campaigned on the slogan "After 30 years, it's time for new leadership" (Weekly, 22). Nethercutt was strongly supported by the powerful national term limits movement led by U.S. Term Limits, and by popular Spokane radio-show host Richard Clear, a conservative term limits advocate.

In 1999, Nethercutt incensed term limits supporters when he announced that despite his pledge, he would seek a fourth term in 2000. Clear opposed Nethercutt in the Republican primary, and U.S. Term Limits spent heavily in an effort to defeat him. However, Nethercutt beat Clear and easily bested Democrat Tom Keefe in the general election. Nethercutt was elected to a fifth term in 2002. In 2003, he announced he would give up the House seat in 2004 to run for the Senate seat held by Democrat Patty Murray.

Ted S. McGregor Jr., "The Inland Emperor," Seattle Weekly, October 26, 1994, pp. 22, 24-25; Jess Walter, "Foley Departs, As Ever a Voice of Conciliation," The Spokesman-Review, November 10, 1994, pp. A-1, A-17; Jim Camden, "Speaker in 1860 Was Fated To Lose," Ibid., p. A-18; Christopher Hanson, "Foley Faltering Against Newcomer," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 9, 1994, p. A-12; Hanson, "Tom Foley: A Good Man At a Bad Time," Ibid., November 10, 1994, pp. A-1, A-6; Alex Fryer, "Nethercutt Makes Entry Official," The Seattle Times, July 31, 2003, Website accessed August 20, 2003 (http://archives.seattletimes.nwsource.com/web); John Hendren and Kevin Galvin, "U.S. House: Democrats Pin Hopes on Larsen," November 8, 2000, Ibid.; Hendren, "Vance vs. Smith, Nethercutt vs. Keefe and a Close Race for Metcalf's Seat," September 20, 2000, Ibid.; Robert T. Nelson, "Drawing Lots to Take on George Nethercutt?" August 8, 1999, Ibid.

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