By Kate Alexander, Austin American-Statesman, Texas
No one seems to like Washington, D.C., these days, including the two Republican U.S. Senate candidates who are crisscrossing Texas asking voters to send them there.
While Ted Cruz has been running for more than a year on a platform of challenging the GOP establishment in the Senate, his opponent, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, tried to one-up him Thursday by calling for policy changes that Dewhurst said would "blow up politics as usual in Washington, D.C."
At an event in Waco, Dewhurst called for curbing congressional pay and benefits, limiting members to 12 years in office and preventing elected officials from lobbying immediately after they leave office.
"Congress has increasingly grown out of touch with the private sector and the rest of America, and we must re-align the values and priorities of our representatives with the people they represent," Dewhurst said in a statement.
The policy ideas are hardly new and have no chance of ever being enacted, said University of Texas government professor Sean Theriault, who studies Congress.
"This is total pandering to a public that views Congress with 8 to 15 percent approval rating," Theriault said, adding that the proposal is quite similar to that offered by Gov. Rick Perry during his failed presidential bid.
Locked in a tight runoff campaign, the Dewhurst campaign has been trying to paint Cruz, a former state solicitor general, as a "D.C. insider" because he has been drawing significant support from Washington-based groups and conservative leaders, including tea party favorites U.S. Sens. Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Rand Paul of Kentucky.
Cruz, 41, has also refused to commit to serving only two terms in the Senate unless a constitutional amendment is enacted so everyone is subject to the same constraint.
"He wants to go back and stay there forever," said Matt Hirsch, a Dewhurst campaign spokesman, referring to Cruz's past work in Washington as a lawyer in the Bush administration and a law clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Dewhurst, 66, has volunteered to serve only two terms in the Senate.
Hirsch said Dewhurst, whose personal fortune exceeds $200 million, would forgo the Senate pension that he says needs to be eliminated and accept a salary of only $95,000. Base pay for members of the U.S. House and Senate is $174,000.
Cruz spokesman James Bernsen scoffed at the proposal as inconsistent with Dewhurst's tenure in office.
"Today's announcement is another example of a career politician's 14-year history of campaigning as a conservative and governing as an out-of-touch establishment moderate," Bernsen said.
Several of the same office-holder perks that Dewhurst would target in Washington have created controversies in Texas. But in the past, Dewhurst has not been a vocal supporter of changing those policies.
Dewhurst has called for the elimination of the congressional pension plan because, he said, it is a "luxury America cannot afford."
Members of the Texas Legislature, including Dewhurst, can receive a monthly pension check that is based on the $125,000 salary of district court judges rather than the $7,200 that legislators earn. For most state employees, the retirement annuity is linked to their pay at the time of their departure.
And Perry created a stir last year when he disclosed during his presidential run that he was simultaneously drawing a pension check and paycheck.
Unlike Washington, people are happy with the way that Texas is being run, Hirsch said, so such reforms are not needed here.
(c)2012 Austin American-Statesman, Texas