Philip Blumel: Warning: November’s term limits referendum in Arkansas is another politician-led scam.
Philip Blumel: Hi, I’m Philip Blumel. Welcome to No Uncertain Terms, the official Podcast of the Term Limits movement for the week of September 14, 2020.
Stacey Select: Your sanctuary from partisan politics.
Philip Blumel: Yes, the headline is that Issue 2, if approved, would reduce term limits faced by Arkansas legislators from a ludicrous 16 years to a merely weak 12. Well, that sounds like an improvement. And it is, but that’s not the whole story. Let’s call in US Term Limits Executive Director, Nick Tomboulides and put all the facts on the table.
Philip Blumel: We have a lot to talk about regarding Arkansas today. I wanna start out with the news. There was a [chuckle] court decision in Arkansas regarding this term limits referendum that’s gonna be on the ballot in November in that state. And Tom Steele, term limits hero, he’s the chairman of the Arkansas Term Limits committee, he sued saying that the ballot title did not describe in any way what the referendum does and a judge decided just the other day that it doesn’t have to. That when a citizen’s initiative makes it to the ballot, it has to stand up to very strict scrutiny of the ballot title. But according to the judge, a referral from the legislature for a referendum on the ballot does not have to live up to that same level of scrutiny, and therefore they let this passed. Now, let me read to you if I can the ballot title of this measure, okay. Issue number 2, “A constitutional amendment to be known as the Arkansas Term Limits Amendment; and amending the term limits applicable to members of the General Assembly.” Period. That really doesn’t tell the whole story, does it, Nick?
Nick Tomboulides: No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t tell the story that you’re not really amending term limits, you are effectively eliminating the term limits that Arkansas has had for or did have for over 20 years. Because what is hidden, carefully concealed in this ballot measure is the fact that it will take away lifetime term limits in Arkansas. Arkansas has got no re-entry, so if you term out of the legislature, you can never come back. That’s in their state constitution.
Philip Blumel: Right.
Nick Tomboulides: They’re trying to get rid of that and insert a consecutive term limit that would have a comeback clause. So this is basically the lifetime politicians act. It was challenged in court because it didn’t say that’s what it did. And what we’ve learned about Arkansas courts in the last 10 years or so is that every lawsuit against term limits will always win, every lawsuit for term limits will always lose. The courts in Arkansas are about as corrupt as the legislature, they defaced the will of the people at every turn.
Philip Blumel: Right. Now, in order to get this lifetime opportunity, they are “giving the voters a little something,” and that is reducing the term limit from an absurd 16 years, which is not a term limit, and we’ll get into that. It’s just simply… It has no effect. Into a 12-year term limit, which is borderline, it’s a weak term limit, usually one put on the ballot by politicians, not by the people, as in this case.
Nick Tomboulides: The devil is always in the details, right?
Philip Blumel: That’s it.
Nick Tomboulides: So I read this and I was looking at it and I found a little tiny provision in there that caught my eye, and it said, the change in term limits from 16 to 12, which, look, we applaud, obviously lower is better with term limits. We like 12 more than 16, we like eight more than 12, we like six more than eight. We like getting rid of politicians entirely more than six. No, I’m just kidding. So hidden in this, in this amendment is a little provision that says legislators who took office or who are elected before January 2021 are not subject to the new 12-year term limit. They still get to stay for 16 years. What that means is, if you’re on the ballot this November in Arkansas, if you get elected to the legislature as a newbie, you can be in the legislature until 2036. But here’s the crazy thing. They grandfather in the 16, but they don’t grandfather in the lifetime, which means that not only do you get to stay till 2036, but then you can sit out two years and come back, and then you get to do another 12 years. So this is like one of the biggest scams we’ve ever seen, and that’s saying a lot for Arkansas. It’s enshrining the notion of career politician, it’s not term limits even in the slightest.
Philip Blumel: It isn’t. It’s a scam, and here’s… One thing that I find really fascinating about this too is why they’re doing it. Because if you think about it, they have it pretty good right now with these professional politicians with a 16-year term limit. Again, I don’t even wanna call it a term limit. That is essentially a lifetime, even though it’s not technically. They could basically stay in a career with 16 years.
Nick Tomboulides: This is basically appeasement from the legislature. There’ve been people like Tom Steele in Arkansas who for years now have been fighting to restore the real term limits. I mean, there’s a long history of this. In 1992, with an overwhelming supermajority of the vote, the people of Arkansas passed a clean, simple, effective lifetime term limit. Six years in the House, eight years in the Senate. That year, 1992, remember who was on the ballot? Bill Clinton. He was the hometown hero, he was the governor, term limits got a higher percentage of the vote in Arkansas than Bill Clinton did in 1992, and that’s how…
Philip Blumel: Right. And it was a great amendment.
Nick Tomboulides: Yes, it was. It was the best in the country. Tied with Michigan for being the best in the country. The legislature tried to take a whack at it in 2004. They tried to change it to 12 in the House, 12 in the Senate, 24 years total, but they failed. They failed because in ’04 they were too honest. They told the people exactly what that change would do, that it would essentially double term limits, so the people rejected it. Flash forward to 2014, they say, “There’s no way we can tell them the truth. If we tell the truth again, we’re gonna get screwed. The people are gonna vote to retain term limits. So let’s completely hoodwink, let’s completely swindle the people of Arkansas with the most messed up amendment in the history of the United States.” And they came up with this thing called the Arkansas Ethics, Transparency, and Financial Reform Amendment. Now, where the hell do you see term limits there? Ethics, Transparency, and Financial Reform…
Philip Blumel: Well, I think you can see it somewhere on page 32 or something in small print. [chuckle]
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah, it is. Hidden in fine print in that amendment was taking the time tested six-year term limit in the House, eight-year term limit in the Senate, and giving all of these guys a 16 year overall term limit.
Philip Blumel: Unbelievable.
Nick Tomboulides: And let me tell you, I would love to get in the face of the legislator who crafted that amendment, and I would love to yell at him, but I can’t get to him right now, Phil, because…
Philip Blumel: Why not?
Nick Tomboulides: He’s in federal prison.
Philip Blumel: Oh, I see.
Nick Tomboulides: In the federal prison for taking kickbacks and misusing state funds.
Philip Blumel: Right. Yep, I heard that one before.
Scott Tillman: Hi, this is Scott Tillman, the National Field Director with the US Term Limits. We’re nearing the end of election season. Over 300 congressional candidates have signed the US term limits pledge to co-sponsor and vote for the US term limits amendment of three House terms and two Senate terms and no longer limit. But there are two ways to amend the Constitution. The states can initiate a term limits amendment convention, but this requires state legislatures passing resolutions. There are 99 state legislatures in the 50 states, and there are over 7,300 state legislative seats in those legislatures. Almost 6,000 of those seats are up for election this November. We ask candidates for these seats to sign this pledge. “I pledge that as a member of the state legislature, I will co-sponsor, vote for and defend the resolution applying for an Article V convention for the sole purpose of enacting term limits on Congress.”
Scott Tillman: We have over 1,250 candidates for state legislature that have signed this pledge. Over 700 of those are up in the general election this November. But pledge season is not over. We’re still collecting pledges from candidates and incumbents. Just this week, 25 new signers were added. You can follow us on Facebook to see all the recent signers in your state, and to keep up with new term limits news. And you can contact us on Facebook and we’ll connect with you and give you instructions about how to contact candidates in your area and ask those candidates to sign these term limit pledges. Help the movement by taking action to help us term limit Congress.
Philip Blumel: I even feel that US term limits should stop listing Arkansas as a term limits state, technically, of course, it has term limits on the books, but think about this, a little thought experiment before I go into some detail. If the Arkansas Legislature passed a 100-year term limit, yeah, there’d be a term limits law on the books, but no one could possibly think that’s a term limit that has any effect or any meaning, and we wouldn’t call it such. What about 50 years? What about 20 years? At what point does a term limit have some effect? Well, I’ll tell you what, 16 has no effect, and we can really, really see this. Back when Arkansas had its six-year term limit in the House and eight years in the Senate, they were a highly competitive state in terms of elections. We just talked about in the last week’s podcast about Ballotpedia’s Competitiveness Index for elections. Get this, Arkansas, a term limit state, was one of the least competitive states in the country. But go back 10 years, before the 2014 term limits scam, it was one of the most competitive because back then, Arkansas had the same law as Michigan, which by the way was the number one most competitive state in 2020, was term-limited Michigan. Arkansas used to be up there and have the same law. Now, under this new 16-year law, Arkansas is at the bottom.
Nick Tomboulides: Like if I say I’m not gonna eat more than 10,000 calories a day, am I on a diet?
Philip Blumel: Right. Exactly. [chuckle]
Nick Tomboulides: If I say you can’t drive more than 200 miles per hour, do I have a speed limit? And…
Philip Blumel: Yeah.
Nick Tomboulides: If I say Arkansas legislators can stay 16 years in office, do you have a term limit?
Philip Blumel: That’s right.
Nick Tomboulides: The answer is unequivocally no.
Philip Blumel: No, no, no, no.
Nick Tomboulides: It is a joke. It is a joke. It is something that only politicians could conceive of in their twisted self-serving brains. We’ve done polling on this, we’ve asked people, “What do you think is the ideal term limit?” And believe it or not, most people don’t even think it’s six or eight. A plurality of people believe four years is the ideal term limit.
Philip Blumel: I know. [chuckle]
Nick Tomboulides: So a six-year term limit, an eight-year-term limit, you know the most time-tested one that we see all over the country, the President has it, 36 governors, that’s actually something of a compromise from what the people really want, ’cause the people are so hardcore, they would go even shorter. But in those surveys which are open-ended, that let people answer whatever their ideal term limit is, I think it’s like 1% of people who say that the limit should be 16 years.
Philip Blumel: [chuckle] Right.
Nick Tomboulides: And all of those people are probably either legislators or friends of legislators or work in politics, or work in government. So it’s sad to see democracy slipping away in Arkansas, but we’re gonna do everything we can as an organization to rectify it.
Philip Blumel: We sure will. You know why, specifically why these Arkansas legislators hate term limits so much, shows up in the stats. In 2010, according to Ballotpedia, the number of open seat elections in Arkansas legislative races was 45.3, that is to say about half of all seats were open seat elections, where you had competition, where anybody could run, where anybody could win. Now, after they put it into law this insane 16-year term limit, the number of open seat elections in 2020 was 8.5% of the races in this November. 8.5, so from about half to less than 10% because of the change in this law. They do not have term limits in Arkansas, and we gotta change that.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah. And when are you gonna get open seats again? 2036, 2034. I mean, when is…
Philip Blumel: Yeah. When it’s 16 years from 2014.
Nick Tomboulides: It’s amazing. But there is a great group of patriots and fighters down in Arkansas who are challenging all of this sleaze and all of this corruption. Tom Steele, Paul Jacob, Bob Porto, and many others. Those are like the unsung heroes of Arkansas, the people who are trying to stand up and fix this.
Philip Blumel: That’s right.
S?: This is a public service announcement.
Philip Blumel: There’s been a wide range of reactions to how speaker Nancy Pelosi’s claim that she was set up when she was caught getting her hair done in a San Francisco beauty parlor during the lockdown. One of our favorites is from Total Nonstop Action wrestler Tyrus, once known as Brodus Clay during his tenure with WWE. Tyrus appeared on Fox News last week and shared his solution to vintage arrogance in Washington DC.
Tyrus: You know what? When we see this in movies and stuff or even when I catch my daughter doing something she’s not supposed to do, and she’s like, “The other kids made me do it,” and they’re a tattletale. That’s literally what happened. So no matter how long you’re on this earth, how much wisdom you supposedly accrued as a leader of this country, basically what it all comes down to is you’re a spoiled brat and you’re acting out and blaming everybody. And the only way we can fix this is term limits. America, term limits, this is what happen when you let grandma and grandpa stay too long at the top.
Philip Blumel: It was a long, strange trip, but Mayor term limits will be on the ballot in Warren, Michigan in November. The voters will be able to decide whether the mayor of their city should be limited to three terms, 12 years. This is a very weak limit. It’s the kind that are usually put on the ballot by incumbent politicians themselves, and yes, this was the case here. The Warren City Council voted to put this idea on the ballot. But get this, the term limit for the Mayor of Warren is currently five terms or 20 years, that’s not a term limit at all. Nonetheless, it would cut short the ambitions of the Mayor Jim Fouts, now in his fourth term. Mayor Fouts actually vetoed this term limits question, but the Council overruled it. So Mayor Fouts had to turn to plan B. Fortunately, Warren City Clerk, Sonja Buffa failed to certify the question in time to meet a deadline and claimed, “Oops, sorry, we can’t put this on the general ballot in November where everybody votes. We’ll have to wait to a future low turnout ballot like a March City Council primary election or something.” Macomb County Clerk, Fred Miller was on board. “Well, it missed the deadline.”
Philip Blumel: And when the Warren Council sued, Macomb County Judge Edward Servitto stood with Mayor Fouts. Thus, the local political establishment circled the wagons to protect the powerful incumbent. We’ve seen this movie before. But once the battle spread outside the Macomb County bubble, things changed quickly, an appeals panel ruled unanimously that the question should appear on the ballot. City Clerk Buffa, “had a clear legal duty to certify the ballot language to the Macomb County clerk,” the panel wrote in a seven-page opinion. Desperate, the Fouts machine appealed to the Supreme Court, claiming the question would cause electoral chaos, and calling for an emergency ruling. Well, they got it. “We are not persuaded,” the court wrote, without much elaboration. I mean, what else is there to say? Well, I got something to say. Local politicians will go to great lengths to retain their petty fiefdoms. Their legal machinations are often ludicrous and they don’t really expect people to be paying a lot of close attention at the local level. The clerk will often side with these incumbents. Don’t be afraid to challenge them, and don’t give up if you lose in local court. Local judges often run in the same social circles as other movers and shakers in a municipality. An appeals court is much less likely to take such a provincial view.
Philip Blumel: Lastly, and this is the great lesson of term limits activism, term limits are a simple and popular reform beloved by the people, and when you fight, you win. So, fight, but also keep in mind that not every mayor is a self-centered weasel like Jim Fouts of Warren, Michigan. The County Executive of Westchester, New York, George Latimer, signed a bill into law last month in that county that reduced his own term limit from a weak 12 years to a sturdy eight-year term limit. Latimer is a Democrat and in his first term, he requested the change himself, and it was approved by the county lawmakers. He was quoted as saying, “It’s a reasonable amount of time for you to have if you wanna accomplish something. The clock is ticking, and so I think it creates a greater sense of urgency to accomplish things. Further, eight years is more of a standard limit for an executive,” he said, “In line with the President and some governors around the US. The reduction will limit the accumulation of power in government, encourage fresh ideas, and prevent candidates from running with the political advantage of raising money as an incumbent,” Latimer said. Good work, George.
Philip Blumel: Thanks for tuning in to another episode of No Uncertain Terms. President Trump included past congressional term limits as one of his core priorities for a second term. Let’s let him know that we support this idea and urge him to secure a vote on the US term limits amendment that is waiting for a hearing right now in the US Senate. Go to termslimits.com/trump and ask the president to break the log jam and get a vote on SJR-1. It’ll take you two minutes. Even if you’re skeptical about his commitment to this issue, let him know that. Dare him to prove you wrong by having a vote. That’s termslimits.com/trump. Thanks, we’ll be back next week.
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