INTRO MUSIC : “Gallow’s Pole” by Led Zeppelin
Philip Blumel: Warning: the primary subject of the following episode is adverse preselection. Abandon all hope, ye who dare enter here.
Philip Blumel: Hi, I’m Philip Blumel, welcome to No Uncertain Terms, the official podcast of the Term Limits movement for the week of April 22nd, 2019. To make this more comfortable for everyone, we have with us Nick Tomboulides, executive director of US Term Limits, who will translate my abstruse pedanticism into, hopefully, a thoughtful and pleasant discussion. Hey, Nick.
Nick Tomboulides: Hey, Phil.
Philip Blumel: So the reason why I bring this up is that this week in The Hill, which is basically, I guess, a trade publication for the Congress and people who work for the Congress and hangers-on of the Congress, ran an op ed by myself, which has been creating a little bit of a buzz, called Why Better Candidates Don’t Run For Congress. And, around the office and talking about these things, we use the phrase adverse preselection as the description of, basically, what I’m trying to describe in this op ed. And that is that when you go to vote in a situation where you do not have term limits, you have worse choices than if you would if we had a more flexible system with rotation office and open seats, because serious people don’t want to run for those, don’t want to run against incumbents and whatnot, right.
Philip Blumel: So, I know, you and I have said we’re never gonna use these words, adverse preselection, in public, but today we’re doing it.
Nick Tomboulides: I think it’s cool because when people talk about this issue they tend to focus on those members who are already elected. They tend to view term limits through this prism of who’s already been elected to congress? There’s the 40 years dinosaurs that I don’t like, and then there’s the newer guys that I like, some of them I don’t like. Certain folks will even say, “Well I don’t think term limits is gonna work because I don’t even like the new members who are running for Congress.” But the whole point of adverse preselection is what if there is this giant crop of potential candidates, a huge talent pool in our country? I mean we have 320 million people in this country, what if there’s this huge talent pool of people who are not running for Congress at all because they know that they will have no influence, and they know that they don’t have the opportunity to serve for a little while and then come home, that it has to be a lifelong commitment, and that puts a chilling effect on people who would otherwise run. I feel like that’s the essence of adverse preselection.
Philip Blumel: That’s right. By preselection we mean that the good candidates are, before you ever get to a ballot, before anyone gets to vote, they’re deciding not to run, and it’s adverse. So yeah, that’s the idea, and so I tried to make it a little personal by talking about myself a little bit, because I’m a middle aged guy and I’ve been successful in business and I’ve been involved in a lot of the things that would give me skills, that would make me a decent candidate, and the conclusion I come to, which is the same as a lot of other people in this pool; I’m not gonna run for Congress, forget about it.
Nick Tomboulides: Hell no, hell no.
Philip Blumel: I mean there’s lots of ways that I can try to influence things in the direction that I think would be good for the country, and to help out, and I do, I mean we’re doing that right now, you and I, right? By being involved in US Term Limits and by being involved in this. But going to Congress is not gonna be an effective way to do it.
Nick Tomboulides: Who are the people that we all need and want in Congress? It’s people who don’t necessarily see themselves as politicians. Those are the ones we need. I mean it’s this crazy Catch 22, out of the status quo, if you are an industrious person you have no incentive at all to leave your life’s work behind and run for office, because if you only go there for a few years you’re gonna get buried under the seniority system and you’re gonna lack influence. That’s a waste-
Philip Blumel: It’s a waste of your time.
Nick Tomboulides: It’s a waste of any serious person’s time. And, by the way, if they do decided to serve 30 years, they’re gonna get into that little sphere of influence, but only after they abandon every principle, every passion, that drove them to run for office in the first place.
Philip Blumel: Right.
Nick Tomboulides: So the only way you can ever deal with this is by smashing that seniority system, finding a way to allocate the power in Washington that doesn’t just depend on how many gray hairs you’ve got on your face. And if you decide to do the opposite, if you decide to get elected and go in there in your first or second term like a bull in a china shop and just start ruffling feathers of leadership, you’re not gonna get anywhere that way either. Look at Ron Paul; without question, he was an intellectual leader in this country for many, many years, inspired a lot of people, but even after 20 years in Congress they still didn’t give him the good committee spots that he would have earned otherwise, because he had challenged leadership, because he had swam against the current and gone against the status quo.
Philip Blumel: House Financial Service Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters has served in Congress since 1991, and, before that, in the California Assembly since 1976. Here, Chairwoman Waters vast experience is on full display as she wraps up a hearing with Secretary of the Treasury, Steve Mnuchin in early April.
Maxine Waters: So is it possible you could give us another 15 minutes to get to these-
Steve Mnuchin: No, I have a foreign leader waiting in my office at 5:30. I’ve sat here for over three hours and 15 minutes, I’ve told you I’ll come back. I just don’t believe we’re sitting here negotiating when I come back, we’ll follow up with your office. How long would you like me to come back for next time? I’ve told you I’ll accommodate you.
Maxine Waters: This is a new way and it’s a new day and it’s a new chair and I have the gavel at this point. If you wish to leave, you may.
Steve Mnuchin: Can you clarify that for me?
Maxine Waters: Yes, clarify is-
Steve Mnuchin: So-
Maxine Waters: If you wish to leave, you may.
Steve Mnuchin: Okay, so we’re dismissed, is that correct.
Maxine Waters: If you wish to leave, you may leave.
Steve Mnuchin: I don’t understand what you’re saying.
Maxine Waters: You’re wasting your time. Remember, you have a foreign dignitary in your office.
Steve Mnuchin: If you’d wished to keep me here so that I don’t have my important meeting, and continue to grill me, then we can do that, I will cancel my meeting and I will not be back here, I will be very clear, if that’s the way you’d like to have this relationship.
Maxine Waters: Thank you. The gentleman, the Secretary has agreed to stay to hear all of the rest of the members. Please cancel your meeting and respect our time. Who is next on the list.
Steve Mnuchin: I am canceling my foreign meeting, you’re instructing me to stay here and I should cancel my-
Maxine Waters: No, you just made me an offer.
Steve Mnuchin: No, I didn’t make you an offer-
Maxine Waters: You made me an offer that I accepted.
Steve Mnuchin: I did not make you an offer, just let’s be clear. You’re instructing me, you are ordering me to stay here-
Maxine Waters: You are free to leave any time you want.
Steve Mnuchin: … please dismiss everybody, I believe you’re supposed to take the gavel and bang it. That’s the-
Maxine Waters: Please do not instruct me as to how I am to conduct this committee.
Philip Blumel: And here’s why term limits are the solution to the problem of adverse preselection. When you have term limits, let’s say you have six year term limits, is what we advocate, I mean because we’re talking about an open seat election in every single district every six years. It’s very reasonable for a successful, qualified individual to look at that and say, “Okay, I might be able to win that seat.” And then, of course, the six year term limit applies to all the leadership too, so you can expect to get in a position of leadership in four years. In four years. Learning the ropes and having some influence and not having to be here for a decade or decades in order to reach that. And so it’s very realistic for people to spend some time in Washington, go home and let someone else do it.
Nick Tomboulides: And the cool thing is we don’t need to shake a magic 8-ball and ask, “Is this gonna work out?” We already see that it works out at the state level. In Florida we have an eight year term limit and we have a different speaker of the house every two years, so the power doesn’t become concentrated or monopolized in the hands of one single person, you have this leadership turnover. Those leaders are a lot more invested in policy outcomes than in control, than in pushing members around and trying to punish those who don’t go along to get along, you see that they take a lot more chances on newer and younger members, people who are in their first term. The speaker is always in their fourth term, so the gap between the youngest, newest members and the most senior members is only six or eight years, it’s not 30 years like you see in Washington D.C, and that closeness totally changes the dynamic. It allows teachers, farmers, doctors, business people, to serve in what is effectively a citizen legislature.
Philip Blumel: Right, and leaders are chosen more on merit than, of course, seniority, because seniority is no longer a giant distinction between them. It’s not a matter of, “It’s your turn,” or power that you’ve amassed over being in office for all this time.
Nick Tomboulides: Nor is it a bad thing to have a line of successors for a leadership position. I would much rather have what we have here in Florida, a new speaker every two years, than what you see in Illinois, one person ruling the State House with an iron fist for 35 years. In New York State it was 25 years. Willie Brown in California, before they got term limits, it was 20 years. You see it in state after state after state, and we see it in Congress; if you don’t have term limits, a very small group of people is going to totally monopolize control over your legislature and there’s gonna be virtually no accountability. Policies that the public supports are not going to rise to see the light of day in a system like that.
Philip Blumel: Right, the bottom line is the best people should be representing us in Congress, but they’re not. Instead, we’re getting these aspiring career politicians, because people that are willing to go to Congress for 20 years before they have any influence are obviously people that are okay with being a career politician. So without the competitive elections brought to us by term limits, with the regular rotation office, we’re just not gonna get those good people, we’re never going to see them, bottom line.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah. And just in terms of thinking about it as a policy, I’d like for our listeners to not only consider who is in Congress right now, but consider all of the amazing people you may know, the people that may come to mind who could make incredible representatives, incredible senators, great public servants, but they just don’t run because the system is so damn corrupt. Wouldn’t it be great to turn that on its head and create opportunities for them to serve?
Scott Tillman: Hi, this is Scott Tillman, the National Field Director with US Term Limits. We ask state legislature candidates to sign a US Term Limits pledge. The pledge reads: “I pledge that, as a member of the state legislature, I will cosponsor and vote for the resolution of applying for an Article Five convention for the sole purpose of enacting term limits on Congress. Mississippi is one of a few states to have odd year legislative elections. We have 12 candidates in Mississippi who have pledged to support Congressional term limits. If you have access to a candidate, please ask them to sign our pledge. Pledges are available at termlimits.org.
Philip Blumel: Paul Jacob is a board member of US Term Limits and the president of the Liberty Initiative Fund. His column, Common Sense, often covers term limits issues and can be found at thisiscommonsense.com.
Paul Jacob: Chicago, the nation’s fabled second city, though now the third largest incorporated metropolis in these United States, supports a new mayor. Two weeks ago Lori Lightfoot won the city’s mayoral runoff by a whopping 47 points, tallying 73% of the vote. As reported, she is a mayor of many firsts; while Chicago has previously elected African-American men to be mayors, as well as one female, Lightfoot becomes the first female African-American mayor. Additionally, Lightfoot is also the first openly gay Chicago mayor. And, not to put too fine on it, she is also without a doubt the first openly gay African-American female mayor of Chicago named Lori, or named Lightfoot for that matter.
Paul Jacob: But there’s more. I’m here to tell you that Ms Lightfoot has captured yet another, far more consequential first, something not dictated for her by birth, such as skin color, gender, or sexual orientation, but chosen in her individual decision making process; Lightfoot advocates reform, and, unlike any other Chi-Town mayor in history, from before the fire to now, she means limits on her own terms in office. In fact, her campaign’s position paper on cleaning up city government puts it first, “Impose a two term limit on the mayor.” “Chicago is the largest city in the country without mayoral term limits,” she notes, “Which has led to entrenched leaders, a lack of new ideas and creative thinking, and city government that works for the few, not the many. This will change when I am mayor,” she pledges, “And introduce an ordinance that brings Chicago into the mainstream by limiting mayors to serving two terms. Let’s do it, and why not limit the terms of city aldermen while we’re at it?” This is common sense, I’m Paul Jacob.
Philip Blumel: We’ve had some other term limits news this week; I noted that there was a new Fox News poll that came out and, surprise, surprise, Americans support term limits, who’d have thunk it?
Nick Tomboulides: Shocking. Yeah, 80%, right?
Philip Blumel: 80%, yeah, which is pretty much in line with the other polls we’ve seen.
Nick Tomboulides: And I’m looking at the demographics here, they’re crazy, it doesn’t matter which group you look at, men, women, white, non-white, young, old, high income, low income-
Philip Blumel: Liberal, moderate, conservative, white Evangelical, suburban women.
Nick Tomboulides: Self-admitted Trump voters and self-admitted Clinton voters. Rural and suburban.
Philip Blumel: Yeah, people that make over 50 grand a year, under 50 grand a year, age.
Nick Tomboulides: Rural and suburban, it’s a super majority with every single group. There’s no subsection here for people who live in Washington D.C, I imagine that would be the only one under 50%, but yeah, it’s off the charts, it’s off the charts. And, by the way, you know what the lowest support level is in all of our polls?
Philip Blumel: No, who?
Nick Tomboulides: It’s single people, because nobody wants to date someone who opposes term limits.
Philip Blumel: Well, of course.
Nick Tomboulides: This is absolutely true. This is absolutely true, they are single … I maintain they are single because they oppose term limits. That is disgusting and it’s unappealing.
Philip Blumel: Well it’s still 76% though.
Nick Tomboulides: It is.
Philip Blumel: The lowest group, you know what? That’s it. The lowest percentage of support of any group broken down in this poll, and there’s about 30 different demographics here, is 76%. That is incredible. There is no issue in America like that.
Nick Tomboulides: It’s true.
Philip Blumel: None.
Nick Tomboulides: Just remember though, Phil, someone can never love you if they’re already in love with corruption and incumbency.
Philip Blumel: Yeah, right.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: When our party was boldest, the time of the New Deal, the Great Society, the Civil Rights Act and so on; we had and carried super majorities in the House, in the Senate, we carried the Presidency. They had to amend the Constitution of the United States to make sure Roosevelt did not get re-elected.
Philip Blumel: That was New York Congress member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, or AOC, speaking at NMSNBC Forum in March. It’s a nice story, but it’s also completely fictional. First of all, approval of the 22nd Amendment in both the House and the Senate was bi-partisan. While Republicans did hold a majority in Congress, 47 Democrats in the House and 16 Democrats in the Senate voted for the Amendment, which was broadly supported by Americans of both parties. Also, not to split hairs, but the Amendment was not ratified to block FDR from a fourth term, by the time Congress proposed it in 1945 and three quarters of the states ratified it in 1951, FDR had been dead for years, Harry Truman was President of the United States.
Philip Blumel: Thanks for joining us for another weekly podcast. As you know, the vote is coming down to the wire in Arizona, we need your help. If you could, this week, please think of someone you know who lives in Arizona. It doesn’t have to be a political activist of any kind, family member, business associate, everyone’s for term limits, it’s not a controversial thing. Reach out to them, let them know that there’s a crucial vote imminently coming in the Arizona legislature of Congressional term limits. Send them a link to termlimits.com and direct them to the Current Actions tab. We need your help. You can also help out by subscribing to No Uncertain Terms and using the podcast app on your iPhone to do so, or Google Play or Stitcher on your Android device. And of course there’s always the iTunes. You’ll receive a new episode of No Uncertain Terms every Monday. I’ll meet you back here next week, thanks-
Stacey Selleck: The revolution isn’t being televised. Fortunately, you have the No Uncertain Terms podcast-
Philip Blumel: A fly has been attacking me all day. One fly has just been tormenting me since seven in the morning, it’s just been buzzing around my face. And I don’t have a flyswatter, I don’t have fly traps, I don’t have a Venus Flytrap. I might buy a Venus Flytrap, try to catch it-
MUSIC CREDITS – Full versions of the music sampled during this podcast may be purchased via iTunes at the following links :
“Gallows Pole” by Led Zeppelin, “Albatross” by Public Image Ltd., “B!tche$” by ICP, “Something’s Gone Wrong Again” by the Buzzcocks
The “No Uncertain Terms” podcast is produced by Duke Decter for U.S. Term Limits
Executive Producer Philip Blumel (President, U.S. Term Limits)