Speaker 1: The list of potential Democratic challenges to President Trump is growing. It ranges from lawmakers to mega donors and celebrities, but only a small number of hopefuls.
INTRO MUSIC : “Let’s Have A War” by Fear
Philip Blumel: Still more candidates are announcing their intentions to run for President in 2020. As the current President is a nominal term limit supporter, what are the odds that two term limits advocates face each other next November? Hi, I’m Phillip Blumel. Welcome to No Uncertain Terms, the official podcast of the term limits movement for the week of May 13, 2019.
Stacey Selleck: Your sanctuary from Partisan politics.
Philip Blumel: US term limits Northern regional director Ken Quinn has been in New Hampshire investigating the Presidential question. Let’s chat with Executive Director Nick Tomboulides about his findings. Hey Nick.
Nick Tomboulides: Hey Phil.
Philip Blumel: So the number of Democratic candidates running for President of the United States is now over 20. We’ve talked about several of these that support term limits, Peter O’Rourke, John Delaney, Andrew Yang-
Nick Tomboulides: Leader of the Yang gang.
Philip Blumel: Yeah. We’ve got a couple more Democratic candidates talking about term limits this week. It was quite exciting to see that former Governor of Colorado, John Hickenlooper, was on the Stump and our own Ken Quinn was on the scene. Here, let’s run that.
Ken Quinn: So as President, I know you can’t propose it, but would you support and endorse a term limits amendment for Congress?
John Hickenlooper: Absolutely. I would not be in politics if it wasn’t for term limits. Denver is a strong bear form of government. That mayor of Denver basically hires all the cabinet, all the senior staff, all these agencies. And they need 9 out of 13 votes to change one line item in the budget. It’s a great system, if you’re the Mayor. The limit is three terms, 12 years and you have to go out. The Mayor, he was a great mayor, but he would have been there for 20 years, or 25 years without term limits.
John Hickenlooper: So I think it makes sense at all levels of government. There are pros and cons, but I come down on the side of term limits being generally a good idea.
Philip Blumel: So what do you think Nick?
Nick Tomboulides: I didn’t know who he was until I heard that clip, but it is refreshing honesty. He said he would never have gotten as far as he has without term limits. A lot of politicians aren’t willing to admit that. In Arkansas for example, all the legislators use term limits to get into office and then they essentially abolished it so they could stay for life. There’s a lot of crookedness throughout this process.
Philip Blumel: Right.
Nick Tomboulides: But he showed some humility in saying that. I’m happy to see that he’s for it. Kudos to him.
Philip Blumel: Also I’d add to that, he in Colorado, which is a state that has term limits on nearly every office, top to bottom. He’s experienced it and he’s seen it at all the levels of government and in this clip he was talking a little bit about how well that works. I was impressed and I think he’s somebody that is genuinely in support of this policy, so I was very encouraged by that. So he gets added to the pro list in our ongoing list of Democratic candidates.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah.
Philip Blumel: How’s he doing by the way? You said you hadn’t heard of him until the clip. I guess he’s not getting a lot of traction there in the Democratic … well, it’s hard to say. There’s over 20 candidates so far.
Nick Tomboulides: Well, they’re polling right now and mainly just the people with the highest name recognition who are doing really well. The Bidens and Bernie Sanders of the world. But, they have their first debate on my birthday, June 26 here in Florida. I think it’s in Miami. Once the debates start, they’re going to be able to separate the weak from the [inaudiable] a little bit. I’m sure some other candidates will emerge. I’ll say this though: if you are a second or third tier candidate who’s trying to break through in this process and you are running against Joe Biden, who’s been in Washington since the 1970’s, Bernie Sanders who’s been in Washington for 30 years and was a career politician Mayor before that, why would you not wrap your arms around this issue which has so much popularity and really strikes directly at the heart of the careerism in Washington.
Nick Tomboulides: And the fact that the Democratic Party, even though it tries to be the Party of young people and new ideas, it’s still run in Washington by a bunch of old people.
Philip Blumel: Right, right.
Nick Tomboulides: A bunch of people who first got there decades ago and have not really modernized themselves or their party in a way that most people would expect. Yeah, I think it’s a great issue for one of them to use, but they need to see the opportunity in it.
Philip Blumel: Right. Sometimes I think they fail to see that opportunity because everywhere they go, they know what the polls say, but everywhere they go; to all the political meetings, they spend time in Capital Cities, they spend time with other politicians, with lobbyists. Basically, the only people in the world that oppose term limits is the people that are normally surrounding these candidates and these politicians. So it’s hard for them to break out. They’re just so used to being against it. They’re used to everybody being against it. It’s unnatural for them to strike out in favor of something that would limit themselves, that everyone around them is against, even though the people that they need to vote for them are all for it.
Nick Tomboulides: Well that’s what I love about the primary. It’s the one time in politics where you’re not always hanging out with the insiders. You do go into a random diner somewhere in New Hampshire and you talk to Joe and Jane six-pack about the things that they care about over a plate of Scrapple. I like that. I think it’s a good opportunity for them to connect with the people and I’m sure it won’t be long until term limits come up in most of those conversations because people are so frustrated and everyone has been wondering why haven’t you done this already.
Scott Tillman: Hi. This is Scott Tillman, the National Field Director with Us term limits. We asked candidates for State Legislature to sign a pledge to help us get term limits on Congress. The pledge reads: I pledge that as a member of the State Legislature, I will co-sponsor and vote for the resolution applying for an Article V convention for the sole purpose of enacting term limits on Congress. There are only a few states having legislative elections in 2019. We currently have 15 candidates in Mississippi, three candidates in Louisiana, four candidates in Virginia and two other candidates in special elections that have signed this pledge to support Congressional term limits as State Legislators.
Scott Tillman: If you have access to a candidate, please ask them to sign our pledge. Pledges are available at termlimits.org.
Nick Tomboulides: He wasn’t the only one who came out this week right? Ken Quinn also went to an event with Julian Castro. Julian Castro was the secretary of housing and urban development, and we have a clip of him talking about term limits at his town hall. Let’s run that.
Philip Blumel: Okay.
Ken Quinn: Would you be willing to support and endorse a term limit amendment for Congress?
Julian Castro: I guess to be blunt with you, I’m not vehemently either opposed or supportive of term limits. I believe that term limits could be good if they have enough time. The problem that I had with San Antonio’s term limits for municipal government is that it was two, two-year terms. So it was way too short. By the time you got decent at doing your job, you were already gone. I would think for a Congressional representative, something between eight and twelve years, something in that range might be a good range of years. So I could support term limits that had a good amount of time for somebody to be good at what they’re doing, have some time doing that and then cycle off.
Julian Castro: But not if it’s too short. It would depend on the amount of time.
Nick Tomboulides: So Phil, what did you think?
Philip Blumel: Well, I’m trying to think whether I want to put him in the pro column or not. I guess, you know what? I guess he is. He said he was, and so I’ll take him at that. He was the Mayor of San Antonio, Texas, which was a city that had a very short term limit. So when he’s complaining about the short term limit, he’s not like most politicians that think that 16 years is too short. He was talking about a four year term limit.
Philip Blumel: The voters of San Antonio moved it to eight. It’s not something the US Term limits oppose. In fact, eight is really the magic number across the country for term limits. Six and eight year term limits are, I think, what have demonstrated themselves to be the most effective and have the greatest balance between the experience we want and also better representation and more access to the office that we want. So when he was complaining about the short term limit, I don’t think he’s going to be a fighter for it, judging from these remarks.
Nick Tomboulides: He was a bit half hearted to say the least. He kind of gave me a “yeah, yeah. Term limits. Whatever. Next question,” vibe.
Philip Blumel: Yeah.
Nick Tomboulides: San Antonio has been changed to eight. But think about it. When he campaigns for President, does he say, “I was a terrible Mayor because of those pesky four year term limits.” Hell no. He lists all of his successes: funding education, roads, reducing crime, green development. All this stuff. I hate this. Never let a politician rip term limits and then highlight in the next breath everything he achieved while term limits were in place. It’s inconsistent, it’s disingenuous and it’s bullshit.
Philip Blumel: Right. Of course he got the job once again because of the term limits, because there was an open seat for him to run for. So yeah, once again, having a person in office that, particularly in President, as long as he’s not opposed to term limits. If he’s vaguely for it, that’s still of some benefit because really what we want to make sure is we don’t have someone that’s adamantly opposed to it that is going to try to stop the movement that we have in Congress. So I guess I’ll put him in the leaning for column. How about you?
Nick Tomboulides: I think leaning for is fine. By the way, it’s not like the cities in America that have short term limits are on fire while the cities run by career politicians are doing so well.
Philip Blumel: Oh, of course.
Nick Tomboulides: This is not how it works. Look at Chicago. Chicago is the largest big city in the country without any term limits. The only one in the top 10 per population that has no term limits and it has the worst corruption problem in the country.
Philip Blumel: Right.
Nick Tomboulides: You absolutely can’t point to cities with term limits and say they’ve been run badly. In fact, I think most cities like that have done very well.
Philip Blumel: Good point. Last we have another Democratic contender, Seth Molton. He’s a member of the US House. He represents Massachusetts Sixth District. Ken Quinn hasn’t tracked him down yet and put hin on the record on what he thinks about Congressional term limits. But he does have a little bit of record with the issue and we’ve talked about that on this podcast in the past, because he was the ring leader, or one of the ring leaders, of the miniature rebellion in the Democratic caucus in the house that was talking about not supporting Nancy Pelosi as the returning House Speaker without some kind of term limit being imposed on either the leadership or the committee chairs in the House, or both.
Philip Blumel: The reasons that he gave and that the rebels gave, were exactly the right ones. It showed some understanding of the importance of term limits.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah. If you don’t have term limits on leadership, basically all but a small number, small select group of Congressmen are just going to be cogs in the machine for the entire time. They’re going to have to keep their heads down and kiss the rings of leadership for at least 12 years before they get their hands on any semblance of real influence.
Philip Blumel: Right.
Nick Tomboulides: So he understands that. We haven’t really seen traction though, on the term limits deal within the Democratic caucus.
Philip Blumel: No.
Nick Tomboulides: Apart from Pelosi agreeing to step down, they have not imposed anything on committees, which is a stark contrast from what the Republicans did when they were empowered. Even though they never went for term limits, they at least had rotation on the committees to create the appearance of rotation.
Philip Blumel: And it was very helpful.
Nick Tomboulides: It was, yeah. If Democrats don’t follow suit, I can see their younger members getting very frustrated very quickly. Maybe that’s why he’s running for President, because he’s just fed up with the inaction, with the paralysis that is gripping Congress right now.
Speaker 8: (singing) They often made, the office often made [inaudible 00:12:05].
Stacey Selleck: Last month, the Hill, the premier newspaper and website covering Congress ran and op ed by US Term limits President Phillip Lumell titled Why Better Candidates Don’t Run for Congress. Without using the words, the op ed demonstrated the phenomenon of adverse pre-selection, which reduces the quality of Congressional candidates. The op ed continues to be shared and discussed and we included in it’s entirety here.
Philip Blumel: I have a confession. I’ve considered running for Congress. Perhaps you have too. My resume seems to support a Congressional run. At 53, I’ve been a successful financial planner for about two decades. I’ve held minor public office. I’ve managed successful ballot initiative campaigns, raised a handsome in a broken family. I’ve served on boards of both charities and other organizations and I speak publicly around what would be my district and also the country, on public policy issues. Not to mention I’ve been asked to run for Congress on more than one occasion.
Philip Blumel: But I’m not going to run for Congress. Congress is not a place to serve. It’s a place where aggressively ambitious career politicians help themselves and their cronies. If our Republic was governed by representative democracy, our politicians would be successful individuals from various walks of life. They step away from their vocations to serve for a time and then return home. But without term limits on Congress, most successful people do not run except those who aspire to be career politicians. Most people who have success outside of politics will not run for two related reasons: one, the impossible conditions required to beat an incumbent; and two, the lack of influence a new member has in Congress. Incumbent advantage is so great that since 1970, just shy of 95% of all incumbents running for the US House have won.
Philip Blumel: Challengers lose as a rule. It’s a long shot akin to investing in a penny stock, and that’s not the kind of investment that prudent individuals make. So-called wave elections, like in 2018, no more that 20% of US House races are competitive. Congressional seats eventually do open when incumbents retire or they die, or they’re sent to prison. And competitive elections are then held. Though a small number of seats each election, only 55 seats were open in 2018. This is where competition in American Congressional elections actually occurs. If outsiders make it through the gauntlet, they will not get to be in leadership. Earning a seat in these positions of power is primarily a waiting game and the line can be a decade or even decades long.
Philip Blumel: The mean tenure for current Democratic committee chairs in the House, for example, is 24 years. The current system rewards those who go to Washington to stay and keeps power from those who would serve and return to their productive careers. When someone considers running for Congress, they ask themselves if it’s worth it to surrender for a decade or more of mind numbing frustration with so little opportunity for success. For a successful goal-oriented individual who wishes to give back, running for Congress is simply not an effective way to achieve that goal.
Philip Blumel: There is a simple reform that addresses these issues: term limits will open each US House seat every six years. With competitive open seat elections, it is reasonable for a successful, qualified individual to make that investment. Rather than seats opening at random, unpredictable manner, successful individuals can plan years ahead to build support in the district and to raise the money needed to campaign. Term limits overthrow the established seniority system and force power to be allocated in a smarter fashion within the legislative bodies. Leaders will be termed out like everybody else. And popular, new members can expect to move into a position of leadership within four years.
Philip Blumel: Congressional leadership will be made up of individuals who better represent the people because they would have recently faced competitive elections. Successful individuals will run with the anticipation of spending a few years of their life in office with a real opportunity to influence policy that inspires them. They will expect to leave office and return to their vocations. Bottom line: the best people should be representing us in Congress, but they’re not. Instead, we are getting aspiring career politicians. Voters deserve real choice with a better caliber of candidates. Yet, without the competitive elections brought by the regular rotation in office that term limits mandate, they’ll rarely see them.
Speaker 1: The latest Gallup poll shows that 77% of Americans disapprove of the way Congress is doing it’s job. One Virginia lawmaker pitches a plan to clean things up in Washington.
Speaker 9: It’s very difficult because you have entrenched politicians who want things to stay the same.
Speaker 1: Freshmen Republican Congressmen, Denver Riggleman wants to put in place term limits for fellow lawmakers. He’s backing a bill that would move forward with a Constitutional amendment so members of the US House of Representatives can only serve three, two-year terms. Senators would have to leave office after two, six-year terms.
Speaker 10: This is an uphill battle. You don’t want to do something symbolic. You want to do something meaningful. And if it draws attention to those to get involved, it sthink it’s a victory.
Speaker 1: Although Riggleman says the effort could encourage greater transparency and accountability in D.C., George Washington University, Steve Billet, a former lobbyist says the intentions of this may be pure, but he thinks ultimately it would empower outside influences.
Speaker 11: With all of these rookies around, Congress would be easy pickings for the lobbyists.
Speaker 12: Yeah. We’ll make [inaudible 00:18:01] of them, and your little dog too. Mwah ha ha ha ha. Mwah ha ha ha. I’ll show those nambi, pambi term limits activists. I’m a lobbyist. I’ll teach them a thing or two.
Philip Blumel: Have we heard this one before or not Nick? Come on. The lobbyists, former lobbyists, coming out telling us that lobbyists are for term limits. Is this some kind of joke?
Nick Tomboulides: Every single campaign, and we only hear this from the political class. My question is: where are you lobbyists? Why has not a single lobbyist ever called me and said, “I really want to help you get term limits because I’m just dying to take advantage of politicians.” It never happens. They are on the wrong side of every single term limits campaign. They always oppose us, not just rhetorically, not just in terms of advocacy, but also in terms of money. They cut personal checks against term limits. Their clients, big business, big unions, everybody lobbyists represent, they cut checks against term limits.
Nick Tomboulides: Then they have the audacity to go out there and make it sound like lobbyists and term limits activists hold hands in a big circle and sing Kumbaya. That’s not how it happens. We are diametrically opposed to lobbyists and they are diametrically opposed to us because they know that term limits are the break on their gravy train. They know that term limits would sever those relationships, it would force them to work much harder. It would bring new blood into the system, people with a real skepticism of lobbying and a real desire to do the right thing.
Philip Blumel: What is it that lobbyists have that their hired for by interests? Their relationships, connections with decision makers. And term limits sever those connections every six years or every eight years, however long the term limit is. That is the bane of a lobbyist’s existence. For them to pretend that this is somehow in their benefit and then they turn around and give money to fight term limits every time the issue arises, is really takes a lot of chutzpah.
Philip Blumel: Now, you’ve done an article before that I’ve read where you’ve looked at different states that have had big money campaigns regarding term limits in California and Arkansas and other places. And as you pointed out, there’s never been a state, not one ever, and we do this all the time, there has never been a state that has had lobbyists come out on the side of term limits. Never.
Nick Tomboulides: No. It’s the exact opposite.
Philip Blumel: Yeah.
Nick Tomboulides: And they’re always funding whichever side is trying to stop term limits from happening, weaken the term limits that already exist. So for example, taking it from eight to sixteen years, as they did in Arkansas.
Philip Blumel: Yeah.
Nick Tomboulides: Or, abolish the term limits altogether. We saw it in Arkansas in 2004. We saw it in California in 2012. They don’t want their relationship with career politicians to end. Any time you see this, just don’t hesitate to call it out. We need to inform people. We need to let them know this is fake news. When you show statistically that the rate of growth in government spending is slower in term limit states, then you have effectively demolished this myth.
Philip Blumel: That’s right.
Nick Tomboulides: You’ve effectively refuted it, because if the lobbyists were in charge, the opposite would be true. Case closed.
Philip Blumel: That’s it.
Speaker 13: This is a public service announcement.
Philip Blumel: One of the 21 Democratic Presidential candidates we have announced so far, is former Representative John Delaney of Maryland. Delaney is a businessman who founded two commercial lending companies that currently trade on the New York Stock Exchange. Delaney ran for Congress. He left after six years to become the first Democrat to announce his candidacy for President. That was on July 28, 2017. He’s also distinguished in that Delaney is not accepting campaign contributions from political action committees, or PACs, and he’s a consistent advocate of term limits.
Ken Quinn: Would you as a candidate for Presidency, support an amendment to the US Constitution to limit the terms of office?
John Delaney: Yes. Absolutely. I didn’t spend [inaudible 00:22:07] hours raising money by the way. I was in shock how me and my colleagues did. Again, it takes a Constitutional amendment, very hard to do. I’m supportive of that.
Philip Blumel: Well, that’s it for another week of No Uncertain Terms. The President can’t pass a Constitutional amendment, but he or she can assist or impede one brewing in Congress or in the States. So we’ll continue to report on the Presidential contest in that light. But never forget the real action on this issue is not in Washington. It’s in your Congressional district and it’s in your State Capitol and amongst your fellow citizens. Stay in touch with us. You can subscribe at iTunes, Apple Podcast app, Stitcher and Google Play. Do it. We’ll be back next week.
Stacey Selleck: The revolution isn’t being televised. Fortunately, you have No Uncertain Terms podcast.
Rush Shmimbaugh: I love the Shriek, the … not every episode can be a winner. It’s feast or famine and I am all about the feasting around here.
Nick: Have we gotten any feedback on our foolishness though? Do people think we’re doing too much?
The “No Uncertain Terms” podcast is produced by Kenn Decter for U.S. Term Limits
Executive Producer Philip Blumel (President, U.S. Term Limits)