Philip Blumel: Career politicians are officially on notice. Hi, I’m Philip Blumel. Welcome to No Uncertain Terms, the official podcast of the Term Limits movement for the week of November 25th, 2019.
Stacey Selleck: Your sanctuary from partisan politics.
Philip Blumel: The new strategy of aggressively educating voters about who supports and who opposes congressional term limits is resulting in large numbers of new pledge signers being elected to state legislatures. The latest evidence is from Louisiana, which held its election on November 16. We gave you some raw numbers. We had at our podcast deadline last week. Let’s talk to US Term Limits executive director, Nick Tomboulides and define what these numbers mean. Hey, Nick.
Nick Tomboulides: Hey, Phil.
Philip Blumel: So last week, November 16th in Louisiana, they had the state legislative elections and we played there. How’d we do?
Nick Tomboulides: We did very well. We actually did a significant voter education campaign here. You have to remember US Term Limits has a mission. We started with this mission and it’s really one that you could copy in every state in America. Get as many legislators signed onto the term limits pledge as possible because state legislators are the key to term limiting Congress. The way you get them on board, just ask them to sign our pledge. In Louisiana, we started without any pledges. Through a lot of teamwork, we wound up getting 144 pledges signed by candidates throughout the state. And of those 144, 34 won their elections.
Philip Blumel: Wow. So now we have 34 members of the Louisiana legislature that have committed to support the term limits convention bill.
Nick Tomboulides: What this means is one quarter of the entire Louisiana legislature has now signed on the dotted line to endorse term limits convention. It’s tremendous progress. It gives us a foundation upon which we can build to get this done in the 2020 session. Because Congress is about as likely to pass term limits on itself as the dolphins are to win the super bowl this year.
Philip Blumel: That’s not fair.
Nick Tomboulides: It ain’t going to happen. Oh, it’s very fair. And you know, I went there. So we did a significant voter education campaign. Sixteen key races we jumped into and we told the voters who was the hero and who was the zero on the topic of term limits for Congress.
Philip Blumel: Right.
Nick Tomboulides: For Democrats, we did mailer that showed Barack Obama loves term limits, but the Democrat candidate in district wouldn’t support it. For Republicans, we used Trump. We kept it bipartisan. And through that effort, voters responded. Eleven of the 16 pro term limits candidates won in those very close races in those swing districts. That’s a 68% victory rate. So not too shabby.
Philip Blumel: Not too shabby at all. Well, that’s exciting. And this comes on the heels of success in Mississippi where we saw a lot of signers elected to their legislatures.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah, we saw 20 signers get elected in Mississippi just a few weeks ago.
Philip Blumel: So do we expect to have the term limits convention bill introduced in each of these legislatures this coming year?
Nick Tomboulides: I anticipate so.
Philip Blumel: Oh good.
Nick Tomboulides: And I think that in both states there’s going to have a strong chance of passage in 2020. It’s by no means a lock. We got to put a lot of grassroots energy and activism behind it. People in these states need to get active and talk to their legislators and visit the Capitol and such. But as I said, it’s a great foundation for us to build on in both these states.
Philip Blumel: Right, and I think the Louisiana and Mississippi elections are evidence that our current strategy is a working one.
Nick Tomboulides: Absolutely.
Philip Blumel: The career politicians are being put on notice.
Nick Tomboulides: We saw this anecdotally too in these places, like one incumbent I’ll mention the state Senator Ryan Gatti. He sent us his pledge but only after he realized we were making it a huge deal in his district, and he’s just a typical example, someone who had no interest in supporting term limits, no interest in signing the pledge, but once he saw that we were talking to voters and constituents, he got religion very fast. Unfortunately for him it was too little too late. His opponent, new Senator Robert Mills beat him by 13 points, but it’s just instructive of the power of the issue, and when you get involved in these elections and voters are paying attention, it really is a game changer.
Philip Blumel: Okay. Well another way that career politicians have been put on notice this last week was at the democratic presidential debate. Ten candidates talking on every issue under the sun, including term limits. And if you ask, me the winner of this debate hands down was Tom Steyer who brought up the issue and called out those that are afraid to talk about it on the stage. Let’s hear it.
Tom Steyer: What I’ve done is to try to push power down to the American people to take power away from the corporations who’ve bought our government, and I’m talking now about structural reform in Washington DC. Term limits. If you want bold change in the United States, you’re going to have to have new and different people in charge. I’m the only person on this stage who will talk about term limits. Vice President Biden won’t. Senator Sanders won’t. Even Mayor Pete Buttigieg will not talk about term limits and structural change. I would let the American people pass laws themselves through direct democracy. It’s time to push the power back from DC.
Speaker 4: Thank you, Mr. Steyer.
Tom Steyer: And away from DC. I know that the government in Washington DC is broken. I know that it’s been purchased by corporations, and I’ve spent a decade putting together coalitions of ordinary American citizens to beat those corporations. I’m the only one on this stage who’s willing to talk about structural change in Washington itself, term limits. That if we’re going to make bold changes, we’re going to need new and different people in charge.
Nick Tomboulides: The Steye-dog.
Philip Blumel: Yeah. How about that? And he mentioned it twice you hear. He mentioned it as an answer to a question and also he brought it up in his prepared remarks at the end. So this is a core message for him and running for president.
Nick Tomboulides: It is. And you and I have been calling for someone like this to emerge in the democratic field for a very long time. It’s only now happening, but this opportunity has been there since the race started, and you have to give him credit. He entered the race late. If you remember, he made his debut in the debates only a month ago, but before that, nobody had seen him on national TV except for maybe a few commercials. Since he started talking about term limits, 24/7, 365, he’s been rising in the polls. I was looking at it today. He went from 1% to 5% New Hampshire, went from 1% to 5% in Nevada. That may not seem like a lot, but we’re talking about a 12 person field. You got to remember everyone and their brother and their mother and their baby’s mama is running for president this year. And the median support in the field’s only around 3%. so the front runner in any given state is only around 20%. He’s at five in some of these early swing states and he’s rising. And what differentiates him from the rest of the field is term limits.
Philip Blumel: Right. I noticed that no one else engaged on the topic.
Nick Tomboulides: No.
Philip Blumel: It fell flat after he insisted on talking about it twice, but he called him out by name. I was really impressed.
Nick Tomboulides: Yep. It’s the first time we’ve seen in presidential politics for a while a candidate who’s calling out the other candidates on the carpet and reading them the Riot Act because specifically they refuse to discuss this. He specifically singled out Bernie and Joe Biden in his remarks who are like the two Methuselah’s of politics up on the stage. So it’s really smart. It’s good strategy. Obviously he’s got a great pollster. He knows what connects with the voters and we’ll see who takes it from here. I mean, we obviously don’t have a dog in the hunt, but we do celebrate any time a candidate is bringing this issue to the forefront. Like he said, it’s structural reform and you’re never going to get what you want on all these other policies if Washington is corrupt, if it’s run by career politicians looking out for their own self-interest rather than the interests of the people.
Philip Blumel: Well, you’re right, we don’t have a dog in the hunt, but I will tell you on the issue of term limits, Tom Steyer is the front runner, right?
Nick Tomboulides: Right. Term Limits doesn’t endorse any candidates, but candidates endorse term limits and we are more than happy to tell you who’s endorsing it and who’s not.
Speaker 6: Yes, we have a break! Yes, we have a break!
Philip Blumel: US Term Limits northern regional director, Ken Quinn has been featured on this podcast for his work and smoking out the democratic presidential candidates’ positions on congressional term limits. Last week, Ken testified before the federalism and interstate relations committee of the Wisconsin legislature in favor of a convention of states Article Five resolution that specifically includes congressional term limits,
Ken Quinn: I’m with US Term Limits and I’m here in support of AJR 77 because one of the subject matters is a term limit amendment for Congress. This is an issue that has overwhelming support of the American people. 82% of Americans would like to see term limits on Congress. What’s unique about it is this issue polls extremely high across all political parties, 76% Democrats, 83% independents, and 89% Republicans. It’s probably the one issue in the country today that can actually bring both sides together. The American people are sick and tired of what’s going on in Washington right now. It’s broken. Congress is dysfunctional and the members of Congress no longer listens to the American people. They do listen to their funders however, and in a recent study by Princeton basically proves the fact that if 80% of Americans want something, Congress won’t do it, but if their funders want something, they will.
Ken Quinn: And our voices are no longer being heard. We currently have over 5,000 years of institutional knowledge sitting in Congress right now. What is it getting us? We heard earlier about the $22 trillion in debts. We have an immigration crisis, a healthcare cost crisis. We are able to keep the government functioning through continuing resolutions because they can’t get their act together. This is nonsense. We need a functioning government. We need to have term limits to get rid of these individuals who care more about their own self-interest in maintaining their power and replace them with citizens who know they have a short period of time to get the job done that their voters sent them to do. With term limits we can achieve that. It is not the silver bullet, but what it will do will refresh our government so that we’ll have new people with fresh ideas to provide solutions to the crisis we’re facing.
Ken Quinn: Now, we obviously support this issue because term limits has been around for a very long time. In fact, you may recall back, well, I’ll go back way back to the articles of Confederation. Our first constitution had term limits. Back then they called it rotation of office. Many of the state constitutions had rotation of office. In the early 1990s term limits for Congress was huge in our country. Twenty-three states passed laws, most of them by the people at the ballot box to put term limits on their own members of Congress. In 1995 the Supreme Court overturned all of those state laws in the case US term limits versus Thornton. And what the court determined and ruled was this: the only way the states can accomplish this is through article V, the amending provision. So it can only come by an amendment to the constitution.
Ken Quinn: Now there’s two ways to propose amendments. We need two thirds of both houses of Congress to pass the amendment and send it out to the states ratification. Who in this room honestly believes Congress is going to pass by two thirds, majority term limit amendment on themselves? It’s not going to happen. That is why the framers in their wisdom gave the states a check and gave the states equal authority to propose amendments, and it’s time that the state legislatures listen to the people and propose this the way they want it. They wanted this years ago. We did it with the president. We have the 22nd Amendment because people wanted it. We have many amendments that have corrected the problems of our country. 13th amendment, voting rights for women, voting rights for 18-year-olds. This is how we address critical needs in our nation and the states need to have a voice in this process. We cannot leave it up to Congress to do that.
Ken Quinn: The couple of things I do want to address is the the process, but before I leave to go to that topic, I want to read a quote here. This is about the rotation. “The rotation in the Senate would also, in my opinion, be of great use. It is now probable that senators once chosen for a state will as a system now stands continue in office for life. The office will be honorable if not lucrative. The persons who occupy it will probably wish to continue in it and therefore use all their influence and their friends to continue in office. Their friends will be numerous and powerful for they will have it in their power to confer great favors. Everybody acquainted with public affairs knows how difficult it is to remove from office a person who has been long in it. It is seldom done except in cases of gross misconduct.”
Ken Quinn: That was from Robert Yates, 1787 at the Convention. They understood human nature. See, we can’t vote out human nature, and that is why not allowing people to remain in office for life is a good thing. Too much power for too long a period of time is not good for a nation. Now in regards to the Article Five convention, I used to completely oppose this idea. I was on the other side. I believe it was a constitutional convention. We don’t have the rules. How would it work? They would rewrite the Constitution. I used to actually hand out to legislators in Maine a DVD said, “Beware of Article Five.” It was produced by the John Birch Society. This is where I was getting the information from.
Ken Quinn: Well, once I started doing my own research, I realized what I was being told about this process was not true. And in the package I provided you, I’m taking most of the arguments you’ll hear from the opposition and I’m not taking out of context. I’m providing you the actual documents. So you can read it for yourself, which is what really turned me on to realizing this is something we need to use. We need to embrace Article Five and use it to solve our problems.
Ken Quinn: Number one is I went through the notes that were taken at the convention and realize the framers from the very first day of the Convention of 1787 introduced the convention that ultimately is Article Five. Charles Pinckney, he actually brought a complete constitution on day one of the 1787 Convention because that convention was called to draft a new constitution, and I’ll get more into that in just a minute. Here’s his provision. If two thirds of the legislatures of the states apply for the same, it was requirement of the two thirds of the states to apply for the same amendment. It was limited to what two thirds agreed upon. It’s not an open convention. It’s controlled.
Ken Quinn: And on August 6, the first draft of the Constitution reported out by the committee of detail. They had it at that point, it was Article 19, “On the application of the legislators of two thirds of the states in the union for an amendment of this Constitution, the legislature of the United States shall call a convention for that purpose.” So it was limited to what two thirds of the states agreed on. On the last day of the Convention, the wording had changed throughout the course of the 1787 Convention, but the way it was finalized is it allowed Congress to propose if two thirds passed it. It also allowed Congress to call convention for the states if two thirds agreed on the subject matter. So it’s controlled by that subject matter alone. Nothing else outside of that can be introduced.
Ken Quinn: Now immediately after they approved the language of Article Five, a motion was made to give Article Five the same power as a constitutional convention and that was declined. They voted that down. So this is not a constitutional convention in that there’s a big difference between the two types of conventions. It takes unanimous consent for a constitutional convention to be called. So it’s completely different. This is two thirds and then ratifications by three quarters. That cannot be changed also. Article Five is the law, and so the law cannot be changed in the middle of the ballgame. And this is where the myth of the runaway conviction all comes from. And this is what I used to believe, that Congress called the 1787 Convention solely for the purpose of revising the articles of Confederation. And what happened? The delegates showed up in Philadelphia and within a few weeks they threw out the articles and drafted a whole new constitution. That’s a lie. The truth is this. Virginia called the convention and they called it specifically based on the recommendation from the Annapolis Convention of the previous year.
Ken Quinn: You see, this is how states used to deal with problems. We have a long rich history of conventions of states. We have I think documented over 40 of these in our history. And the recommendation from Annapolis said this, “Appointment of commissioners to take into consideration the situation of the United States to devise such further provisions as shall appear to them necessary to render the Constitution of the federal government adequate to the exigencies of the union.” All twelve States that sent commissioners had that language in their commissions and the commissions is what legally binds the delegates. That is the legal authority they have at a convention.
Ken Quinn: Now Congress, seven or five months later, they offered their opinion in Congress, just one of the articles to be revised. However, the delegates had full authority to do what they did. They were sent there not to preserve the articles of Confederation. They were there to preserve the union and that’s the argument James Madison makes in Federalist 40 ,and he just blows this myth that they exceeded their authority. He does mention this. He says in one particular, it is admitted that the convention had departed from the tenure of their commission. Instead of reporting a plan requiring the confirmation of the legislatures of all the states, they have reported a plan which is to be confirmed by the people and may be carried into effect by nine states only.
Ken Quinn: They changed the ratification. That was a proposal. Well that was written only three months after the convention convened. What took place in history is that all 13 state legislatures approved of the new process, approved of the new ratification process by calling state ratifying conventions of the people. So it was approved unanimously and all 13 states ratified the Constitution fulfilling this so that even that one little point is no longer valid. It was a moot argument back then and that’s still being used today to try to discredit what the framers did.
Tom Steyer: I’m about to say two words that will make Washington insiders very uncomfortable: term limits. You and I both know we need term limits that Congress shouldn’t be a lifetime appointment, but members of Congress and the corporations who’ve bought our democracy hate term limits. Too bad. I’m Tom Steyer and I approve this message because the only way we get universal healthcare, address climate change, and make our economy more fair is to change business as usual in Washington.
Ken Quinn: I like to turn your attention to Federalist 85 real quick. Alexander Hamilton expressly explains how this is a limited process. He says this, “But every amendment to the constitution if once established,” so once it’s ratified, “would be a single proposition single and might be brought forward singly. There would be no necessity for management or compromise in relation to any other point, no giving, nor taking. The will of the requisite number would at once bring the matter to a decisive issue. And consequently, whenever nine…” That’s your two thirds or rather 10 states. That’s the ratification. So he’s talking about the convention. Whenever nine or rather 10 states were united in the desire of a particular amendment, that amendment must infallibly take place.
Ken Quinn: So this process is a limited process to one amendment or whatever the subject matter two thirds agree upon. You may have seen a quote. I’m sure you’re probably getting emails from the the opponents that James Madison. Oh, he trembled at the thought of another convention. They like to take that out of context. This is the context and I provide you… I took the Liberty to provide you the talking points of the opponents, but I kept it in the context so you can actually read it. Madison, when he wrote that, the new federal government had not even begun yet. New York sent out a circular letter wanting a new convention. They wanted to revise the whole constitution and here is all the amendments New York wanted.
Ken Quinn: It was an open convention and Madison’s referring to that. He wasn’t referring to what we’re talking about today. He said, “Listen, slow it down. Let’s let the government at least begin. Let’s see what we really need before we start making changes to it.” In fact, even in the very letter that they lift this quote from, he describes the two types of conventions, one requiring unanimous consent, which is a constitutional convention. The other two thirds, which is an Article Five. So please, I encourage you to read this so you have the complete context.
Ken Quinn: Lastly here, what did the framers really intend is provable by the first debate of Congress. This is May, 1789. The federal government began in March. The states, Virginia filed the first Article Five application. They wanted the Bill of Rights. Remember most of the states wanted the Bill of Rights before ratification. Promises were made. Well, Virginia wasn’t going to wait for Congress to do it. They wanted to take action.
Ken Quinn: Well, in the very debates upon this application, you will see that they all… Now keep in mind the first, you might not be aware of this, the first Congress, over 50 of the members of the first Congress were either members at the 1787 Convention or they were delegates at their state ratifying conventions. They understood what Article Five meant. Let me just read to you some of their discussion. Mr. Boudinot said this, “According to the terms of the Constitution, the business cannot be taken up until certain number of states have concurred in similar applications.” They need to agree. Mr. Madison said he had no doubt but the House was inclined to treat the present application with respect, but he doubted the propriety of committing because it would seem to imply that the House had a right to deliberate upon the subject. This he believed was not the case until two thirds of the state legislatures concurred in such applications. And then it is out of the power of Congress to decline complying. He understood Congress has no role in this, none whatsoever.
Ken Quinn: They call it, which is basically summoning the states to come to a meeting time in place and they will decide how any amendments if passed, we ratified. That’s it. They don’t make the rules. They don’t choose the delegates. Nothing else. He says, “From hence it must appear that Congress has no deliberative power on this occasion. The most respectful and constitutional mode of performing our duty will be to let it be entered on the minutes and remain upon the files of the House until similar applications come to hand from two thirds of the states.”
Ken Quinn: Over and over again. I’ve highlighted these so you can look at them yourself. They understood this was not an open convention. The states must agree ahead of time. And in fact in the 1987, 200 years later, the US Department of Justice issued a report because back in the eighties the states were getting very close to call convention for a balanced budget amendment. In this report, they make it expressly clear that the states have every right and ability to limit this process. It says this, “Since it is undisputed that Congress possesses the authority to propose amendments limited to a single topic or groups of topics, it follows at the applications of the states for calling a constitutional convention may also be limited.” I wish they wouldn’t use that term constitutional convention because it’s really convention for proposing amendments, but they prove that this is limited.
Ken Quinn: And I just want to share with you. Congress has introduced 12,000 amendments to the US constitution. They’ve passed 33 by the two thirds, ratified 27. The states have not introduced a single amendment. I thought this was about checks and balances. This process gives the states the same opportunity congress has taken advantage of over 12,000 times. This year alone, Congress has introduced 60 amendments to the US Constitution. Sixty. Now some of these are great amendments but they’ll never see the light of day because they cannot get their act together. So it’s up to you as state legislators to do your duty, fulfill your responsibility as state legislators under Article Five and pick up the slack.
Ken Quinn: What I want to share in closing is that all states, in fact, Wisconsin, you are doing this right now. Currently there’s a convention of states held every single year, an official convention of states. All 50 States send commissioners. It’s called the Uniform Law Commission. Now, the only difference is that in this body, instead of proposing amendments of the Constitution, it proposes uniform state laws, but it operates just like an Article Five convention.
Ken Quinn: Let me share with you the similarities. So the number of commissioners are different amongst the states. Typically they’re appointed by the governor. Some legislators might appoint. I don’t know all the details on that. When they arrive, they had their commissions, which states what they’re allowed to discuss, debate and vote on. That’s the legal document. They have a scope and program committee that basically functions as Congress to predetermine what the subject matter will be. So it’s limited. They draft. They have drafting committees just like an Article Five convention would be. They have a committee of the whole. I attended one of these a few years ago. All the delegations were at their desks. They had their flags. It was great process to watch. This is how it works. It’s one state, one vote, just like an Article Five. Okay. If they pass anything, it’s known as a model act.
Ken Quinn: They’ve passed over 300 of these, and since 1892 they meet every year. A majority of the states present must approve the before it’s formally proposed to the states. Once it’s proposed, the commissioners then bring the act back to the state legislature to be adopted as law. In fact, Wisconsin, you have three of these before you right now that have come out of a convention of states. And so we do have the rules. We know how the process works. We’ve been using it since 1892 and that is not even talking about how we’ve had over 233 conventions within the states to either propose or draft a new constitution or to propose amendments to their current constitution.
Ken Quinn: Out of those conventions, 6,000 amendments have been adopted by the states that come from conventions. So we know how this works. And so I encourage you to please support and vote for the process. If you don’t like the policy, I understand, but please do not fear the process because this is what the framers gave us as a way to have a functioning government amongst the federal level, the national level and the state level. So I encourage you to please support AJR 77, and we’d also like for you to support Term Limits for Congress. Thank you.
Philip Blumel: Thanks for joining us for another episode of no uncertain terms. We cannot let the Politicians Not Voters coalition succeed in overturning the citizens’ will in Michigan. If you live in Michigan, please go to the Save Michigan’s Term Limits action page at termlimits.com/Michigan and send a message to your legislators right now. Tell them to keep their hands off Michigan’s term limits. Also, please forward this link to other Michiganders you know. You can also find the Michigan action page under the current actions tab at termlimits.com. We have to get ahead of this. Thanks for your help. We’ll be back next week.
Stacey Selleck: The revolution isn’t being televised. Fortunately, you have the No Uncertain Terms podcast.
Speaker 8: USTL.