Philip Blumel: Mark your calendars, February 27th is Term Limits Day. Hi, I’m Philip Blumel. Welcome to No Uncertain Terms, the official podcast of the Term limits Movement for the week of January 6th, 2020.
Stacey Selleck: You’re a sanctuary from partisan politics.
Philip Blumel: Happy New Year. 2020 will be an important one for the Term Limits Movement as we are gearing up for the new legislative sessions in the States. Many legislatures will be considering the Term Limits Conventions bills, and legislators need to know that citizens are watching. Celebrating Term Limits Day is a great way to send that message. Let’s discuss this and other matters with US Term Limits Executive Director, Nick Tomboulides. Hey Nick.
Nick Tomboulides: Happy New Year.
Philip Blumel: And to you, how were your holidays?
Nick Tomboulides: Excellent, excellent. Got to spend a lot of time with the family. Got to overindulge in a turkey and the accoutrements. The only thing I don’t like though is that song, 12 Days of Christmas, I feel like eight days of Christmas would be a much better timeframe. Eight days would really instill the urgency and the purpose in Christmas. I think that was intended by the founders of it, but that’s okay.
Philip Blumel: No, I understand. As we mentioned on a previous podcast, I was traveling with my family. So my holidays were special too, I’m glad to hear it. There’s another special holiday coming up in a month or so, Term Limits Day.
Nick Tomboulides: Here, here.
Philip Blumel: February 27th and this will be the second annual iteration of this new holiday announced by us. And our first one last year was a lot of fun, and actually it was a lot bigger than we really expected. We didn’t know what to expect. We chose the date of February 27th because that was the date that the 22nd amendment was passed, which established term limits on the US president.
Nick Tomboulides: Yes. And at the time that happened in 1951 the president was Harry Truman. And Harry Truman sent a note to the Congress basically asking, “Hey, why didn’t you include yourselves in this?” That was sort of odd. And he actually wrote that term limits for Congress would cure seniority and senility, two terrible legislative diseases.
Philip Blumel: Right. That amendment has worked out well and has remained enormously popular and we’re all still asking the question, why didn’t Congress include themselves? Of course we know the answer to that, they want to stay in office forever. It’s the perks of power too great to turn down. And so we need to remind them every year that people out here, outside of Washington still feel the same way. We want to have term limits on the U.S. Congress. As long as I’ve been involved with this organization, we’ve gotten emails and calls from people that say, “I want to do something. I want to have a march on Washington. Let’s get 100,000, let’s get a million people up to Washington D.C., and let’s have a march on the Capital. Let these politicians know how we feel.” When I first hear that, well actually I agree with them. I’d love to do something like that.
Philip Blumel: But when I really think about it, they already know how we feel. And we’d be having this kind of march in Washington D.C., the only place in America where people don’t believe in term limits. It would cost a lot of money. We’d have to load up buses and we’re not an AstroTurf organization, we’re a real grassroots organization. We live out here in the real world where people have jobs and they don’t just fly up to Washington to march around. That just isn’t something that I think is going to work for our movement. At least not at this point. Maybe when it come down to the final fight over this issue, maybe something like that would be appropriate. We started thinking when we put together this idea, this new holiday is that let’s not put ourselves out like that. Let’s make ourselves known where it really matters, in the district. Where not where everybody hates term limits, but where everybody supports term limits.
Philip Blumel: That’s where we want to see these politicians see us show support for this issue.
Nick Tomboulides: Right. Yeah, I would agree. I think Washington D.C. didn’t make term limits, the Term Limits Movement doesn’t owe anything to Washington D.C. And frankly, banging our head up against the wall up there is just not going to do that much. I think it has to be grassroots effort. It has to start right in the community. We’re hoping to make it bigger and better than ever before. But for it to work, it really has to resonate with community, resonate with people locally because that’s how term limits get started. I’d say rallies, sign waves, get togethers, trying to get some coverage in your local newspaper or on television. And then we can take over social media and try to make it the biggest issue of the day. But it really is an amazing opportunity and I think it’s a good chance for us to get together and regale each other with stories of how little politicians have accomplished in the last 50 years.
Philip Blumel: That’s the truth. And speaking of social media, that was one of our unexpected successes of last year. We sent out information that Term Limits Day was February 27th, and everybody should go out and make some kind of public statement about term limits in some way. And wow, we got retweets by Senator Ryan Paul, Governor Rick Scott of Florida, by Mike Brown, by Ted Cruz, former ambassador Nikki Haley and many state legislators. And we had the biggest traffic day that we had ever had at U.S. term limits up to that point because of excitement about this new holiday.
Nick Tomboulides: The goal always for Term Limits Day I think always has to be making it bigger than the year prior. What we want to do is, we want to boost it, we want to improve, we want to strengthen it. We want to learn from the things we didn’t do well. We want to keep the parts that we thought we did well last time. So we’re going to be expanding on this idea as we get a lot closer to February 27th. But the number one thing is, it’s to celebrate why we have term limits for the president and how important it is to do it for Congress. And to me, from my personal perspective, it’s not just the presidential term limits we celebrate, but we also celebrate the tradition that was set at the very start of our country by George Washington. Back when he resigned military commission and then he retreated back into private life instead of becoming a King.
Nick Tomboulides: We celebrate the farewell address he gave when he stepped down from the presidency instead of going for a third term and that’s when there were no term limits in place. So it’s about remembering that this issue is woven into the national DNA. It’s a symbol of America, it’s symbol of everything that we stand for that we guard against the accumulation of too much power. And I just love seeing people come together to celebrate it and to really send a wake up call to the political class.
Philip Blumel: Well put. On our website at termlimits.com we have a store. And you can order yard signs, you can order T-shirts, hats, bumper stickers, magnets for the side of your car. That’s a great thing to drive around with on Term Limits Day or any other day. But definitely on Term Limits Day. If you want to participate in this and please do. If you’re listening to this podcast, you definitely should. Order something that you can use to proclaim the message on that date. February 27th, Term Limits Day.
Scott Tillman: Hi, this is Scott Tillman, the national field director with U.S. Term Limits. U.S. Term Limits is working hard to get candidates committed to congressional term limits. At both the state and federal levels, we continue to gain new signers for our term limits pledges. In the state legislatures, hundreds of candidates have signed the pledge to cosponsor, vote for, and defend the resolution applying for an article five convention for the sole purpose of enacting term limits on Congress. In the last two weeks, we have had 25 new candidates sign this pledge. We now have over 250 seated state legislators who have pledged to support term limits for Congress. If you have access to a candidate, please ask them to sign our pledge. Pledges are available at termlimits.com
Nick Tomboulides: I’m holding here in my hands Phil, an original and historic Term Limits document. Do you have any idea what this is? This is an original signed pledge by Senator Susan Collins from Maine dated April 15th, 1996. Promising that she will campaign for a term limits amendment and step down from the Senate after two terms. This should be in a glass case at the Smithsonian because since Collins put pen to paper on this in 1996 she has been elected to four full terms and is now running for a fifth.
Philip Blumel: Wow. She’s been in D.C. 23 years, nearly double what she had promised. It’s such a testament to the way the swamp works, the way it breaks your spirit, breaks the trust that you had with the voters.
Nick Tomboulides: Before we stomp on her for this, which we will and she deserves. That was a two-part pledge and one of them was that she was going to support the efforts in the Congress to pass a term limits amendment. And to her credit, when she was fresh in office and she really ran on this issue by the way. Part of the reason why she won and became part of the U.S. Senate is because she ran on the issue of term limits. Part of that pledge said that if she’s elected, she will support the constitutional amendment. And she did. She backed the issue and she voted for it when she had the ability to do so as a Senator. So for that she deserves some credit. Now, the second half of the pledge, which by the way, I think that we’ve talked about this in earlier podcast, we don’t ask people to self limit anymore. But we certainly expect people that take pledges to the public to live up to them.
Nick Tomboulides: And this is an example of a politician who thought the idea was great when she was running for office. But then over time, like Ronald Reagan said, she initially saw Washington D.C. as a swamp and then she got there and she found that it was more like a hot tab, and she wanted to stay. Now she’s looking at if she gets elected again next year, she’s going to be a chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which is arguably one of the most powerful chairmanships in the U.S. Senate. She’s made it after 24 years and she says, “Oh, I can’t relinquish this power because I can do so much now for the people of Maine.”
Philip Blumel: Gosh.
Nick Tomboulides: I know it.
Philip Blumel: Yeah.
Nick Tomboulides: Now we’ve heard this a zillion times and there’s some truth to it in the sense that it does take 24 years to get that kind of power in the Congress, and that’s one of the things that’s very, very wrong with the Congress. With term limits of course, people could leave their private lives and their private professions spend some time in the Congress, achieve some level of power and make a difference without spending their entire career there.
Philip Blumel: Considering what you just said, I would have made a deal with her. If she had come to the table and said, “Look, now that I’m in the Senate, I realized that seniority and years in power are the key to having influence in this body. It’s wrong, but that’s just the way it is. I wish we could change it. So, what I’m going to do is I’m going to stay here as long as I need to, to do what’s right for the people of Maine, but I’m also going to sponsor a constitutional amendment that would term limit everybody. That way we could smash the seniority system, we could dismantle it. You’d impose a limit that affects every single member of this body and seniority wouldn’t be as important anymore. It would be about who has the best ideas, would be about who has the best expertise in various subject matter.” But she didn’t do that.
Nick Tomboulides: No, Phil. No.
Philip Blumel: She gave up not only on herself limit but also on her vow to sponsor the amendment. And by the way, these pledges have no expiration dates. If you sign this pledge, we expect as an organization that you will keep your word for as long as you are in Congress. And she did not do that and it was very disappointing. And I’ll tell you, she’s on the ballot this year and what I find so odious about the whole thing is that her opponents have been too dumb to capitalize on it. They are not calling her out for breaking this pledge. This could be the biggest issue in the Senate election in Maine. She could face a primary for this, she could be vulnerable in the general election, but the opponents are not capitalizing on it and it’s just bad politics.
Philip Blumel: If you really want to be proactive, you need to really grill, you need to call Susan Collins out on the carpet for this, and you need to give her a serious grilling about why she broke her promise to the people of Maine. And so far I don’t see anyone doing that. I would not be surprised if Susan Collins gets reelected to a fifth term.
Nick Tomboulides: Well, yeah, it would not surprise me at all. One thing that really stands out about her is that she ran on this issue and she ran against someone that had been in office for, I don’t remember how many years, but it was more than 24 years. Joe Brennan was his name. And the Washington Post noted back then that Susan Collins had this rhetorical point that she’d make. She told the Rotary Club to close their eyes next time they hear Joe Brennan, the incumbent speak. “And ask yourself what year you’re in. It could be 1964 the year he first ran. The world has changed, but Joe Brennan’s ideas haven’t.” Now you could do the same thing with Susan Collins today.
Ken Quinn: The 2016 National Republican Party platform includes an endorsement of congressional term limits and posits that the GOP would be the party to impose them. Keep this in mind when talking to Republican legislators about the subject. Here’s the full text of that plank as it stands currently in their platform under the heading, Advancing Term Limits. “Our national platform has repeatedly endorsed term limits for members of Congress. In response, the GOP leadership in 1996 brought to a vote in both the house and Senate, a constitutional amendment. It failed to secure the necessary two thirds vote in the house where 80% of Republicans voted for it and 80% of Democrats voted against it. Every Senate Republican voted to allow a vote on term limits, but the Democrats killed it by a filibuster. Blocked by that opposition, Republicans sought other ways to modernize the national legislature. They said term limits for their own committee chairs and leadership positions and by law they required Congress to live by the same rules and imposes on others. To make further progress to advance a constitutional amendment for consideration by the States, we must expand the current Republican majorities in both chambers.”
Philip Blumel: Another noted politician is talking about scrapping a term limit that he faces, and that is Vladimir Putin of Russia. He’s been in office since the year 2000. And they have a two-four year term limit just like we do in the United States. And after he was in office for eight years, he didn’t want to leave. He came up with an ingenious plan where he switched places with the prime minister and the prime minister became president and he became the prime of the Duma and that worked out for one term. But Putin couldn’t stand it and [inaudible 00:14:58] down the deal and he was really the power behind the throne, so he demanded to return to his position as president. Well now it’s been two terms again, and so he’s already talking about how he’s going to retain his power after his term ends. You’ve heard the story before maybe.
Nick Tomboulides: Absolutely. Yeah. I’ve heard this story in Palm beach gardens, Florida, for example. But it’s just the natural inclination of a politician to want to keep power. They’re like moths to a flame. They just keep going back. In the case of Putin though, it’s like a Kabuki theater act. He’s run brushes since 2000. There was a brief intermission where his hand selected puppet stepped in and then he came back. Now they want to talk about a new constitution, which would let him come back in. I’m surprised they’re going to that greater length to try to disprove the fact that he’s a dictator. It’s like you’re denying the obvious reality of what we know. It reminds me of that Seinfeld episode where George Constanza quits a job, but then he shows up at the office anyway and just pretends like it never happened. That’s basically what Putin is trying to do with term limits.
Philip Blumel: Right. It really is a quasi dictatorship. Much like what we saw Chavez do in Venezuela and well, we’ve seen in this story so many times play out around the world and even in the United States. He doesn’t want to just come out and just refuse to honor it. He has the power he needs in the Duma to change the constitution to simply throw it out so he could stay longer. He prefers not to, I think. I think he prefers the trapping of being a Democrat, rather than the fact of being revealed as a quasi dictatorial character.
Nick Tomboulides: One thing I learned from this story that I didn’t know before is that Putin does not have as tight a grip on power as I had thought. We don’t normally associate Russia with having a competitive election or having press freedom, but there are apparently some real threats to him, to his power, political threats coming in 2021. So he’s not just guaranteed a rigged election, which is good.
Philip Blumel: That’s correct.
Nick Tomboulides: There are members of Congress probably who have tighter grips on their jobs than Putin does right now.
Philip Blumel: There is parties in that country. Now, he has a lot of power to wield so it isn’t as competitive as it might sound, but his United Russia Party is facing challenges here. And by the way, part of it is because of this term limits issue. The biggest protests that we’ve seen in Russia since he has held power was when he took back power early after his deal with Medvedev, his handpicked person to hold the position while he pretended he was prime minister. And the people found that very frustrating and they were in the streets about it. His grasp on power isn’t complete.
Nick Tomboulides: I miss the days of when the Russian president was just an old lush, like Boris Yeltsin who couldn’t do more than eight years even if he wanted to. But Putin is a young guy, he’s very fit. He’s riding around on these horses all the time. He could stay in for another 20, 25 years realistically if he wanted to. It’s important, at least for the people of Russia that these term limits are respected. But it doesn’t look like that’s going to be the case. There’s a quote in here from the chairman of the Russian legislature, Duma, and he said, “Russia’s constitution is getting old.” The constitution is 25 years old, the constitution is younger than me. It sounds like a millennial brat who’s bummed out because his parents made him stay home and watch home movies with grandma, “This is getting old.” Well, no, it’s the constitution and it has to be respected.
Philip Blumel: That’s right. We’ll keep you informed on this story. It’s an ongoing one, but maneuvers are being made right now and Putin is going to try to stay longer and we’ll see what happens.
Nick Tomboulides: The Vladi daddy. By the way, I have a funny little anecdote for you here. Have you ever noticed that for a lot of congressmen, when you email them asking if they support term limits, they will send a response. And there’s a guy in Maine, I think Jared Gordon sent this. “Term limits would require a constitutional amendment, which can only be proposed by a two thirds vote in Congress. Thank you for your time.” Okay, so what’s your answer? It’s like my wife asks me, “Nick, are you going to go on a diet?” I say, “A diet would require making responsible life choices and not spending three hours at olive garden every day. Thank you for your time.”
Philip Blumel: Yeah.
Nick Tomboulides: But what are you doing to do? What’s your position? They skirt the question and it’s so dishonest, so disingenuous.
Philip Blumel: Right. Well, I think that we know what that politician’s going to do and I think we also know what you’re going to do.
Nick Tomboulides: You can’t see me, but I’m fastening a bib onto myself right now.
Philip Blumel: Thanks for joining us for this episode of No Uncertain Terms. Term limits are an American tradition that is worth celebrating. On February 27th, how will you publicly show your support for Term Limits Day? For ideas, go to termlimits.com/termlimitsday. For swag, go to termlimits.com/shop. Feel free to contact us with your ideas through our website as well. Whatever you do, be sure to document it on social media. Thanks. We’ll be back next week.
Stacey Selleck: If you like what you’re hearing, please subscribe and leave a review. The No Uncertain Terms podcast can be found on iTunes, Stitcher, and now Google Play.