Philip Blumel: It’s official. The West Virginia Senate introduced a resolution to term limit Congress. Hi, I’m Philip Blumel. Welcome to No Uncertain Terms the official podcast of the term limits movement for the week of January 20, 2020. Last week, Senator Randy Smith introduced a resolution SCR4 for West Virginia to participate in an amendment proposing convention under article five of the US Constitution. It would be limited to the subject of congressional term limits. SCR4 has the bipartisan support of 14 co-sponsors. To date, nearly 60 West Virginia legislators have signed the US Term Limit’s pledge promising to co-sponsor, vote for and defend this resolution. According to the most recent poll of West Virginians conducted by McLaughlin & Associates, 83% of likely voters support this issue while only 12% do not.
Philip Blumel SCR4 is in the process of being assigned to committees for a vote before it makes its way to the floor of the West Virginia Senate. For the latest let’s turn to US Term Limits, executive director, Nick Tomboulides. Hey Nick. So things are getting underway in West Virginia. I know that the bill has just been entered and yet there’s already action on the ground. What’s going on there?
Nick Tomboulides: Happy session. Well, our bill has been introduced. It’s already been assigned to committees and we’ve got activists in the ground today at the State Capitol who are meeting with legislators and raising awareness. They’ve got a nice table right in the main hall there and we’re expecting good things for West Virginia. We’re thinking this is going to move pretty quickly.
Philip Blumel: We have an action item on the site, a calling for an early vote. We’re pretty confident we have the votes, so it’s really a matter of having the vote held in a reasonable way because of course, last session we felt like we had the votes also and through the machinations of Senator Romano, we were led along until the very end of the session and then through a filibuster we ran out of time.
Nick Tomboulides:: Last session Romano took a knee on us, like Tom Brady in the end of a football game and just ran out the clock. And so we literally ran out of time to pass this because West Virginia constitution forces you to end the session at a particular time on a particular date and that happens to be midnight. This time we’re going to try to move it forward a lot sooner. We’ve got really strong support in the Senate, strong support in the State House. Our numbers are better than they were last year and we’ve done a lot of conditioning and prepping in the off season to ensure that we’re successful. I’m feeling fairly confident about it, but it’s not going to be taken for granted by any means.
Philip Blumel Of course. One asset we have on the ground is Aaron Dukette. He’s our state coordinator for West Virginia. He’s been really doing a good job there and other members of our team and activists.
Nick Tomboulides:: Yes, I had a conversation with Aaron this week. Great guy. He is such a stalwart. He’s working to get it passed and he’s a big part of the reason we are close to passing in West Virginia, but he’s been doing such a good job getting under certain politicians skin in West Virginia that one of the legislators just last week made an attack ad going after Aaron, specifically. The state rep, this guy named Mike Pushkin who has never been for term limits total garbage on this issue. And the little clip, it’s about 40 seconds long. It’s on Facebook and the production values are horrendous. This is what comes up if you Google Windows Movie Maker this is what comes up.
Nick Tomboulides:: First, you hear the theme from Stranger Things and it feels like a monster is going to pop out at you and then there’s a spooky grainy picture of Aaron and it says, “Dark money has no place in West Virginia. Out of state lobbyist Aaron Dukette doesn’t care about West Virginia or the truth.” So it’s hilarious. He’s going to probably need some ice for that burn and the end of the video, it closes in super classy fashion. It’s got a picture of Aaron and some badly Photoshopped cockroaches.
Philip Blumel Right. I saw that. It was ridiculous. In fact, I was embarrassed by the ad. I was embarrassed, not because of the attack on Aaron, but because of the bad production values. It just made me cringe. I know that the ad posted Aaron’s phone number and encouraged people to call him and give him a hard time. But last I heard he had received exactly zero calls, so it hasn’t been very effective.
Nick Tomboulides:: I think he actually received a few from folks cheering him on and asking him to continue fighting for term limits after they saw that video. The irony of the video is that it’s Aaron who is stepping up and standing with 80% of West Virginians who support term limits while this particular legislator is opposing them. So it’s not really Aaron this guy has a problem with, it’s the people of West Virginia. He’s so angry and unhinged about the fact that they don’t happen to agree with him on term limits. They want term limits for Congress and he’s just taking out his rage on Aaron. So it’s misdirected.
Philip Blumel That’s exactly right. We have fresh polling that shows that 83% of the voters in West Virginia support term limits. So, Aaron’s representing 83%. Mike Pushkin is representing basically the Capitol and the lobbyists there.
Nick Tomboulides:: I laugh too when we get called dark money a little because, that’s an allegation people use when they don’t like that you keep the names of your donors private. But think about it though for a minute, Phil. Could you imagine if the names of donors to term limits were public? Some congressmen, state legislator like Pushkin, a wacko pulls a few strings and boom you’re getting audited, you’re getting demoted. The business you own might be losing out on some state contract. Man, I can’t tell you how much of a disaster that would be.
Philip Blumel I have stories of this exact thing happening from the early days of the term limits movement. That’s precisely what happened because you’re taking on power here. We’re taking on incumbent power and you can bet that there would be repercussions for donors if we were loose with that information. Now, a lot of times our donors will be happy to say that they’re making contributions to us, but we’re not going to give out that information. No way.
Nick Tomboulides:: Right. A lot of people, if you did that, they couldn’t fund this effort. They couldn’t support us because of threats and harassment. So we protect our donor’s privacy for a reason. We take that really seriously.
Philip Blumel Yeah, and I guess that in the minds of politicians who are being attacked, that makes us dark money. But I want to say something about that too, that’s very personal, because I’ve been involved in this organization for a long time and US Term Limits is a solid, genuine organization. No hidden agenda. I mean our agenda is in our name. We are battling for term limits always and everywhere. There is no partisan agenda. As anyone who listens to this podcast knows, there’s no other issues that we’re secretly pushing. This is all about term limits and myself personally, started this movement in the 90s collecting signatures on the street to put term limits on the ballot and that’s how I learned the issue and got involved and I worked on many different campaigns since then and now I’m helping run the organization so it’s very close to my heart.
Philip Blumel And I do not receive a paycheck or this or any other way be compensated for this except that I think it’s the right thing to do. Now we have staff and we have paid staff of course because to get something done you have to have a staff to do that. We’re not collecting donations from any special interests or any institutions or any companies. We would accept these contributions if they came, but they don’t because big institutions and companies and packs and these organizations, they aren’t opposed to term limits because they are trying to buy politicians and power and we are trying to stop it.
Nick Tomboulides:: Look at Washington DC where we see 12,000 registered lobbyists working on behalf of all of the shady, sinister, slippery, special interests that are out there. You name it. None of them are working for term limits. They’re all working against term limits. They’re all working against giving people control of the political process again, because when the people have control, then those folks lose control. We are swimming upstream here. We’re swimming against the current. We’re challenging the status quo in Washington DC and so nearly all of our support comes from grassroots donors who really just want a better country. They have no particular self-serving motive.
Philip Blumel That’s right. When professional politicians and lobbyists call us dark money, that’s just the case of the pot calling the kettle black.
Scott Tillman: Hi, this is Scott Tillman, the national field director with US Term Limits. I’m also part of a volunteer group in Michigan that defends our state term limits from overambitious legislators and greedy lobbyists. The Michigan group is called Don’t Touch our Term Limits. Michigan has the strongest term limits in the nation. Politicians are limited to three House terms and two Senate terms and these are lifetime limits. Michigan’s term limits are currently under attack from lobbyists and legislators. They want more time in Lansing. In October, we polled to see if voters want legislators to have more time in Lansing. We asked. Currently Michigan state legislators are term limited to six years in the State House and eight years in the State Senate. Michigan legislators are proposing to lengthen term limits allowing themselves to stay in office longer. Do you favor or oppose a change in Michigan’s term limits that would let state legislators stay in office longer?
Scott Tillman: 69% of Michigan voters oppose changing term limits. Obviously the voters like term limits and feel that the term limits are working. Politicians can only succeed in weakening term limits by hiding their efforts or tricking the voters. Our Michigan group is taking bold action to shed light on the political scheming. The hogs in Lansing want more time at the trough, so we found a giant hog to tattle on them. We are going town to town with a giant pig on a trailer. Everybody understands that term limits make the lobbyist squeal. People love seeing the pig and they quickly see the connection between pigs, politicians, and lobbyists. Earlier in January, we visited McComb County and the Thumb and many cities in between. This week we will be in 25 cities in Southeast Michigan. Please go to our save Michigan term limits Facebook page to see locations and share stories about the pig. If you’re interested in joining our Michigan group, please go to termlimits.com/pig and take action. If you’re interested in joining one of our many volunteer groups around the country to help advocate for term limits, please contact us at termlimits.com.
Nick Tomboulides:: The Stey dog had to be the referee between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren the other night.
Philip Blumel I saw that. That was hilarious.
Nick Tomboulides:: When they were fighting like dogs he stepped in and he’s, “I don’t want to get in the middle of this but Bernie I just wanted to say hi.” And Bernie just looks at him right in the eye without missing a beat. And he’s, “Yeah, okay. Oh, you’re saying hi. Okay, fine. You can say hi all you want. Can’t you see I’m in the middle of a face off here.”
Philip Blumel Yep. Well, being attacked is a sign that you’re being effective in a lot of cases and just like we were just talking about with Aaron Dukette in West Virginia, there’s a reason why that politician attacked him is because there’re politicians are starting to worry about his efforts and how well it’s going and how successful he is in trying to promote term limits in West Virginia. And another example this week that I find really fascinating is with the presidential candidate Tom Steyer. We’ve been following him since he announced his candidacy because he keeps talking about term limits and he did again in last week’s presidential debate. And so that was fantastic. Now he’s starting to show up in the polls.
Philip Blumel I saw one article, it was a Fox News poll that shows him in second place in South Carolina at 15% and apparently he’s not doing as well in other States but that was pretty impressive. And so we’re starting to see some attacks on him and looking over these attack stories from say the Washington Post and also Bloomberg Media, by the way, is running one against him. Both of them are so shallow on the issue of term limits and use the most tired cliches and there was clearly no work done by these writers on the term limits part of the article. It’s like the only reason why they’re attacking journalists in this article is to try to attack I guess who is a political nemesis of theirs for whatever reason, Tom Steyer. So shallow and so clear that that’s what’s going on here.
Nick Tomboulides:: Yeah. Some people are calling it the Steyer surge. Some people are calling it the Steyer boom lit. As you said, he’s been attacked now by the New York Times. He’s been attacked by the Washington Post for supporting term limits. But yeah, dogs don’t chase parked cars. They’re doing it for a reason. They’re doing it because he’s got upward mobility in the polls. There’s another poll done by Morning Consult. This is actually a tracker of all the early primary caucus States and what they showed is that Steyer has moved into third place among all the candidates. He got 15% average of surveys from Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina, and that means he only trails Biden and Bernie. Biden’s at 27. Bernie is at 19.
Nick Tomboulides:: That means Steyer’s four points behind the runner up from 2016. So when you look at his campaign he has absolutely blanketed the airways with ads, but hey, so is Mike Bloomberg. Actually Bloomberg has spent more. The difference is term limits. Steyer is good on term limits. Bloomberg doesn’t talk about term limits and he’s got an atrocious track record. I would say 80% of Steyer’s messaging has been term limits. It’s as close to running a single issue campaign as you can possibly be.
Philip Blumel Right. He mentions other things, but the other things he mentions are basically reiterating what the other candidates are saying so it doesn’t have the same impact. What stands out is what’s different, and if you ask what’s different about Tom Steyer than these other guys on the stage outside of biography, the answer is term limits. And so when I look at that $75 million that he’s spent, I’m looking at that as a gift to the term limits movement because he’s really helping popularize this idea amongst his circles.
Nick Tomboulides:: I’m getting calls from my grandma standing in line at Stop & Shop who hears a Steyer commercial on the radio. I’m pretty sure that when you die you have to hear a Steyer commercial before you get to St. Peter and the pearly gates. So he’s literally everywhere. He’s everywhere and it seems to be paying off. What we’ve said from day one has been politics it’s all about differentiating yourself. There are so many candidates. When you add up how much time these folks get to speak at a debate sometimes it’s only four or five minutes. You have to find a way to stand out. Trump and Obama stood out because they were different. Trump was blunt and outspoken. Obama was cool, he was hip. Steyer is none of those things. But he is a term limits guy and I feel he’s making his presence felt in this contest right now. We’ll see how it goes. The Iowa primary is coming up.
Speaker 4: And you thought ranking below head lice was bad. The headline of the latest Gallup poll dated January 6, 2020 reads, innocuously enough, nurses continue to rate highest in honesty, ethics but what the headline doesn’t say is if nurses ranked the highest, who ranks the lowest? Well, we at US Term Limits are not surprised in the least. Literally just above the ranking of the dreaded used car salesman and just below insurance salesperson resides the perpetual bottom dwellers of Congress members and senators. We can’t make this stuff up. The poll asked respondents to state how they rated the honesty and ethical standards of people in different fields. While nurses rated at 85% for being the most honest and ethical, members of Congress ranked at a mere 12%. Last summer when USTL executive director, Nick Tomboulides testified in front of a US Senate subcommittee he was urged by professional Congress critters to remove from his prepared speech any discussion of a survey that ranked Congress lower than head lice, which it did.
Speaker 4: Did that deter him? Heck no. Afterwards, Senator Ted Cruz privately called Nick’s disparaging remarks out to politely tell him, and I paraphrase, “The comparison to an ecto parasite infestation was being too kind.” At least that’s somewhat tamer than when Beto O’Rourke compared his profession at the time to gonorrhea. Yes. Another infliction that consistently ranks barely lower than Congress and who would know better than two men who have had front row seats inside the belly of the Washington DC swamp beast. The good news I guess is that they’re up slightly since last year by four whole points. If you had a consistent job approval rating below 25% for 30 years, do you think you’d still be around collecting $174,000 starting salary with Cadillac benefits? Then why do we accept that of our consistently low ranking Congress members? If we can’t trust them to be honest and ethical why do we want them in charge of our country for life? We truly need to reach critical mass in our outrage. It’s time for a term limits amendment.
Nick Tomboulides:: Some people say you can’t fight City Hall. Those people have never met Tim Burns. Tim is a 20 year resident of Elk Grove Village, Illinois who has been leading an effort to place term limits on the mayor and board of trustees in the Village. To reward Tim for a job well done and protect their cozy jobs the elected officials in Elk Grove have dragged Tim and his fellow volunteers to court to try to stop the people from deciding term limits. Thankfully a judge just ruled in favor of the people. Cook County judge, Maureen Hannon sided with attorneys for Burns keeping the referendum on the March 17th ballot and in the process empowering citizens to decide term limits. We’ve got an exclusive interview with Tim Burns right now on No Uncertain Terms.
Nick Tomboulides:: If you don’t mind just introducing yourself, Tim, and just telling us a little bit about yourself.
Tim Burns: Sure. My name is Tim Burns. I’m the chairman of the Concerned Citizens of Elk Grove Village. We’re an organization that is pursuing term limits for our municipal government here in Elk Grove Village, a suburb of Chicago, near O’Hare Airport. I’ve had the pleasure of serving my community for over 10 years, six years as a library trustee, and then four years as a school board member for a local school district in our area, both volunteer positions. And I’ve seen firsthand how term limits could be utilized to create a transition mindset and really go into a growth mindset as opposed to a fixed mindset. So we, myself and a group of supporters are vehemently in support of term limits and have organized a referendum that is now successfully going to be placed on the ballot on March 17, 2020 and will allow the citizens of Elk Grove Village, the residents to decide for themselves if they wish to enact term limits or not.
Nick Tomboulides:: I actually just saw a copy of an attack mailer that had been sent out by the mayor of Elk Grove, which claimed that these were outsiders coming into the Village and trying to wreck it with term limits. It said very clearly outsiders were doing this, but you don’t sound like an outsider at all. How long did you say that you’ve lived in Elk Grove Village?
Tim Burns: No. I’ve been in Elk Grove Village for about 20 years. I grew up in the town of Bensenville, went to Eastern Illinois University and met my wife down in Charleston, Illinois and she was from Elk Grove Village, so about 20 years here. I have three kids who know nothing but Elk Grove, so this is their home and this is our home.
Nick Tomboulides:: Let me ask you, how long have the current trustees been in office? The ones that you aim to term limit in March.
Tim Burns: All greater than 10 years now. One was from the 1990s so almost a 10 year lasting between 15 to 25 years. The mayor has been in office close to 20 years. They’ve been in their positions for a considerable amount of time and earning compensation in those positions for a considerable amount of time as well.
Nick Tomboulides:: What is the reaction in the community been to your term limits effort as you go door to door as you meet people along the way, collecting signatures? How’s the community responding to this in Elk Grove?
Tim Burns: Well, I think the first thing is that we collected over 2,500 signatures in roughly about four or five days. We started on July 3rd and went through that Sunday, July 8th and overwhelming responses. We had some individuals that collected 75 signatures in almost 90 minutes. There was something that people were willing to sign. They knew exactly what they were signing and the number one question they asked is, “If we sign this, does this mean the mayor’s out?” And then we explained, “No, this would bar him from running in future elections.” But all in all, the people were excited. They’ve continued to be excited and now we’re seeing a Renaissance and a resurgence of excitement now that it is officially on the ballot.
Nick Tomboulides:: I’m hoping it might embolden people throughout the state to really fight back against corruption at the local level. What do you think?
Tim Burns: Our focus is exclusively on Elk Grove Village and the climate and culture and creating that transition mindset, which we believe will lead to a growth mindset. And so we want to create that culture right off the bat where you walk into the office and you know it’s not going to be a lifelong activity. You’re not a Supreme Court Justice. This is going to be a short fixed time where at some point you’re going to start thinking how do I transition to the next group of leaders that come in? And again we talk about leaders. The next leader might be 80 years old. The next leader could be 40 years old. The next leader could be 20 years old. But it is that next person doing their time and how do you transition to that next group of people coming in?
Nick Tomboulides:: Yeah, well what you’re guaranteeing at least is an infusion of fresh faces and ideas. You’re guaranteeing that people are going to be more public service minded rather than just trying to feather their own nest for a very long time. So yeah, I think it would definitely have a positive impact on creating more dynamic culture in local government. I was reading something the mayor had written. The mayor had called you sad and called you sick for working to impose term limits on him and other board members. I’d say hyperbole alert. We see this time and time again throughout the country how politicians are supposed to be representing the people, but instead they take citizens to court and they try to drag your good name through the mud and it just disgusts me. So my question for you is why do the elected officials in Elk Grove fear the citizens? Why are they so adamant about denying the people a chance to decide this? Because what you’re really saying is we’re not enforcing term limits on the people. We’re letting the people decide whether to impose term limits. What’s so bad about that?
Tim Burns: That’s a great question. And that’s a question that we’ve wrestled with in our conversations that this is a choice. We want people to have this choice. It’s not about us, it’s not about them. There’s been some very vicious comments that, well, this is a group of people you’re going to trust the community. No, that’s wrong. We’re pursuing term limits and on March 18th when this passes, there’s going to be a huge conversation that’ll lead all the way through December as to who that next group of leaders might be. So the idea that because we’re pursuing term limits means that we are the ones that are going to be trying to steer the ship. We’re going to have voices in that conversation just like everybody else but again, this is for the people, for the ability of the residence to choose. It’s not us against them. This is about the people. We’re giving the people the choice.
Nick Tomboulides:: That’s the key takeaway. From everything I read from everything I hear out of this story, it really seems like it is politicians fighting their own voters. You can’t underscore that enough that these folks were elected to represent you and yet here they are dragging you to court, dragging you through this protracted legal battle, trying to undermine everything that you do. I mean, don’t you find that kind of perverse and backward? Don’t you think that they should be on your side? Don’t you think they should be cheerleading the fact that citizens are getting involved in the democratic process?
Tim Burns: I think in all of my service I was able to bifurcate myself from the role and really not mess and infuse the two and I think unfortunately here you have a situation where some people are really not able to separate themselves from the role. And it’s almost like a divine right Monarch back in the old days.
Nick Tomboulides:: It certainly sounds like one.
Tim Burns: Yeah. And they’re just not able to separate themselves where they feel that they must be the ones that do this. It has to be them. If not anybody else, the sky will fall. Anarchy will prevail. No, life will go on. On March 18th if people choose term limits for themselves, they will be able to choose their next group of leaders. People will stand up and say, “I’m going to try this out now.”
Nick Tomboulides:: So March 17th is election day in Elk Grove Village. When eight year term limits for trustees will be on the ballot. Tim, is there anything else our listeners here at No Uncertain Terms can do to help you guys or raise awareness of this?
Tim Burns: I think looking at this issue and really recognizing that this is a ground level issue focused on individuals that want to improve the climate and culture of their community. And just recognizing that we’re street-level people, we pay our taxes. We’re not people that want to be mayor ourselves. We’re people that want the best for our community because our kids live in the community, our relatives live in the community and we want the best and we believe that term limits is the best pathway forward. Victor Hugo said it best, “There’s nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” And we believe that the idea of term limits, the time has come for it in Elk Grove Village.
Nick Tomboulides:: Thank you so much. We wish you the best of luck in working to keep government in Elk Grove Village accountable and responsive to the people. Thank you so much, Tim.
Tim Burns: Excellent. Thank you, Nick.
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: The revolution isn’t being televised. Fortunately you have the No Uncertain Terms podcast.
Speaker 7: USTL.
Philip Blumel This is a line from the Bloomberg editorial trashing Tom Steyer. “Politicians who want long careers in Congress tend to work hard to represent their constituents.”
Nick Tomboulides:: You should just have Ken… Don’t do your laugh, just have Ken put in the laugh track on that.
Philip Blumel Yeah, you’re right. That is insane.
Nick Tomboulides: : Oh my God.
Philip Blumel That’s just beggars belief. Oh man.
Nick Tomboulides:: You know it’s bad when you can’t say politicians represent their constituents without the whole room breaking out in laughter.