Philip Blumel: Talk about Uncertain Terms. Today we’re discussing Michael Bloomberg. Hi, I’m Philip Blumel. Welcome to No Uncertain Terms, the official podcast of the Term Limits Movement for the week of February 24th, 2020.
Stacey Selleck: Your sanctuary from partisan politics.
Philip Blumel: Oh, and Happy Term Limits Day, February 27th, this Thursday.
Philip Blumel: Bloomberg is the second billionaire trying to buy his way to the Democratic presidential nomination. The first, Tom Steyer, is a committed proponent of term limits. Bloomberg, who now reportedly has spent about four times as much as Mr. Steyer has a very different history with the subject. He says he supports term limits too — unless they apply to him. Let’s discuss Mike Bloomberg’s quite erratic history with term limits with Nick Tomboulides, executive director of US Term Limits. But first, a walk down memory lane to New York City 2008
Speaker 3: Citing the need to help New York City emerge from financial turmoil, Mayor Michael Bloomberg is expected to announce Thursday that he’ll seek a third term as mayor. The only problem, the city currently has a term limit law limiting mayors to just two terms. The mayor plans to go through the city council to amend the law to allow a third term because it’s too late to get the issue on this year’s ballot. A recent survey by the New York Times finds a majority of council members are willing to amend the term limits law. A source close to the mayor says Bloomberg will cite the nation’s precarious economic situation as the reason that New York needs a tested financial manager to stay on and guide the city. The move is risky politically for Bloomberg. In the past, he has supported term limits and polls show the public supports the voter approved law. Bloomberg spent $155 million during his first two campaigns, winning in 2005 by 20 percentage points.
Philip Blumel: Well, all right, well we know how that ended up. The council ended up ditching the term limits and Bloomberg got his third term.
Nick Tomboulides: Yes. I like the clip though. The only problem is he wants to stay in office, but we have these pesky things called laws and if you violate those, you’re something called a criminal. Brian Johnson, Associated Press. Yeah, it’s stupid, it’s ridiculous, and a lot of people had probably forgotten about it.
Nick Tomboulides: Bloomberg, he’s a power grabber. He basically treats politics like a person walking into the Gucci store on Fifth Avenue. “Oh, I want this, I want that, I want that. How much to do it?”
Philip Blumel: Right.
Nick Tomboulides: He spent $74 million to become the mayor in 2001, $85 million to get reelected, and then $100 million to get reelected second time in 2009. He outspent his opponent 16 to one and he barely won the election because people were really angry about this attack on term limits.
Philip Blumel: Right. This term limits battle, although he won it and did get to have his third term, it had ramifications on a lot of politicians’ careers in New York. I mean, first of all, think about, let’s go back and remind everyone what kind of power grab this was because they passed term limits originally in 1993 and it was a voter initiative and it passed overwhelmingly and the voters put into place eight-year term limits. Now, politicians chafed under that and almost immediately, and in 1996 there was a second vote two weaken those tournaments and the voters once again affirmed their support for eight-year tournaments.
Philip Blumel: So when Mayor Bloomberg, looking to run for a third term, he looked at those results and then also looked at current polling he had in 2008 that showed that voters continued to support eight-year tournaments and he knew he had a problem. He couldn’t put it back on the ballot, he already knows what the result was going to be. So he went to the city council and made a deal with them and said, “Look, give me a third term and we can add in a third term on for you as well,” because the council was also term-limited.
Philip Blumel: Naturally, they went along with that. He got the votes he needed, they got the term limits weakened and he got another term in office. But he barely won and there was a public uproar.
Speaker 2: I was living in New York City area at the time this all happened, at the time it all went down, when Bloomie boy did this little power grab. I remember there were posters everywhere that said, “No third term, vote for Burns.” They were encouraging people to ditch Bloomberg and write in another evil rich person, Montgomery Burns from the Simpsons. That year, Montgomery Burns had the most write in votes of anybody in the New York City election. So people were angry, there was this little grassroots movement bubbling up under the surface because people thought, Michael Bloomberg, he’s not somebody who looks at voters and says, “Well, I work for these people. These are my employers and I need to listen to them and represent them.” He looks at them like a ball of clay or putty to just be molded in whatever image he decides so that he can get more power.
Speaker 2: So the justification for the third term, it was sucky from the get go because he made it, as you heard there, all about the financial crisis. And yet, you know, New York, it’s a center of the financial world, but what the heck can a three term mayor do about that? At the time, you remember, all the bailouts, all the stimuli, all the policies were coming from DC. So it was a phony reason to begin with, but he exploited it to get that third term and in exchange, he gave all the council members their own extra term as well. It was a pretty close vote, I think it was 29-22 to give him the third term. What you mentioned about the polls, absolutely right. Not only do people favor 8 over 12 as they always do in every poll, but 90% of the voters in New York at the time said, “The council should be letting us decide whether he gets the third term. They shouldn’t be making this decision on their own.” So 90% of people wanted a referendum and Bloomberg said, “Screw you.”
Philip Blumel: Bloomberg with all his money [crosstalk 00:05:58]
Speaker 2: Oh, I’m sorry. Bloomberg said, “Screw you.”
Philip Blumel: Well, Bloomberg with all his money scraped through and he was elected to the third term, but his partner in crime was a woman named Christine Quinn and she was the speaker of the city council. She basically shepherded this bill through the council. It was her plan to follow Bloomberg in office and she was the front runner for a while until this happened. The voters turned on her fiercely. This was a big reason why Bill de Blasio today became the mayor of New York, because Quinn was completely knocked out of the picture and made room for other people like De Blasio to step in and win this election.
Nick Tomboulides: Not only though was she horrible, but de Blasio was a council member at the time and he was good on term limits. He was on the opposite side from Bloomberg. He was saying how wrong it was for Bloomberg to change the term limits without allowing the voters to weigh in. De Blasio and term limits on the same side, it’s like, that’s why they say politics makes strange bedfellows because you would never think about it but had he not taken that position, he would have never become mayor. So you’re right. It had an amazing domino effect on New York City politics.
Philip Blumel: Speaking of strange, the one that’s strangest parts of this story is the fact that Bloomberg before this episode was a supporter of the eight-year term limits law and in fact he was quoted as calling it disgraceful when they had the second vote on it in 1996, when there was an effort to weaken those term limits. He said it was disgraceful. Then just a couple of years later, I guess he was being disgraceful. But the oddest turn is that after this episode, after he extended the terms and after he had his third term, he changed his mind again and said that term limits should go back to eight years after he got out of office.
Philip Blumel: In 2010, there was yet another vote on term limits. The voters this time got to vote whether it was going to be 8 or 12 years; they voted overwhelmingly to go back to eight years. Guess who supported that effort? The sitting mayor, Mike Bloomberg.
Speaker 2: I was for it before, I was against it before I went for it, before I was against it, before I was for it.
Philip Blumel: That’s it.
Speaker 2: You know, he spent $464 million on his presidential campaign already so he’s a big contender this time. What are his plans for presidential term limits? It’s been in the constitution since 1951. We’re commemorating it upcoming on February 27th, National Term Limits Day. Does Bloomberg believed the president should have a two-year limit or is he going to try to extend that one as well?
Philip Blumel: Well, my guess is is that he thinks that eight-year term limits are a great idea for every president prior to him and every president after him but while he’s president-
Nick Tomboulides: We will amend the constitution.
Philip Blumel: Right. You know, we talk about how being in office a long time, how closely correlated tenure is to the arrogance and hubris and boy, Mike Bloomberg is the epitome of this. He is an imperious character that always gets his own way, largely because his own wealth, and of course, because he’s held these powerful positions and he has done a lot in the private sector I think that is admirable, but he is a … he thinks he’s a king once he steps on that public stage.
Nick Tomboulides: We don’t need those silly term limits. One rule for thee and another rule for me.
Philip Blumel: That’s it.
Speaker 5: This is a public service announcement.
Philip Blumel: Bob Corker is an American businessman and politician who served as US Senator from Tennessee from 2007 until he retired in 2019, serving as chair of the powerful Senate foreign relations committee since 2015. At last year’s Aspen Ideas festival, Corker was asked about why he retired after only two terms.
Bob Corker: I told people back home that I would serve two terms. I didn’t sign a written pledge or anything. When I was thinking about not running for a third term, I was chairman of the committee and people were trying to get me to run again. At the end of the day, I just decided that my original statement was the right thing to do. I will tell you this, I never, I didn’t even think I was going to run for a second term. During my first term, I think some of my best public service, candidly, was during the financial crisis. It was a really heady time. M point is, the entire time I’ve served in the Senate, I have felt 100% free to say, to do whatever I wish. I do think that it makes a difference in the way you serve if you’re only going to be there for a period of time and you’re going to leave.
Bob Corker: I think our country would be much better off whether that was a constitutional amendment, it’s not going to happen, but where a new culture was created, where people went up there to do a job and left. I think the decisions, the tough decisions about fiscal issues would be made, but I just think of culture of voters wanting people. Everybody said, “Well, you’d lose all that institutional knowledge.” I don’t know. I don’t think so. Okay? I find when people have been around there a long time, a lot of them, not every one of them, most of them, they lose that edge. They get rounded out. They think that things are not possible anymore. Candidly, many of them are just taking up space.
Philip Blumel: So Nick, I know you’ve been going up to Tallahassee over the last several months and talking to legislators, speaking to them in front of hearings and whatnot, and it looks like they took your advice.
Nick Tomboulides: Yes. For the first time …
Philip Blumel: Last week.
Nick Tomboulides: For the first time in the history of the state of Florida, school board term limits have passed the state house of representatives.
Philip Blumel: Fantastic.
Nick Tomboulides: It passed by a vote of 79 to 39. Overwhelming, bipartisan, super majority. We’re halfway there. In order to get to the ballot, the road runs through the house and the Senate. We’ve got the house, we still need to pass this through the state senate where we have one more committee and then the floor vote where we need a three-fifths majority there as well. So it’s hopeful but we still got a lot of work to do. We’re not out of the woods yet.
Philip Blumel: Right. The votes on the two senate committees so far we’re pretty close. Right? Now we have to, the bill has to make its way through the rules committee and then to the senate floor. We’ll keep working on that and there will be a current action on termlimits.com for Florida voters to contact their senators and tell them to vote on this measure. We’ll keep you informed about that via all our different avenues. Stay tuned.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah, we’ve got it going up. It’s already up actually. You go to termlimits.com/schoolboardtermlimits if you live in Florida. We’ve got the update on the bill, all the progress that it’s made so far past the house on February 20th. Then there’s an action because what we need is the rules committee, specifically the chair, Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto to put this on the agenda for a vote. There’s not a lot of time left in session. They might just have one or two meetings left, which means it’s imperative. People, act now with a sense of urgency. If you want to vote on this, you have to get on termlimits.com, send a message and help us get this on the ballot. We can by no means take this for granted.
Philip Blumel: Now, it requires more than just a simple majority to put a referendum on the ballot statewide. It requires a super majority, so it makes it tougher. We got it in the house and that just shows how tough it is going to be to get in the senate although we’ve been making lots of progress. The vote in the house there was pretty bipartisan. It leaned Republican on this vote, a little more than what we’re used to so that made me a little uncomfortable as well but there was at least a dozen or so Democrats that voted for it. What have we been seeing in the senate?
Nick Tomboulides: Well, in the senate, you have to remember that one of the introductory sponsors was a prominent Democrat. Lauren Book from Broward County was one of the co-introducers of the senate version. So we know we’ve got at least one Democratic supporter. There are 23 Republicans in the senate. You need 24 votes. Doing the math, 23 plus 1, 24. If you get all the Republicans and at least one Democrat, then you’ve passed. But you have to get to the floor first. The committee’s process, those are the gatekeepers who decide what gets to the floor and what doesn’t. So right now, the rules committee is arguably more important than the senate floor.
Nick Tomboulides: Also, you mentioned the bipartisan vote in the house. Just want to give a shout out to a long time supporter of term limits. Geraldine Thompson, who a few years back was the deciding vote to help us pass the term limits convention in Florida. Geraldine is in the house now. She was a yes vote on school board term limits and our appreciation gratefulness and thank you goes out to her because she’s just been such a stalwart ally of this movement for a while. We can’t mention how much we appreciate her.
Philip Blumel: Absolutely. She’s fantastic. Someone else had pointed out that jumped out at me when I was looking at the list of votes is Thad Altman from in the Atlantic, a Republican. He voted against the proposal, he’s one of the few Republicans that did. His argument was, get this … well, before I even tell you what he said, this bill puts on the ballot in November to the voters the question of whether or not that we should have term limits on our school boards. Okay? Here’s what he said. “This is a constitutional amendment that takes away the rights of voters.”
Nick Tomboulides: Well he’s …
Philip Blumel: Okay.
Nick Tomboulides: This happens to be the representative from the district where US Term Limits office is located. How dumb do you have to be to know that you’ve got a bunch of term limits fanatics in your backyard and you’re still voting against this resolution? Because now, you know, I’m going to like personally knock 5,000 doors against this guy in his next campaign because I can’t stand him. He’s been in office since 1984 by the way, different offices in Florida. He was first elected five years before I was born so I think he stayed way past his expiration date and it’s time to take out the trash in that regard.
Philip Blumel: Yeah, I think he feels a special kinship with Keith Hudson at Columbia County who’s on the school board there, who’s been in office for the last 44 years. He’s first elected in 1976 to that position.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah. By the way, in Florida, before we got term limits, we routinely had election cycles where more than half of all of our state legislative races were canceled. Today, for school boards, people ask why we’re focused on school boards. It’s because nearly half of the elections where incumbents are running get canceled every two years because the incumbent is too powerful to challenge. They have too much name recognition, they have too much media coverage, they get too much money from contractors, developers, subcontractors, and so open seats are the only time you see real competition. Term limits are the only thing you can do to get real competition and incumbency limits folks choices a lot more than term limits do.
Philip Blumel: The presidential impeachment divided both the house and senate along strictly partisan lines, but few Americans of any party are likely to quibble with Chris Talgo of the Heartland Institute who argues in the Hill that, “The impeachment demonstrates the dire need for term limits.” The following article appeared under that headline on February 13th, 2020.
Speaker 7: As the U S Senate concluded its second impeachment trial of a US president in the past two decades, one thing is extremely apparent. America needs congressional term limits as soon as possible. One might be surprised to know that many of the characters in the impeachment of president Donald Trump were also roaming the halls of Congress 21 years ago during the impeachment of president Bill Clinton. In fact, 84 of the 535 members of Congress who are currently involved in the Trump impeachment also cast votes in the Clinton impeachment, which occurred before the turn of the millennium and the advent of smartphones. Even more astonishing, one Congressman, representative Don Young, Republican from Alaska was in the US house when president Nixon’s impeachment inquiry began, which took place 47 years ago. Rep. Young has been in Congress much longer than I and millions of other Americans have been alive. The scourge of career politicianism is worse in the Senate than the house. Of the 100 senators who decided Trump’s fate, 28 also cast votes in the Clinton impeachment.
Speaker 7: In fairness, some of the current senators who are sitting through the Trump impeachment were members of the US house during Clinton’s impeachment. If this were not reason enough to raise a few million eyebrows, presidential candidate Joe Biden was a senator during both Nixon’s impeachment inquiry and Clinton’s impeachment. Biden, elected to the US Senate in 1973 at the age of 30, served in the upper chamber for a whopping 36 years.
Speaker 7: For most members of the house and senate, maintaining their political power is a win-win for them, even if it’s a lose-lose for America. Consider this, on average, being a member of Congress is far better for one’s bank account than not being a member of Congress. According to Ballotpedia, the median American citizens saw his or her household net worth decrease from 2004 to 2012 by an annual rate of -.94% while members of Congress experienced a median annual increase of 1.55%.
Speaker 7: Consider this — between 2004 to 2012 the average American households saw an inflation adjusted slight increase of assets from $204,957 in 2004 to $264,963 in 2012. This was an inflation adjusted annual percentage change of 3.7% from 2004 to 2012. On the other hand, members of Congress experienced a very healthy 15.4% rate of growth. Once again, for average, hardworking Americans, it was 3.7%. for members of Congress, it was 15.4%. Shouldn’t these numbers be the opposite? Members of Congress are public servants, right? They are not supposed to be plundering public swindlers. Unfortunately, they also get posh pensions for life courtesy of us taxpayers, among many other benefits.
Speaker 7: The time for congressional term limits is way past due. In 1788, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “I apprehend that the total abandonment of principle of rotation and offices of president and senator will end in abuse, but my confidence is that there will for a long time be virtue and good sense enough in our countrymen to correct abuses.” Maybe it is time we heed Jefferson’s call for rotation in office. After all, we amended the constitution to prevent a perpetual president after President Franklin D Roosevelt disregarded George Washington’s two-term precedent and was elected four times. We should hold members of Congress to a similar bar.
Philip Blumel: Thank you for joining us for another episode of No Uncertain Terms. Thursday is Term Limits Day. How are you going to show public support for this cherished American tradition on February 27th? Perhaps display a sign on your lawn on that date. You can make your own with a poster board and a magic marker. Or perhaps you planned ahead and have some term limits swag such as a button, hat, or t-shirt. Well, Thursday’s the day to show them off. At the very least, please send out a Happy Term Limits Day message on your social media. Feel free to link your post to termlimits.com or even better, termlimits.com/petition. Be sure to share any term limits greetings you receive with your friends. Let our neighbors know that this revolution is underway and how they can become part of it. Thank you. We’ll be back next week.
Speaker 2: Subscribe to our YouTube channel at US Term Limits.
Speaker 8: USTL.