Watch term limits advocate Nick Tomboulides, Executive Director of U.S. Term Limits, set the record straight on why 18 years in Congress is more than enough time to govern. Term limits on Congress diversifies and creates a citizens legislature, brings subject matter experts to Washington in elected roles, and puts the emphasis on legislating – not re-election campaigns. It’s time to drain the swamp.
Before his testimony before a judiciary subcommittee, U.S. Term Limits Executive Director Nick Tomboulides spent an hour on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal program debating term limits with Casey Burgat of the R Street Institute. It was a worthy bout, but the most interesting part were the phone calls from viewers, which we’ll sample throughout this episode.
Speaker 3: Connor, out of Greenbelt, Maryland. Good morning.
Connor: Good morning. Yes, I support the idea of term limits. I think that an idea in congress can be that, why solve a problem when you can just run on the issue indefinitely. But I wonder if both guests could maybe comment on what they think fixing gerrymandering would do to this issue. I’ve heard Arnold Schwarzenegger talk about steps he took in California, and it seems like those steps helped to make seats much more competitive and it maybe took away the need to have term limits. Thank you.
Speaker 3: Tomboulides.
Nick Tomboulides: 98% of incumbents are reelected every two years, but when you dig a little bit deeper, what you realize is that our country actually has an epidemic of uncompetitive elections. Every two years for Congress, over 80% of incumbents running for reelection are either totally unopposed or they’re under opposed, meaning that they’re running for election, but they’ve got an opponent who’s not running a serious campaign, and the incumbents cake walk back into those districts. Again, we’ve got 10% of congressional elections on average that are unopposed every two years.
Nick Tomboulides: How do you vote your incumbent out when there’s nobody else on the ballot? I live in Florida. Before we passed term limits in Florida, we had election cycles in which more than half of all the elections in Florida were just canceled because the incumbents were too powerful and nobody was willing to challenge them. So the power of incumbency has a chilling effect on people who would otherwise run. You talk about money in politics. A big reason for it is that incumbents can raise $9 from PACs for every $1 that a challenger can raise. In theory, we might have elections, but in reality the deck is stacked and incumbents are doing it.
Speaker 3: Patrick, go ahead.
Patrick: Hi. My question for Nick is, you seem to offer term limits as this kind of silver bullet for the partisanship and disconnect that Americans feel from their Congress. Why is it specifically term limits that can resolve this problem that Americans feel?
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah. Well, we’re not actually saying term limits is a silver bullet per se, but it is a huge part of the reform that needs to be done to make Washington work again and to fix this broken system. One reason we’re so enthusiastic about term limits is because it has worked very, very well at the state level. There are 15 state legislatures with term limits, and the data show that those states have more competitive elections. They have lower barriers to entry, so more people from all walks of life are able to run for office. We have data on how states are performing in terms of fiscal health, and the states with term limits on average have a better ranking of fiscal health than the states run by career politicians. So the rookies are not driving these states into the ground. In fact, they’re doing a much better job because they know they have a fixed time horizon to get the job done, change the system before it changes them and then return home to live under the laws that they made.
Nick Tomboulides: I will tell you one thing about lobbyists. We have run hundreds of term limits campaigns all over the country, every level of government, city, county, state, you name it. And in every single one of those campaigns, the lobbyists and the special interests that they represent, contribute exclusively to whichever side is trying to prevent, weaken or abolish term limits. So if you follow the money, you see lobbyists are no fans of term limits. They don’t like when term limits sever their relationships they have with incumbents. Jack Abramoff even said as much. He said, “A politician who stays in office for life and is a friend, is worth his weight in gold to a lobbyist.”