Introduction: Your sanctuary from partisan politics.
Philip Blumel: Term limits are a global phenomenon. Wherever you find clashes over competitive elections, representation, and rotation in office, you’ll find citizens calling for term limits and politicians trying to squash them. Let’s review some of our planets term limits hotspots with US term limits executive direction, Nick Tomboulides. Hey Nick.
Nick Tomboulides: Phil, happy holidays.
Philip Blumel: Yeah, to you to. Well let’s start with Cuba where there’s something interesting afoot. There are changes being proposed to the constitution of the island dictatorship, called for by no other than Raul Castro, that would put a age limit on the leadership of that country and also put a term limit of two five year terms on the leadership. Let’s hear it in Raul’s words.
Translation: Today, we face the consequences of not having a back bench of adequately prepared replacements who have enough experience maturity to take on the new and complex duties of managing the party, state and government. We have reached the conclusion that it is in our interests to limit to a maximum of two consecutive five years terms service in top state and political roles.
Philip Blumel: This is fascinating, they’re not giving up power over the country of course, they’re not going to have real elections, they’re not going to all of the sudden turn into a representative democracy, but they’ve identified something valuable in term limits, internally, within their political system that Raul is very adamant about and which the new head of state that replaced Raul, the 58 year old Miguel Diaz-Canel is also favoring.
Nick Tomboulides: Yes, and unfortunately this term limit will not apply to the current leadership, but it is a step in the right direction. Cuba had Fidel Castro in office for 50 years, he was a very repressive leader, they’re hoping to not repeat that again, they’re hoping that their future presidents do not resemble the seemingly endless Castro regime, they want to get some younger leaders in there, fresh ideas and perspectives. So Cuba is moving in the right direction. It’s not going to be a panacea but it will definitely help insure better leadership at the top.
Philip Blumel: There’s younger politicians champing at the bit to have influence and have some kind of position of power and that, in a dictatorship of course is very dangerous because they might decide to seize power through force, if there was not some mechanism for rotation, some mechanism that the younger, junior members had some chance of holding the power that they seek.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah. The Castro’s are well aware of that, because that’s how they came to power in the 1950s. So, you know, it is an encouraging step in the right direction and lest you think that the younger members can only rise up and demand term limits in a place like Cuba, I mean we’re also seeing this in the US congress, this is sort of similar to what’s happening in the democratic caucus right now, internally in the US congress. They have realized that the status quo of octogenarian leadership, the same faces from the last 30 years, is unacceptable. The younger members of the caucus are demanding fresh ideas and perspectives, and so Nancy Pelosi, like Raul Castro, doesn’t like term limits but she has been forced to offer it as part of a deal to avoid getting herself thrown out. There’s a big difference between, in consequences here, Pelosi could get thrown out as speaker, Castro could face a military coup. I mean, those are … there’s a huge difference between the severity of those consequences.
Philip Blumel: In degree. But in essence you’re right, it’s definitely analogous and the … what’s motivating the junior members is exactly the same, it’s jockeying for power within an undemocratic situation. Now, what they really need in Cuba is real elections and term limits on all the positions, not just the leadership positions and of course that’s what we need in the United States, also.
Nick Tomboulides: Right.
Philip Blumel: Another interesting hotspot for term limits around the world is in Bolivia, where the democratically elected leader Evo Morales, he’s planning on running for a fourth term. Now, Bolivia’s constitution doesn’t permit this, right? And Morales, like other leaders including Chavez in Venezuela tried to have a referendum to change the constitution to allow him to run again, and the voters, even with Morales thumb on the scales, voted that referendum down. And so the term limits are still in place, and so how can president Morales run again? Well he’s turning to the courts, and the courts are now … are throwing out the countries terms limits, allowing him to run again.
Nick Tomboulides: Well, same old song and dance. Politicians use friendly rhetoric to say how much they love the voters, but the minute the voters cross them and decide to support some reforms like term limits that would throw them out of office, all of these elected leaders change their tune. And I think it’s a cautionary tale, all of these are cautionary tales that politicians should not be deciding their own term limits. Ever. They have a conflict of interest, what’s good for the people might not always be what’s good for them and their own self interests and their desire to accumulate power. So it’s good that … we need to establish that these leaders should be recusing themselves from any discussions of term limits and leaving that decision solely in the hands of the people. Just as you would not let Colonel Sanders run PETA, you should not let foreign leaders determine what happens with their own term limits.
Stacey Selleck: Stacy here. I want to cover the top three most frequently asked questions we get at US Term Limits. Number one: can’t we just put term limits for congress on the national ballot? The short answer is no. Many of us ask ‘why not put term limits to a national vote of the people?’ The United States of America is a representative democracy, the citizens of our country do not directly create the laws, that’s why we love a citizen legislature created by term limits. The laws are the responsibility of our elected representatives and congress. All of our national laws are written by lawmakers in D.C. The fact of the matter is, there’s no such thing as a national referendum, for anything. The electoral college elects the president, and the states elect their own senators, districts elect their own house representatives. The only time people effect the laws is if their states or municipalities allow ballot initiatives. But there is no such animal at the national level. The closest thing we have is the ability to influence our state representatives to push for an amendment to the constitution on our behalf. Only the states may both propose and ratify amendments. Congress doesn’t have the authority to do both. That power is held solely by the states.
Philip Blumel: In December, the New York Compensation Commission approved a $50,000 pay increase for members of the New York state legislature, as well as pay increases for the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, attorney general, and other politicians. Under the recommendations, which may or may not even require a legislative vote, the Governor would be paid $250,000 by 2022, up from the current $178,000. Lawmakers would also receive a phased in hike from 79,500 a year to $130,000 by 2021. Once fully phased in, the legislature and governor will be the highest paid in any state in the country. This isn’t because they’re doing such a good job, in fact the American legislative exchange council in 2018 ranked New York as dead last amongst the states for its economic outlook. The Mercatus Centers rankings of the states fiscal conditions put New York at number 41. New York ranks number 1, however, at losing residents to other states, according to the Empire Center, a New York based think-tank. Maybe the problem isn’t that legislators aren’t paid enough. In June at the capitol, a dozen New York State senators led by senator Joseph Griffo held a press conference calling for a different solution. Term Limits.
Sen. Griffo: We’re all today, because as we close the legislative session we hear a lot of people that talk about the need to make changes here. You hear a lot of conversation relative to campaign finance reform to ethics reform, but it … in our opinion, if we’re going to truly make dramatic and substantial changes in reforms in government, then the best way to do that is through the presentation of terms limits on legislature and state wide officials. Most recently, you’ve seen the Governor now begin to embrace this and talk about the need to allow the people of the state of New York to have a say on this through a constitutional amendment, you’ve seen the republican candidate for Governor, former assemblyman county executive Molinaro also say that he will limit himself to two terms and propose legislation to put term limits on, if he were successful too in his quest for the governor ship. So I think you’re seeing now, from candidates from both sides of the aisle, from members in the legislature from both sides of the aisle, that if we’re sincere and truly committed to … as again, I’m going to emphasize dramatic and substantive change, than this is the way to do it. So with that, I’m going to open it up to some of my colleagues, to let them speak, to express their perspective. We’ll start with senator Funke and we’ll just keep going back and forth, okay?
Sen. Funke: Thank you senator Griffo, you know our founding fathers never had the notion that somebody would make a career out of politics. They were farmers and business men who cared about their community and cared about their country, and they offered their public service and they went back to their jobs. I don’t minimize the value of experience, I can tell you that I’m a whole lot smarter now about what’s right and what’s wrong in Albany, than I was four years ago. But, it should not be a career. If we had term limits in place, power would also be limited. People would be more likely, I think, to run and simply to serve and hopefully more people would be engaged in the process, bringing more talent to the table, people who have experienced real life problems and can offer pragmatic solutions. Again, I have great respect for those who’ve dedicated their lives to public service and who’ve done great things for the people of the state of New York, and I work with many of them. We have checks and balances in government for a reason. Term limits, to me, would provide one more check and one more way to balance the interests of people against the powerful. So let’s get it done.
Sen.Funke: Well I’d like to thank senator Griffo for having this press conference, there’s a lot of folks who talk about term limits but are never willing to really put their name to it and put their money where their mouth is, and I also want to echo that with my other colleagues who are behind me. This is a topic that I think is most pressing here in Albany at this time. When we’re talking about, every session we talk about corruption, we talk about reform, we talk about electoral reform, and the goal I think is always the same, I hope. Which is to try to make government more accountable and work better for the people that it works for. Which is the people of the state of New York. And at the end of the day, a lot of the things that are proposed, in my view, some of them might be beneficial, some of them I think might not be, but a lot of them are sort of nibbling at the edges.
Sen.Funke: Term limits really gets right to the heart of it. When you look at the public polling on this, it is overwhelming. I’ve seen polls over 80%, over 90%, that support term limits. The idea that we wouldn’t allow them, wouldn’t bring this forward, knowing that those are the numbers, really is inexcusable as public officials. These are the people we work for, whether you are democrat, whether you are republican, whether you’re independent, the reality is almost all sides support some form of term limits and I think it’s important that we’re having this conversation. We need to push for, now is the time, we have a governors race, we have all the legislators are up for election this year, this is the time to advance this legislation, here in Albany, I think it would send a loud, clear message not only to the people of New York but the people around the country that we’re serious about reforming our state capitol and our state for the better. Thank you.
Philip Blumel: Let’s look at the little country of Togo in western Africa. Here we’ve had the same family running this country since the late 60s and there’s been a move afoot for terms limits, they have people protesting in the streets calling for term limits, but we’re not seeing that happen. What’s going on there Nick?
Nick Tomboulides: Well, I think Togo would be, the Togolese Republic to be more precise, would be funny if it weren’t so sad. The leader is this guy Faure, I can’t even pronounce his last name, Gnassingbé I believe, it’s like G-N-A-something. Yeah, if you looked up brutal dictator in the dictionary, there would be a picture of this dude. He has been in office for … well, I would say in power, for 13 years. Before that his dad ran Togo for 38 years. Took power in a military coup. Togo’s a very small country, it got independence in 1960, and it’s only had four presidents since it got independence. That’s the remarkable thing. Two of its four presidents were this father-son duo and they have ruled since 1967. So that’s 51 years. There are people in Togo who say ‘I’m 40 years old, I’ve never experienced any government other than these guys. This father and this son.’
Nick Tomboulides: So he’s a poster child for crazy dictators, there was an article in the Economist on him that said, literally his trick has been to kill opponents. That’s how he keeps power. Tens of thousands of people are protesting for term limits, he’s killed or wounded many of them, he’s denying it. But it’s interesting, the tactic that he has used to try to placate the voters, the citizens, is one that we’ve seen before. In response to demands for term limits, Gnassingbé proposed a flimsy term limit, a long term limit that would not apply to his own job, would not apply to himself, it would only apply to future leaders. Where have we heard that before, Phil?
Philip Blumel: Oh, a million times.
Nick Tomboulides: Arlington, Texas.
Philip Blumel: Arlington, Texas, right.
Nick Tomboulides: Just this year-
Philip Blumel: Absolute, that’s one of the most recent cases we’ve been reporting on in this podcast.
Nick Tomboulides: The city council of Arlington, Texas tried to mollify the angry term limits activists, one of them was Zack Maxwell who we interviewed on here, with a phony term limit that would not have applied retroactively. So, this is what I find funny, a first world American city and a third world African nation are using the same tactic to oppose term limits. Very telling, and it tells me that the lust for power is the same no matter where you go in the world.
Philip Blumel: Anywhere there’s people in power and they’re trying to preserve it, they’re going to game the system to put up road blocks for challengers and to fight reforms like term limits that empower the people.
Stacey Selleck: Number two: how do you expect congress to pass term limits on itself? Well, it’s not the duty of congress to control itself, it’s the duty of the states. That is why the states have the power to amend the constitution, and how do the states do that? By passing a resolution through the legislature declaring their desire to have a national amendment proposal convention. That’s the mission of US term limits. Every legislative session, we work with state directors and grassroots activists to pass a term limits convention resolution through many of the states. We believe in the states’ obligation to amend the constitution, and seek to exercise that constitution power to control congress. And who has influence over your state lawmakers? That’s right. If you want term limits on congress, you as a constituent need to tell your state representatives that you want them to support a term limits amendment to the constitution.
Nick Tomboulides: So I want to play a little game with this if you don’t mind.
Philip Blumel: Sure.
Nick Tomboulides: Because we’ve now, and I’ve demonstrated that there are great similarities between the domestic and foreign politicians handle term limits. So I want to play a game, I don’t have a name for this game yet, I was thinking about calling it ‘Are you smarter than a politician,’ or the ‘$22 Trillion Question.’ Of course that’s our national debt. But I think I’m going to settle on the much lamer ‘Who Said It?’ And here’s the way the game works. I will read you a quote about term limits, and you have to guess who said it. But here’s the catch, there are only two possible answers. Each of these quotes’ comes from either a politician in America, which is called The Worlds Finest Democracy, or from a foreign dictatorship. Because when it comes to opposing term limits, is very difficult to tell American politicians and these third world maniacs apart. They both get really triggered.
Philip Blumel: Oh no. Okay.
Nick Tomboulides: So are you ready to play this game?
Philip Blumel: I’m ready.
Nick Tomboulides: Quote number one: “We need to give politicians an extra term because a complex political situation makes it important to have continuity.” Who said it? An American politician or a foreign dictatorship?
Philip Blumel: Yeah, I’ve heard this one before. I’m going to say a foreign dictator. Let’s give our country the benefit of the doubt here.
Nick Tomboulides: Drum roll please. That is correct. It was Vashla Vladin, an aid for Vladimir Putin trying to justify president Putin’s new power grab. Great job Phil, you’re one for one.
Philip Blumel: Alright. God bless America.
Nick Tomboulides: Okay. Number two, quote: “We need to give politicians an extra term because we need continuity.” So it’s … it’s almost identical to the first one.
Philip Blumel: Wait a minute. Isn’t that the same quote?
Nick Tomboulides: Well, listen, it’s almost identical to the first one which came from the Putin regime, but who said it? Was it an American politician or a foreign dictatorship trying to justify more power by saying ‘we need continuity?’
Philip Blumel: Well, I was right last time, so I’ll try it again. I’m going to say it’s another foreign dictator.
Nick Tomboulides: Oh, I’m sorry. That’s not right. It was actually Mike Spano, the mayor of Yonkers, New York who just extended his own term limit from two consecutive terms to three, which is the exact same move Vladimir Putin is attempting. It’s alright, maybe you can go home with a consolation prize, you’re not going to win the car, but you still get to spin the wheel Phil.
Philip Blumel: Oh, okay, that’s good, good. Let’s keep going.
Nick Tomboulides: Okay. Quote number three: “Term limits are unfair to the community.” Was that an American politician or a foreign dictatorship?
Philip Blumel: Just to mix things up, I’m going to say that’s an American politician.
Nick Tomboulides: You are correct.
Philip Blumel: Oh, look at that.
Nick Tomboulides: That was Chris Smith, a former state senator from Florida, commenting in March about why he doesn’t support term limits for school board members. Somehow, even though term limits are the most popular issue among the community with over 80% support, he doesn’t believe that’s fair to the community. I don’t know how he managed to explain that. And this is your final question, you are two for three, doing a great job. You might actually go home with a prize.
Nick Tomboulides: “Terms limits are unfair to the people.” Who said it?
Philip Blumel: ‘Unfair to the people.’ Gosh, that’s so typical. Let’s say it’s another American politician.
Nick Tomboulides: No. No it was not. That was a spokesman for Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the Egyptian strongman who is just reelected with 97% of the vote.
Philip Blumel: Who is always looking out for the people. I guess.
Nick Tomboulides: Yes. Always looking out for the people by trying to overrule them and seize as much control as possible. So you were two for four. Not bad. But the fact that it was so difficult to guess, I think, is an indictment of the way politicians in this country approach term limits.
Philip Blumel: Right. Yep. In fact, they’re so much the same that I’m purely guessing and ended up with 50% correct.
Stacey Selleck: The third most popular question we get at US Terms Limits is: ‘what can I do as a regular citizen to help get term limits on congress?’ Here’s a list of some of the things you can do right away. Number one: sign the term limits petition, at termlimits.com/petition. Number two: get your state lawmaker to sign the pledge at termlimits.com/pledge. Ask your state legislator to sponsor our model legislation, and you can find that on our website at termlimits.com. You can also get your US legislator to sign the pledge, also at termlimits.com/pledge. Answer our calls to action. Our calls to action will ask you to email and call your legislator, attend a local term limits event, form a term limits group in your own town, get your association to publicly support our term limits resolution, or write a letter to the editor on the importance of limits that gets published in your local paper.
Stacey Selleck: Some other things you can do are volunteer for Term Limits at termslimits.com/volunteer, keep up to date by subscribing to our podcast No Uncertain Terms, at termlimits.com/podcast, donate to our effort at termlimits.com/donate, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and review our website blog. Sign up to be on our mailing list and keep up to date at termlimits.com. Last but not least, get ready to celebrate National Term Limits day with us on February 27th. Hope that gives you a good place to start. If you’d like more information, feel free to contact me at termlimits.com.
Philip Blumel: Well, that’s it for our final podcast of 2018. Special thanks to our song writers, Jim and Kai Guzior with their “We don’t want you forever,” and the mysterious Reverend Rickta Scale with his “Limit Their Terms.” Both songs can be found on YouTube. Be part of the Term Limits team. Subscribe to No Uncertain Terms. You can do this by using the Podcast app on your iPhone, or use Stitcher or Google Play on your Android device. Or, subscribe at iTunes and please rate and review us while you’re there. The Term Limits convention bills are being introduced in the states starting next month. Stay tuned to this podcast for the unfolding story. Happy New Year.
Philip Blumel: This podcast is made possible by the support of you, the American people, and your voluntary financial contributions, which can be made through our website at termlimits.com. Thank you.