Philip Blumel: Hi, I’m Philip Blumel, welcome to No Uncertain Terms, the official podcast of the term limits movement for the week of November 19th, 2018. Control of the House shifted on November 6th. How will this effect the term limits movement? Let’s check in with Nick Tomboulides, Executive Director of US Term Limits.
Nick Tomboulides: This is Nick Tomboulides with the No Uncertain Terms Podcast. I am joined by my trusty sidekick, our Grassroots Director, Austin Sekel. Austin, how are you doing today?
Austin Sekel: I’m doing great, my friend.
Nick Tomboulides: I was eating and I walked up to the hostess stand and the hostess saw my term limits school boards t-shirt and she goes, “Oh my gosh, that is absolutely right. Nobody should be able to stay on a school board for longer than child goes through K-12 education.” And it just made me beam with pride. And we hear this stuff every day.
Austin Sekel: I love it.
Nick Tomboulides: We hear it every day of every week of every month.
Nick Tomboulides: People hear term limits and they get excited. They are fired up. We are a country of hardworking people who have been left behind by an elitist political class and I think that’s what motivates every one here to keep fighting. That’s why we created this podcast in the first place. So it was great. I love running into people like that.
Austin Sekel: And I think that even reflects in the votes taken in the midterms. People are not happy about the status-quo.
Nick Tomboulides: The House has switched over now. It is democratically controlled. Democrats have won the House of Representatives. If you are a Republican there has been a disturbance in the force at the federal level. I think the new House balance is about 228 to 200, ’cause there was just another race that came in from Maine, so Democrats have a majority. What do you think the implications of that are, Austin? What do you think the implications are for term limits?
Austin Sekel: I think that term limits are definitely seeing a resurgence aside from [inaudible 00:02:07] elections results from our calculations. Nearly 70 pledge signers were elected this cycle that signed or pledged for congressional term limits. I think we’re in great shape and I think that just regular members are starting to wake up to that reality too, that things really aren’t going to change, especially if you’re a new freshmen that just got elected. Whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, both of the presumed leaders, Kevin McCarthy and Nancy Pelosi, have been in Congress for … Do you know how long? Do you want to know how long Nancy Pelosi has been in Congress for?
Nick Tomboulides: Since the Civil War, right? I think. She’s been there awhile.
Austin Sekel: It’s been quite some time, and I think that the freshmen who just got elected are gonna realize real quick that there’s a pecking order and they’re at the way bottom, and they can kick rocks if they don’t like it. Unless they institution some sort of change that gets leaders that have been in power for decades out.
Nick Tomboulides: There’s a little bit of a misconception about term limits that this is somehow a Republican issue. I think that might stem from the fact that in the early 1990s the Republicans had this thing called the Contract with America. Term limits was a part of it and they really pushed it to the forefront, but when you look at the polling that’s actually not the case.
Nick Tomboulides: I’m looking at the most recent national poll from McLaughlin & Associates. Term limits has 82% overall support and it’s got 89% support with Republicans, but it’s also got 76% support with Democrats and 83% support with Independents. It is obviously a very tripartisan issue. If you look at the leaders who are behind it nationally, we’ve mentioned on previous episodes of this podcast Donald Trump and Barack Obama, Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke are both in favor of it. In fact, Beto has been one of the most proactive people on the issue. In 2015 he along with Iowa Congressman Rod Blum formed a congressional term limits caucus …
Philip Blumel: Former US Representative Beto O’Rourke of El Paso, Texas lost in a close race to be a US Senator on November 6th, but he is no less a rock star in Democratic party circles for all that. In December 2017 he spoke at a US Term Limits forum on Capitol Hill, sharing the stage with Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky and with our own Nick Tomboulides as MC.
Beto O’Rourke: I think the longer you are here the less connected you are to the people you represent, the less accountable, the less responsive, and the people in this country understand that and get that. I think it helps to account for our historic low level of popularity below communism, just above gonorrhea, somewhere in that sweet spot of 11%, because once you’re in, very hard to get you out. The people you represent know that and you yourself know that the reelection rate over the last 50 years for a member of Congress is about 93%, and I think that continuous accumulation of power breeds corruption and corrupts the very ideals, as was mentioned, of our foundational documents of the Constitution, of our democracy, of the understanding that this is a temporary position and that if we truly have faith in the people that we represent then we would willingly get out of the way and allow someone to do just as good, more likely a better job, than we’ve been able to do, and bring their unique set of experiences and expertise to bear on the problems and opportunities of the country.
Beto O’Rourke: My favorite painting when I’m taking constituents from El Paso on a tour of the Capitol is General Washington resigning his commission at the time where he could have made a very strong popular case to be military dictator for life of the United States. He doubled down on that precedent by leaving after two terms as President. I agree that that principle should be enshrined in the Constitution. I think that would go along way towards curing a number of the ills that we see in this institution and beginning to restore people’s faith in the Congress.
Stacy Selleck: This is Stacy Selleck here. We have a special announcement to make. After reviewing hundreds of your letters and your social media comments, we have picked a date for an annual national Term Limits day. Drum roll, please.
Stacy Selleck: We are very excited to announce that National Term Limits Day will be celebrated each year on February 27th, the date that presidential term limits were imposed. On that date in 1951, the 22nd Amendment was ratified into the Constitution. No only is that date of symbolic significance, but it is also during legislative session, so you can contact your legislators at an important time when they are in committee meetings and passing legislation. That’s a perfect time for all of us to encourage our representatives to get a term limits on Congress resolution passed at the state level in each and every state.
Stacy Selleck: It’s also an important time, not too long after new legislators take office and a new Congress begins after elections. A strong show of support for term limits will send a message that our representatives should represent “we the people” and not be beholden to special interests. Our message will be that political careerism is a disease for which term limits are the cure.
Stacy Selleck: If you want to help celebrate please go to term limits.com/termlimitsday and fill out the short form. The most visible and supportive activists will have the opportunity to be recognized as National Term Limits Day founders. We’re getting ready to roll out a national plan and hope you will join us in making National Term Limits Day a phenomenal success this February 27th. Happy Term Limits Day. Let’s do this.
Nick Tomboulides: Term limits was on the ballot quite a bit this year. One area was New York City, which is obviously a huge Democratic stronghold, but New York City voters got to decide on eight-year term limits for community boards in November. It was endorsed by the mayor, who is a very progressive Democrat, and it actually passed with 73% of the vote.
Austin Sekel: Oh, great.
Nick Tomboulides: Enthusiasm for term limits among Democrats has not subsided anywhere. They realize the system is rigged. They realize there’s too much money in politics and all that money tends to go to the incumbents. It’s really such a bipartisan unifying idea.
Nick Tomboulides: I was looking into this New York City thing and I saw that one of the board members who is against this, Gale Brewer, President of the Manhattan Borough, said that term limits will drain boards of valuable experience. I just had to laugh because you have 8.6 million people in your damn city and you’re telling us that you are starving for experience. Give me a break!
Austin Sekel: New York is a place to make it. There are plenty of people [crosstalk 00:09:33]-
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah, it’s even in the song. “If you can make it there you can make it anywhere. New York, New York”. That’s it. Term limits, man.
Austin Sekel: Well, the people spoke resoundingly for that then, and it makes me happy to see that they confirmed it.
Nick Tomboulides: They did, but I kinda like taking a victory lap. I like mocking our critics a little bit because I think they’re really silly and laughable, and I think a comment like that is an example of why politicians have lower approval ratings than head lice.
Austin Sekel: And that shows how out of touch they are that they don’t think voters see it that way. They have the opinion but they’re actually making these public affirmations as if they’re expecting applause and cheers from hundreds of people out there, and it’s crickets.
Nick Tomboulides: She also said by the way “Eight years is too short,” and when she was a city council member she hadn’t learned the job until her 5th or 6th year of doing it. Could you imagine … Let’s say you worked at McDonalds and you haven’t learned your job by year 6, like “Oh, how do I use this cash register? How do I clean this place? How do I hand people their food?” Could you imagine … You would be out on your ass with a pink slip.
Nick Tomboulides: If you try to do that in the private sector it’s unacceptable but in government you can just keep doing that. You can keep failing at your job because you don’t actually really have to be good at your job. You just have to know how to manipulate our election system with your incumbency.
Austin Sekel: Eight is enough, Nick. Eight is enough.
Philip Blumel: Hey Nick, Austin. Pardon me guys. Let me jump in here a minute. Nick, last week when we were doing the roundup about the midterm elections we left out one of the most important and interesting stories of the entire 2018 midterms. What was the fate of the orange jumpsuit caucus?
Nick Tomboulides: The orange jumpsuit caucus, those politicians who had the gall and the sleaze to run for reelection despite being under indictment, they went three for three on Tuesday. They were reelected by overwhelming margins.
Philip Blumel: Which one’s your favorite, Nick?
Nick Tomboulides: Well, my personal favorite is Duncan Hunter, obviously. Anyone who has the audacity to fly a pet rabbit around the country in first class on his campaign donor’s dime has earned a weird form of respect from me.
Nick Tomboulides: But he wasn’t the only one. You have Chris Collins up in New York. This guy is under indictment for securities fraud, wire fraud, insider trading, false statements. He initially said he wasn’t going to run and then he looked at the history of crooked, corrupt incumbents getting reelected and said, “Wait a minute. I’ve got a real chance here.” So he put his name back on the ballot, back in contention, and he was reelected. Bob Menendez, Senator from New Jersey, was reelected by 10 points despite the fact that he had obviously taken bribes from a donor and repaid that person with favors.
Nick Tomboulides: What we’re seeing is that often even an indictment is not powerful enough to dislodge or dethrone some of these incumbents. Absent a term limit, there just is no way to get rid of them.
Philip Blumel: Paul Jacob is a board member of US Term Limits and President of the Liberty Initiative Fund, a national organization helping citizens place issues on the ballot to protect individual liberty and hold government accountable. His column, Common Sense, often covers term limits issues and can be found at thisiscommonsense.com. Here’s one of his latest.
Paul Jacob: Arkansas politicians and their cronies were terrified by Issue 3, so when this tough state legislative term limits measure was approved for the ballot, foes of citizen-controlled government sued to kill it. Agreeing that thousands of already approved signatures of bona fide registered voters must be tossed because of new legislatively imposed Byzantine legal technicalities, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that that the measure was unsuited for the ballot. Yet it was too late to pull it. The vote simply wouldn’t count, that’s all.
Paul Jacob: Why was Issue 3 proposed? A few years earlier in 2014 lawmakers had posted a deceptive ballot question consisting of a laundry list of ethics reforms. Carefully obscured in the measure was a massive increase in legislative tenure. Sadly, the scam succeeded and voters passed the measure which allows legislators now to serve up to 16 years or more in one seat. To fix this, Issue 3 sought to impose a maximum of three two-year terms in the House, two four-year terms in the Senate, and 10 years on overall legislative service. It would have also prohibited lawmakers from sending future term limit measures, scams, to the ballot.
Paul Jacob: After November 6th, votes on Issue 3 did get reported in at least some counties. Max Brantley of the Arkansas Times notes that in Pulaski, Washington, and Polk Counties, the yes vote for 3 exceeded 75%. I’m sure these counties are representative too. “I think the term limits crowd should try again,” Brantley says. “If the state motto is to be ‘regnat populace’ rather than ‘regnat lobbyist’, agreed. Let the people rule. This is common sense.”
Paul Jacob: I’m Paul Jacob.
Philip Blumel: The Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley of Iowa has just announced that he wants to head the Senate Finance Committee and he’s leaving the Judiciary Committee, and Lindsey Graham from South Carolina is looking to take the reins.
Nick Tomboulides: Chuck Grassley has been on that committee, has chaired that committee for a long time. You said he’s moving-
Austin Sekel: A very long time.
Nick Tomboulides: He’s moving to Finance now?
Austin Sekel: Yeah. The Senate Finance Committee and now he wants to head it.
Nick Tomboulides: So he’s moving from Judiciary to Finance. When Chuck Grassley was first elected to public office in 1959, first of all you could get a sarsaparilla for a nickel, but secondly he has been around for 60 years he’s been in political office. How does being a politician for 60 years qualify you in matters of finance, especially when under your watch the country went trillions and trillions of dollars deeper into debt? This doesn’t really inspire confidence. But Lindsey Graham on the Judiciary could be interesting, ’cause I know he has sponsored our bill in recent years, and he’s up for reelection in 2020, which means he might have an extra incentive to do something like term limits that’s more popular with the public, wouldn’t you say?
Austin Sekel: I would hope so. He’s been taking the helm of the GOP and this looks like this will be his new bully [pulp 00:16:28] with the Democrats looking like inching towards trying to impeach President Trump. The Judiciary Committee will be a big hotbed for Congressional battles this session, so if he wants a place to make something said and done, this is gonna be it, and I think that both chambers can agree on term limits. As you had mentioned Nick, Grassley and Bob Goodlatte in the House had chaired those committees for multiple sessions.
Nick Tomboulides: There’s also some hope that we could see more term limits for committee chairs. They already have that. The Republicans have done that in the House for a long time where even though you’re a member who can stay in Congress, get reelected for infinity if you want, you are not allowed to stay on a committee for I believe, what is it? Eight years?
Austin Sekel: Yeah. It’s either eight or six, and that would be another reason Goodlatte retired. His chairmanship was up [crosstalk 00:17:21] for a while.
Nick Tomboulides: What’s good about that is that has bipartisan support. Term limits when applied to committee chairman have gotten rave reviews from Congressmen, people who watch Congress. They’ve said that it has infused a lot of these committees with new energy. Let’s hope that they use that lesson as a model and decided to not only change the leadership at the very top, but also go ahead and look at a Constitutional amendment.
Nick Tomboulides: And of course, we’re not holding our breath and waiting on Congress to act. As our listeners know, we are very active at the state level, calling on state legislatures to propose Congressional term limits which would either implement it directly or it would put enough pressure on Congress to do the right thing. If you want to learn more about the term limits convention just keep listening to this broadcast or check out our website, termlimits.com.
Stacy Selleck: Did you know that term limits protect fragile Latin American democracies? It is common to think of Latin America as the land of no hope for democracy. Since independence, the region has been ravaged by authoritarianism and populism. So writes Amherst College political science professor Javier Corrales in the New York Times on November 6th in his op-ed, “Can Latin American Democracy Withstand the Populist Assault?”
Stacy Selleck: Corrales continues, “But an alternative narrative is that Latin America is actually the land of democratic resilience Always under attack, democracy does not always prevail, but it does not always die. In their efforts to stay alive in an inhospitable environment, Latin American Democrats have produced survival tactics and innovations. Frequently, these creations have allowed democracy to triumph.
Stacy Selleck: The resilience of democracy in Latin America is impressive, and the current global wave of democracy, which started in the late 1970s, Latin America stands as the region where democracy spread and survived the most. Democracy spread to every country except Cuba and has survived in every country except Venezuela and Nicaragua and possibly Honduras and Bolivia.”
Stacy Selleck: “If democracy has survived the assaults of dictators and populists, it has not been because of waning supply and demand for those offerings. Candidates offering some version of populist authoritarianism are as popular now as ever. Today it’s Mr. Bolsonaro in Brazil. Twenty years ago it was Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez. And more will come. Democracy has survived itself because Latin American societies have learned to bolster the line of defense against democracy’s internal enemies. They’ve done it through institutional innovation.
Stacy Selleck: First, Latin Americans have focused on institutions that regulate entry and exit mechanisms. At the entry level, the most important innovation has been the runoff rule.
Stacy Selleck: Runoff rules have now been adopted by 75 percent of Latin American countries … with a few exceptions, and Brazil’s recent election was one, illiberal presidents seldom manage to emerge from runoff elections. The beauty of second rounds is that they force contenders to bargain with other groups, often moderates, as just happened in Colombia this year. So electoral coalitions are less extreme.
Stacy Selleck: On the exit side, a key barrier has been term limits. They were popularized by Latin America in the 19th century, long before the United States adopted the rule in 1951 with the 22nd amendment. Despite a recent weakening of term limits in Latin America, they still work. Mexico, for instance, with strict term limits since the early 20th century, has not had a classic dictator since. Most Latin American presidents respect term limits, and those who try to circumvent them usually face an uphill battle.”
Stacy Selleck: “There is a reason for optimism. Authoritarian populism is a recurrent threat in Latin America and now in advanced democracies too. Democratic survival is never guaranteed. Countries often come close to falling prey to autocrats, but many times these episodes become near misses rather than full crashes. Latin America continues to be a region where illiberalism often meets its match.”
Stacy Selleck: Follow us on most social media at US Term Limits.
Philip Blumel: Change of control of the House has little bearing on the progress of the term limits movement. The people want term limits and if we take action we’re going to get them. You can help. Start with subscribing to this podcast. You can use the podcast app on your iPhone or use Google Play or Stitcher on your Android device. Or go to iTunes and please rate and review us while you’re there. See you next week.