Philip Blumel: Here come the party crashers. Hi, I’m Philip Blumel. Welcome to No Uncertain Terms, the official podcast of the Term Limits movement for the week of September 28th, 2020.
Stacey Selleck: Your sanctuary from partisan politics.
Philip Blumel: Donald Trump and Joe Biden aren’t the only candidates you’ll find on the presidential ballot in November. The Green Party and the Libertarian Party are both fielding candidates in 2020. Who are they, and where do they stand on term limits? In today’s episode, we’ll find out. This week, we received a signed presidential pledge from Jo Jorgensen, the presidential candidate from the Libertarian Party. In it, Jorgensen pledged that, “I, Jo Jorgensen, as candidate for President of the United States, pledge to support Congressional passage and state ratification of an amendment to the US Constitution that would set term limits on service in the US Senate and US House as there are term limits on the president, as enacted by the 22nd amendment.” Later in this episode, you’ll hear from her running mate, Spike Cohen.
Philip Blumel: Naturally, we received this, smiles all around, we reached out to Howie Hawkins, the presidential candidate of the Green Party, and sent him a copy of the pledge. Yeah, his campaign informed us, he supports term limits on Congress and on the Supreme Court too. Does this matter? Polls suggest that neither a Libertarian or a Green are going to be the next president, so who cares? Well, it does matter. These parties are very different from each other in their viewpoints, but they both represent real Americans pursuing ideas and policies that they feel entrenched incumbent parties won’t touch. Well, in that sense, they represent a good portion of non-partisan American that feel like self-interested politicians are setting the course for the country. And although we all have different ideas of what that course should be, that we all recognize that change of any kind requires rotation in office and competitive elections. The automatic re-election of incumbents means that effective representation, much less change, is not even possible under this system. So is it any surprise then, that both the Libertarians and the Greens support term limits?
Philip Blumel: Green Party candidate Howard Hawkins is a trade unionist and environmental activist from New York who was a co-founder of the Green Party of the United States. You’ve heard of the Green New Deal. Well, Howie’s been pushing it since 2010. We spoke to Howie last week about his campaign, and of course, about term limits.
Philip Blumel: Hello, Howie Hawkins.
Howie Hawkins: That’s me.
Philip Blumel: Thank you very much for taking this call and chatting with me for a little bit. Before we talk about term limits, the focus of this podcast, please tell our listeners a little bit about who you are, why you’re running, and why they should vote for you?
Howie Hawkins: Sure. I’m a retired teamster, I’m 67 years old, I live in Syracuse, New York. And I’ve been active in movements for civil rights, peace, unions, the environment since the 1960s, and I’m running because a lot of Greens asked me to and we framed the campaign around three life-or-death issues, the climate meltdown… And I was the first candidate in this country to run for a Green New Deal, and our plan would get us to 100% clean energy and zero to negative carbon emissions by 2030. And then the second life-or-death issue is growing inequality. Working-class life expectancies are on decline in this country. So we have an Economic Bill of Rights to end poverty, including a job guarantee, an income guarantee, Medicare for All. And finally, we got a new nuclear arms race. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists says their Doomsday Clock the closest it’s ever been to midnight. So we have peace initiatives, cutting back on military spending, getting out of these endless wars, pledging no first use of nuclear weapons. And then going to the nuclear powers and saying, “None of us doing a nuclear war, let’s get rid of all of them.”
Howie Hawkins: And then finally we got the COVID pandemic, which was added on, and this is… The two governing parties are presiding over a failed state. We have 4% of the world’s population, 25% of the deaths. We need a contact trace and isolate program to suppress community spread so people can go back to work and to school safely. So those are some of the key issues.
Philip Blumel: I understand that you are a co-founder of the Green Party.
Howie Hawkins: Yes, I was there at the first meeting we had nationally to organize the Green Party in August 1984.
Philip Blumel: If listeners wanna find out more about your campaign, where would they go?
Howie Hawkins: Howiehawkins.us.
Philip Blumel: Okay. Now, along with yourself, Green presidential candidates like Jill Stein and Ralph Nader were advocates of Congressional term limits. What is it about term limits that appeal to Green Party members?
Howie Hawkins: Well, we think that you get entrenched political people in there and then they become more interested in their political careers than serving the people. And they get installed by vested interests, special interests, so we need to bring new people in periodically so they don’t get entrenched and take care of themselves instead of the rest of us.
Philip Blumel: The election rules are basically written by incumbents to protect them from challengers, and that’s why it’s so hard to move and create any change in Washington, DC, because the status quo is entrenched and, in fact, the average tenure in the House leadership is about 25 years, and that’s one of the reasons why we advocate term limits. This is why challengers almost always lose, because the incumbents are writing these election rules. Now, in a very similar way, incumbents have rigged the rules against independents and third-party candidates like yourself. I should say independent parties have done this to keep out parties like yours. Specifically, what kind of incumbent-created challenges do you face in running with the Green Party that, say, the incumbent parties don’t face?
Howie Hawkins: Well, we’re unique in the United States among the electoral democracies of the world, where the two governing parties preside over their own election. In every other major democracy, you have an independent non-partisan commission administering elections. And we’ve just been through this fighting for ballot access in this election. Every vote by or decision by a Secretary of State, an Attorney General, an election board, an election commission, or a court has been partisan. There’s partisan hacks on both sides, and they game the system to keep insurgents like the Green Party out. So I think one reform we need is non-partisan administration of elections, like every other democracy does. And you mentioned that incumbents don’t wanna change the rules, ’cause they got in there by the current rules. But we do have, in many states, initiative and referendum.
Philip Blumel: That’s right.
Howie Hawkins: And that’s how we’ve got term limits, in some cases. We’re getting instant-runoff voting in Maine, and it’s up on the ballot in Massachusetts, and in 23 cities and counties, we can fight for reforms from the bottom up, where we do have initiative and referendum. And that creates a movement that eventually will hopefully compel Congress to act.
Philip Blumel: Let me ask you a little bit of outside-the-box question. When you look across the states, now that you mentioned initiatives and the way the states behave, when you look across the states, which state do you think best represents the movement that you would like to see at a national level? Is there any particular state you’d point to, saying, “Hey, this is a state that’s on the right track.”
Howie Hawkins: I really can’t…
Philip Blumel: Okay.
Howie Hawkins: Whether it’s electoral reform, or Medicare for All, or Climate Action, The Green New Deal we’ve been talking about, we’re just not seeing it, from the two major parties.
Scott Tillman: Hi, this is Scott Tillman, the National Field Director with US Term Limits. It’s been a big election cycle for Term Limits. Over 400 Congressional candidates have pledged to co-sponsor and vote for the US Term Limits Amendment of three House terms and two Senate terms. In over 1500 state legislature candidates have signed a pledge to pass resolutions for a Term Limits Amendment. We have over 1900 pledges this cycle. Can you help us push that to over 2000? Like and follow the US Term Limits page on Facebook, and then send us a message if you’re able to ask the candidates in your area to sign our pledge. We’ll connect and help you ask them to sign the pledge. Help us get term limits, by taking action and asking candidates to sign the pledge.
Nick Tomboulides: One thing we’ve learned, when you’re going up against the political elite, you have to think outside the box, you’ve got to be grassroots, you have to take advantage of every opportunity to get publicity for the issue of term limits, because the establishment does not want to let it happen. There may be nobody who does that better than Nick McNulty. He’s a term limits activist from Windham, New Hampshire. Nick is a one-man letter-writing machine, he makes his voice heard throughout his region and this country, writing letter to the editor after letter to the editor about term limits, really informing and educating people about the importance of this movement. From one Nick to another, thank you, and here is his latest.
Nick McNulty: Democrat Pat Quinn, who served as the 41st governor of Illinois from 2009 to 2015, recently wrote an article for The Hill, entitled Passing Term Limits on Congress Will Lead to Campaign Finance Reform. In the article, Quinn cites some telling and troubling statistics, writing, “According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Political Action Committees spend around $500 million each cycle on congressional races. Over 90% of those dollars flowing to incumbents, instead of challengers. Remember, incumbents get reelected 95% of the time, and tend to vote in predictable and ideological patterns. The Center for Responsive Politics pegs the cost of dethroning a US House incumbent at $2.5 million. The average candidate in an open seat race raises around $600,000,” Quinn writes.
Nick McNulty: Term Limits enjoy broad bi-partisan support, with roughly 84% of American supporting them, in every place in America, with one exception, Washington DC. Quinn explains why this is, in both cases, in one sentence, wrapping up his article. Quinn concludes term limits are a remedy for incumbency, and the money that comes along with it. Most Americans think that is a good thing. Only members of Congress and the lobbyists pulling the purse strings in Washington, DC, disagree.
Philip Blumel: Let’s turn to Jo Jorgensen. Jorgensen and the Libertarians view the world from a much different angle than the Green Party. Jo is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology, at Clemson University in South Carolina, having earned her PhD in Industrial and Organizational Psychology at that school. Before that, she worked at IBM, and later as a co-owner of the software from Digitech, Incorporated. She ran for Vice President of the US, as a running mate of Harry Brown, the libertarian candidate for president in 1996. Jo signed the US Term Limits presidential pledge, and her running mate Spike Cohen spoke about the subject on a campaign video recently, that you can find on YouTube.
Spike Cohen: My personal opinion on term limits, I’m not against them. I think the most important thing is educating the public as to the fact that when they keep voting for the same option over and over again, they’re going to get diminishing returns on it, and we see that time and again, where a politician who may have come in with the best of intentions, over time they become the part of the machine that they may have joined to stop in the first place, and so I think education would be good there. My understanding with actually implementing term limits as a rule, is that it would require a constitutional amendment. I would not be against such an amendment, I’m not sure how easy it would be to get an amendment like that through the Senate, considering that two-thirds would have to sign off on it, and they’re the ones who directly benefit from their not being any term limits. But I certainly wouldn’t be against it, I certainly would be in favor of that happening. But again, with the idea that the most important thing is that we are educating the public, as to the fact that it is a good idea to have that churn of new people in, so that you are getting people in who haven’t been slowly corrupted over time by the political process.
S?: This is a public service announcement.
Philip Blumel: US Representative Ro Khanna has represented California’s 17th Congressional District, since 2017. He is the author of new legislation to limit terms in the US Supreme Court. Representative Khanna’s office uploaded this video clip about congressional term limits to YouTube, last week.
Ro Khanna: Dynamic charismatic progressists get elected beating long-term incumbents, and then they get to Congress and they realized, “Okay, if I’m not here for 15-20 years, I’m probably not gonna get legislation through, I’m not gonna be able to actually do what I campaigned on.” So you have this disconnect between some of the new voices on either side, who are coming in, and the people who actually have the power in these institutions, who’ve been there and earn their dues, and like any other organization climbed up the ladder. The difference is, though, this isn’t any old corporation, this is the United States government, and it’s almost that there’s an anti-democratic element to the hierarchy of Congress.
S8: That’s exactly right. We have a system that rewards tenure, instead of merit.
Philip Blumel: Thanks for tuning in to another episode of No Uncertain Terms. President Trump included past congressional term limits as one of his core priorities for his second term. Let’s let him know that we support this idea and urge him to secure a vote on the US Term Limits amendment, that is waiting for a hearing right now in the US Senate. Go to termlimits.com/Trump and ask the President to break the logjam and get a vote on SJR1. It’ll take you two minutes. Even if you’re skeptical about his commitment to this issue, let him know that. Dare him to prove you wrong by having a vote. That’s termlimits.com/Trump. Thanks. We’ll be back next week.
Stacey Select: If you like what you’re hearing, please subscribe and leave a review. The No Uncertain Terms Podcast can be found on iTunes, Stitcher, YouTube, and now Google Play.