Philip Blumel: A bipartisan earthquake rocked Pennsylvania last week. Hi, I’m Philip Blumel. Welcome to No Uncertain Terms, the official podcast of the Term Limits movement for the week of October 12, 2020.
Stacey Selleck: Your sanctuary from partisan politics.
Philip Blumel: Term limits convention resolutions have been quietly working their way through both houses of the Pennsylvania legislature over the last month. Quietly, that is, until two giants of Pennsylvania politics burst out in favor of the proposals. Will Pennsylvania be the next state to call for the term limits convention? Let’s ask Nick Tomboulides, Executive Director of US Term Limits. Hey, Nick.
Nick Tomboulides: Greetings.
Philip Blumel: Well, we’re gonna talk a little bit about Pennsylvania today. We had some big news over the last week, really shocking news to a lot of people, because we’ve been doing some work on the ground and Pennsylvania hasn’t gotten great notice, but then all of a sudden, KAPOW, last week in the Philadelphia Inquirer we see a manifesto from two giants of Pennsylvania politics who came out and not only came out for term limits but said, “We need a term limits convention.”
Nick Tomboulides: Yes. And you can just sense there’s a lot more energy in the air now about term limits than there was not too long ago. People are talking about it again. It’s something that’s generating buzz, and not just on the Vice President’s head. Term limits are definitely generating a lot of buzz, and this article is further proof of that. It was in the Philadelphia Inquirer, it’s the biggest paper in Pennsylvania, and these guys are heavy weights. A Republican senator, a Democratic governor joining forces to do the right thing. And it comes right on the heels of Pat Toomey announcing, the senator, that he will not be seeking re-election or running for any office in 2022, so it’s perfect timing. We’re about three weeks away from the most divisive election ever, people are at each other’s throats over politics. Even in the middle of that, two people from opposite parties, Ed Rendell, former governor of Pennsylvania, and Pat Toomey, the current US Senator, can come together for a good cause, to help turn America around. I think it’s pretty cool.
Philip Blumel: It’s fantastic. It’s exciting because this didn’t come out of nowhere. I mean, the political establishment in Pennsylvania might not have been expecting this particular call, but these two guys have been active in this issue for a long time. Ed Rendell, the governor of the state between 2003 and 2011, he has spoken on the issue many times. In fact, three years ago, I was involved in an event at Constitution Center in downtown Philadelphia. I was involved in a debate on the subject of term limits and the term limits convention, but the keynote speaker and the main highlight of the evening was former governor Ed Rendell talking on term limits and the importance of term limits. So this is not a new issue for him.
Nick Tomboulides: He’s a colorful guy too. Can you call someone a man’s man these days? I think you still can. The title of Ed Rendell’s book was A Nation of Wusses: How America’s Leaders Lost Their Guts to Make Us Great.
Philip Blumel: That’s right. That’s right.
Nick Tomboulides: He’s a colorful commentator for the Philadelphia Eagles, which happens to be my team, and he once claimed that a cheesesteak ain’t a real cheesesteak if it doesn’t have Cheez Whiz on it. I couldn’t agree more with Ed Rendell on those very populist and very correct takes, and it’s great to see him coming out for term limits. But Pat Toomey is no slouch, either.
Philip Blumel: Oh heck no.
Nick Tomboulides: Pat Toomey, talk about his career for a second. When it’s all said and done, Pat Toomey retiring in two years, he will have served six years in the House, 12 years in the Senate. Those are the exact same limits in the US Term Limits pledge. Now, granted, he did it voluntarily ’cause Congress has no term limits, but those are the exact same limits we call for as an organization, which are criticized relentlessly, I would say, by the political class. But you look at Pat Toomey, what he’s accomplished, he’s been a leader on everything: Trade, tax reform, judicial nominees. He had one of the most creative bills I’ve ever seen, which was, when we’re talking about looming government shutdowns and the debt ceiling, he wanted to do a bill that would prioritize payments for service on the debt, paying off Social Security, paying military salaries first. So that meant the country couldn’t default, we always take care of our soldiers. That’s one of the best bills I’ve ever heard of, and no one in their right mind would say that Toomey hasn’t gotten a lot done, and yet he’s not a career politician. He did it all in the framework of what a term limits amendment would have allowed.
Philip Blumel: Right. Those years that he chose, six years in the House and 12 in the Senate, that wasn’t a coincidence either because, of course, he was the chief sponsor of the US term limits amendment in the US Senate before Ted Cruz. And also when he was in the House, he did self-limit himself to six years and left office. And so he has been part of the term limits movement, I would say, his entire time that he’s been in Washington, DC and he’s been a leader on the issue.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah, I would say his whole career is basically a rebuttal to all the naysayers of term limits who say, “Oh, you can’t get enough done in six years in the House, 12 years in the Senate.” Pat Toomey accomplished plenty. He didn’t need 33 years in the House like Nancy Pelosi has. He didn’t need 35 years in the Senate like Mitch McConnell or 40 years in the House like Steny Hoyer. So that’s for all the naysayers who say members of Congress need decades to get things done. We’ve been waiting 50 years for Congress to get something done. Time’s up.
Philip Blumel: Right.
Scott Tillman: Hi, this is Scott Tillman, the National Field Director with US Term Limits. There are two ways to amend the Constitution. One method, Congress proposes the amendment and it is ratified by the states. The second way, state legislatures send resolutions to Congress requesting an amendment convention. As part of our plan to term limit Congress, we ask candidates for Congress and candidates for state legislature to sign pledges that support term limits. This cycle, we have had over 2000 candidates sign pledges for term limits: Over 400 congressional candidates, and over 1600 candidates for state legislature. We can use your help to reach even more candidates. Contact us at the US Term Limits Facebook page or on our website, termlimits.com. Together, we can reach your legislators and get them on board for term limits.
Philip Blumel: It is election season, which means it’s time for career politicians to make excuses why they long ago abandoned their promises to reform Congress and impose term limits. In a debate in South Carolina last week, US senate hopeful Jaime Harrison put the screws to 25-year congressional veteran senator, Lindsey Graham.
Speaker 5: The next question is one that I’ve received from a number of your constituents and our viewers, and I promised them I would ask it tonight. Senator Graham, the question goes to you first. They want to know if you support term limits and what would be an appropriate one for a senator and a representative.
Senator Graham: Well, I’ll leave that up to the voters. You can limit my term November the 3rd if you’d like.
Speaker 5: Mr. Harrison.
Jaime Harrison: I think the question was about term limits. I mention what my grandpa said, and I’m gonna repeat that, a man is only as good as his word. Now, this is another example of Senator Graham going back on his word to the people here in South Carolina. Because when the Senator was then the congressman and he ran for Congress, he said and he ran on a pledge of term limits. He said that he would term limit himself. And if you don’t believe me, Google it. Google “Lindsey Graham and term limits”. He said he would term limit himself.
Philip Blumel: We took Harrison’s advice and Googled “Lindsey Graham and term limits.” Here’s what we found: A 1995 CSPAN clip of then Representative Graham arguing in favor of a term limits amendment bill introduced by Tennessee Senator Van Hilleary. Roll it.
Senator Graham: This is the only place in America that I know of where there’s really a whole lot of doubt about this issue. There’s a fog around this place like I’ve never seen before. I said something this morning that I believe more this evening. I ran on term limits personally saying I would only serve 12 years. I regret that the six-year amendment didn’t pass, I’m about to change my mind. This place up here is amazing. We spend money like they’re not gonna make it anymore, and you wonder why your government’s the way it is. You need to come up here and visit for a while. People are so detached from reality that it really is amazing. Hilleary’s amendment, in my opinion, is a good compromise. It reforms Congress, which we desperately need to do, and it allows the states to chart their own course. Two things I ran on: Reforming this institution and allow the states to chart their own course. Please vote for this amendment if you wanna change America.
Philip Blumel: Graham isn’t the only veteran senator squirming this week. In a new senatormaine.com interview, 23-year veteran Senator Susan Collins does her best to defend her about-face on term limits.
Speaker 8: Let me ask about your run for the Senate. When you first ran for this seat, you said that you were a supporter of term limits, that if elected you would serve two terms and that would be it. You’re now running for your fifth term. What happened to that two-term pledge?
Susan Collins: What I learned was the value of seniority and that experience really matters in the United States Senate. I would not be in line to be the next chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, a position that a Mainer has not held since 1933, had I not run for re-election. In many ways, the elections are an opportunity for people to impose term limits if they want to by voting for someone else.
Philip Blumel: Okay, when given the opportunity to explain why she turned her back on constituents and abandoned the call for term limits that helped her get elected, the best she could come up with is that her long tenure helped her career. Is there any wonder why 80% of Americans support term limits on their leaders? Let’s talk a little bit about the progress that’s being made on the ground in Pennsylvania. I know it’s something you’ve been watching closely.
Nick Tomboulides: It is. Pennsylvania is one of the few states left that’s actually got a live round. It’s got a term limits convention resolution that has been filed in the State Assembly. It’s one of the few states that is still meeting right now in terms of the state legislature because it is a full-time, year-round state legislature in Pennsylvania, which means you have the entire year to try to get something done. And we’ve got the term limits convention filed. It was filed in the state House by Representative Ryan MacKenzie. It’s House Resolution 444. In the state Senate it was filed by state Senator John Disanto. There, it is Senate Resolution 377. And it recently passed a committee in the state Senate by a 7 to 4 vote. It was along party lines, so it was not ideal. Only the Republicans voted for it, Democrats voted against. But that means it’s one step closer to the floor. So Pennsylvania has got this rich history of term limits dating back to the time of the founding fathers, and we may very well see the legislature take action to term limit Congress before the year is out.
Philip Blumel: That’s exciting. Now, let’s remind everyone what the term limits convention is. What would these resolutions do specifically?
Nick Tomboulides: So these resolutions are calls under Article 5 of the Federal Constitution for all the states to participate in a convention, a meeting, to decide two things. Number one, should there be a constitutional amendment limiting the terms of Congress, meaning US House of Representatives, US Senate? And then number two, if you’ve concluded there should be term limits on Congress, what should that limit be? Pennsylvania would need to join with 33 other states to trigger this convention. Every state would then be able to send delegates, or commissioners as they’re sometimes called, who would debate the issue, who would deliberate and decide the specifics of the term limits amendment. And then if they agree on a proposal, they would send it back to the states where it needs ratification, also known as final approval. If 34 states call for the convention, the convention proposes a term limits amendment, and then that amendment gets ratified by 38 state legislatures, then it becomes part of the US constitution and we have successfully term limited Congress.
Philip Blumel: Right, so this is the end run around Congress who will not pass it on themselves, is having the states do it. So the resolutions that are making their way through the Pennsylvania legislature, are these using the exact same wording that has already passed in Florida and in Missouri and in Alabama?
Nick Tomboulides: Absolutely, exact same wording. Because in order to get this term limits convention started, 34 state legislatures need to pass the same language. It’s a limited convention, just to the topic of congressional term limits and nothing more.
Philip Blumel: Okay, that’s exciting. And we’ll, of course, keep you up-to-date on what’s happening in Pennsylvanian in future podcasts. It’s not that surprising that this idea would come out of Pennsylvania, because as you just alluded to a little bit ago, this state has a very long history of standing up for this issue. It’s not one of the 15 states that have term limits on its legislature and not one of the 23 that have had term limits on its legislature in the modern era, but that’s, I think, largely because they don’t have the initiative process, because it’s only through the initiative process that states have really been successful in putting term limits on their state legislatures. But if you look back at our history, going way back, actually before it was a state even, we see that the call for term limits has been strong going back into the colonial days.
Nick Tomboulides: Yes, it’s amazing. William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania as a colony back in the 1690s, established term limits. In Pennsylvania’s founding, it was part of it. They had term limits on the colonial governor and the colonial assembly. How freaking cool is that? You had English guys in tricorner hats in the 17th century sitting in a pub drinking an ale and talking about term limits. It doesn’t get any better than that. This issue…
Philip Blumel: That’s my idea of a good time.
Nick Tomboulides: Hell yeah. This issue is older than America itself. The Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 called for term limits, rotation office for all elected officials. That was written in by Ben Franklin. They couldn’t serve more than four years in any seven-year period. I remember I was here in Florida, not too long ago we had a US Senate candidate swing through my county to give a speech, and I raised my hand and asked him about term limits. I said, “Would you support a six-year term limit for members of Congress?” And he said, “No, I think six years is too short.” And my immediate response was, “Too short? Do you know Benjamin Franklin thought four years was the right number?”
Philip Blumel: Right, right.
Nick Tomboulides: So to our founding fathers, six years might be too long. These guys were hardcore term limits purists. And as late as 1837, state legislators in Pennsylvania were still respecting Ben Franklin’s tradition and term limiting themselves.
Philip Blumel: That is very impressive. Pennsylvania wasn’t the only state with term limits. In fact, in 1776, 1777, when all these new state constitutions were being drafted and adopted, most of them had term limits somewhere, at least on their chief executives. Some of them had it on one of the houses of legislature and not the other. But Pennsylvania was the most hardcore. Pretty much every, or I should say all elected officials in the state, executive and legislative, had term limits. That’s incredible.
Nick Tomboulides: It really is. And you have to think too of the foresight that it took to be a term limit supporter back then as opposed to now. Because now, we turn on the news and our congressmen are cavorting with hookers, and they’re stealing money, and they’re just horribly incompetent and ridiculous.
Philip Blumel: And doing it for 40 or 50 years.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah, for 40 or 50 years. And it’s a no-brainer, we’re all for term limits. Back then, people were only living to 45 years of age. You couldn’t serve 45 years in political office even if you wanted to. And it was a much more limited, defined set of duties back then. Government was not nearly as big and intrusive and powerful as it is now. And yet even then, people like Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson knew that term limits were a good idea. And you’ve gotta really pat them on the back because it took so much discernment back then when the problems were not as bad as they are now to see that term limits were a good idea.
Philip Blumel: Right. In Pennsylvania’s 1776 constitution, it actually said in the constitution that the reason for the term limits was to “Thwart the danger of establishing an inconvenient aristocracy.” I thought that was a nice turn of phrase. And then of course… Oh gosh, Ben Franklin himself came up with one of my favorite quotes about term limits. When he was arguing about term limits at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, he said, “In free governments, the rulers are the servants, and the people, their superiors. For the former to return amongst the latter does not degrade, but promote them.”
Nick Tomboulides: It’s a great quote, and that quote was in the op-ed by Senator Toomey and Governor Rendell, and they actually added their own comment to it at the end. They said, “We couldn’t agree more with what Ben Franklin wrote. Let’s work on something our country is united behind, let’s increase faith in government, let’s place term limits on Congress.”
Philip Blumel: Amen.
Philip Blumel: Comedian Chris Rock hosted Saturday Night Live on October 3rd, and used that opportunity to call for some common sense in the nation’s capital.
Chris Rock: We gotta figure out our whole relationship, we gotta re-negotiate our relationship to the government. The Senate and the Congress, does it work? No, it doesn’t freaking work, man. It doesn’t work. And why doesn’t it work? ‘Cause they need freaking term limits, okay? We’ve agreed in the United States that we cannot have kings, yet we have dukes and duchesses running the Senate and the Congress making decisions for poor people. That’s right.
Chris Rock: Rich people making decisions for poor people. That’s like your handsome friend giving you dating advice. Like, “Well, I think you should go over there and grab her by the ass and tell her it’s yours.” “Yeah, that works for you, Idris.”
Chris Rock: Hey, we gotta take this seriously. James Baldwin said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it’s faced.” Okay? Right?
Philip Blumel: Thanks for tuning in for another episode of No Uncertain Terms. The launching pad for a constitutional amendment is the Senate Judiciary Committee. Right now, they are sitting on SJR1, the US term limits amendment. You’ll recall that our own Nick Tomboulides testified in favor of this bill to a judiciary subcommittee last year. But since then, nothing. Our action item this week is to contact Judiciary Chair, Senator Lindsey Graham, and to urge him to hold a vote on SJR1 in 2020. To do so, go to termlimits.com/graham. It’ll take you two minutes. Tell him, “No politician should be able to retain power for life.” That’s termlimits.com/graham. G-R-A-H-A-M. Thank you. We’ll be back next week.
Stacey Selleck: The revolution isn’t being televised. Fortunately, you have the No Uncertain Terms Podcast.
Speaker 11: USTL.