Philip Blumel: Are we having fun yet? Hi, I’m Philip Blumel. Welcome to No Uncertain Terms, the official podcast of the Term Limits Movement for the week of November 2nd, 2020.
Stacey Selleck: Your sanctuary from partisan politics.
Philip Blumel: With the national election just a day away, political hijinks are reaching their cringe-worthy apex. Whether it be Biden’s flubbing of a softball question about term limits last week or showboating senators throwing their weight around in televised hearings, the political class is giving it their worst. Oh, and we just saw the final ballot language as it’ll appear statewide on the so-called Arkansas Term Limit Amendment. You won’t believe what it says and what it doesn’t. Joining us again this week is US Term Limits’ Executive Director Nick Tomboulides. Hey, Nick.
Nick Tomboulides: Happy Election Week.
Philip Blumel: Oh, yeah, sure. Well, yeah, election’s tomorrow, wow. And Joe Biden, presidential candidate, came out last week at a stop near his home in Wilmington, Delaware, and was asked about Supreme Court term limits, and he said he’s against them.
Nick Tomboulides: Well, no surprise there.
Philip Blumel: No.
Nick Tomboulides: He’s been opposing term limits his whole life. He’s opposed it for I think 37 years when he was in the Senate, didn’t want term limits on himself, actually voted against several constitutional amendments for term limits on Congress.
Philip Blumel: That’s right.
Nick Tomboulides: But what is weird about this is, we’re not even talking about political term limits, we’re not even talking about legislative term limits or presidential term limits here, we’re talking about the court. So it’s like, he must hold some personal grudge just against this issue, against the very words of “term limits.”
Philip Blumel: Oh, yes, it’s visceral.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah, it’s visceral, he just can’t let it go. If you oppose it for one, you have to oppose it for all. And to do this a week before the election, I’m just wondering, who’s advising this guy? This is an 80% issue.
Philip Blumel: Yeah, I don’t think he received advice on this. He’s not been forthcoming on this issue. Remember, the main reason why we got his official opposition to term limits out of him during the campaign was because Ken Quinn in New Hampshire, at another campaign stop, dragged it out of him, asked him about it and caught him on his phone. And this was similar. He was stopped at a campaign stop and he was asked about it, so he’s not going out intending to buck the party or at least make a big deal out of it. Ro Khanna, the representative from California, is the guy that’s sponsoring and pushing the Supreme Court Term Limits Bill, and it’s largely Democrats that are pushing this right now because they’re upset that Trump got three choices. So he’s bucking his own party here, but he didn’t intend to go out and do it.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah, so we had a visit here in Melbourne, Florida yesterday from one of Joe Biden’s surrogates, keep telling everyone to vote for Biden, and that was Mayor Pete Buttigieg from Indiana, he was here, and he’s one of the biggest advocates of Supreme Court term limits. So not only is Biden out there, he’s for some reason a week before the election contradicting the American people, contradicting his own political party and his own surrogates. It’s just really, really weird. And by the way, I’m under no illusions that Donald Trump has a huge fire passion burning in the belly for term limits. I imagine that he sat down a few years ago and said to his advisors, “What do the people think about term limits?” And then somebody said, “Well, 82% of them are for it.” And he says, “Okay, I’m for it, great.” So… But I just… Weird. It’s politically tone-deaf a little bit.
Philip Blumel: I would say so. Specifically, here’s what he said. When he asked if he was for Supreme Court term limits, he said, “No. It’s a lifetime appointment. I’m not going to try and change that at all.” Now, what strikes me about this is, first of all, it’s obvious, yeah, that’s like saying, “Well, there’s no term limits, so yeah, I’m against term limits,” or, “It’s a lifetime appointment, therefore I’m for a lifetime appointment.” It doesn’t mean anything. What I find more troubling is the fact that, think about this. His argument against it is that it’s a lifetime appointment. He’s looking at that from the point of view of the individual justice, not from the point of view of the institution or approving institution or fixing any problems with the institution. He’s looking at it like, “Well, wait a minute, no, it’s supposed to be lifetime. They said it was gonna be lifetime, it’s not fair, you can’t take away their lifetime appointment.” He’s looking at it, again, from the politician point of view instead of from the people’s point of view or even the institutional point of view.
Nick Tomboulides: That’s like saying, “Oh, what’s my argument against medicine? I’m already sick, so I don’t need medicine, you know I’m sick” whatever.
Philip Blumel: Yeah, right, yeah, exactly.
Nick Tomboulides: “It’s a lifetime appointment, so we don’t need term limits.” It’s really baffling to me, and if you look at the direction the court has moved in where you’ve got more, way more Republican appointees at this point than Democratic appointees, you have to infer from this statement that Joe Biden either wants the court to stay Republican-leaning for a very long time, or he’s going to embrace court packing when he gets in there.
Philip Blumel: Oh, look, I think that this little incident, talking about term limits, makes it pretty clear whether or not he supports the idea of court packing, because think about this. They asked about court packing, he says, “Oh, no, I don’t wanna think about it, I don’t wanna make it an issue, I’ll talk about it after the election.” But they asked him about Supreme Court term limits and he said, “Oh, no, I’m against it.” If he was against court packing, he could have said, “Oh, no, I’m against it,” just like he did with the Supreme Court term limits.
Nick Tomboulides: I don’t think you need to be Lee Atwater or Karl Rove or Niccolo Machiavelli to advise your presidential candidate not to take a punt on court packing and then oppose term limits a week before the election. I’ll say it again. Who is advising these people?
Philip Blumel: I know.
Nick Tomboulides: ‘Cause this could come back to bite you. 80% of the country wants term limits for the Supreme Court, just as they want term limits for Congress.
Philip Blumel: Yeah, Biden knows that opposing competitive elections and rotation in office is not an applause line anywhere except on K Street.
Speaker 4: Corruption.
Philip Blumel: This week’s profile in corruption is a gentleman who has been discussed on the No Uncertain Terms podcast before. Arkansas Senator, Jon Woods, was elected to the Arkansas State House in 2007 and was term-limited out of office in 2013. He immediately ran for the Arkansas Senate, where he served only one four-year term before leaving the Senate to join the Orange Jumpsuit Caucus in 2017. Senator Woods was found guilty of 15 federal counts as ringleader of a scheme involving the president of Ecclesia College in Springdale, Arkansas, where Woods lives. Specifically, Woods and his gang were convicted of soliciting and accepting kickbacks as reward for the funneling of government funds in the college’s direction. He was found guilty of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, 12 counts of wire fraud, and money laundering, and now Woods was sentenced to 220 months in federal prison and ordered to pay $1.6 million in restitution.
Philip Blumel: Crimes of this nature are so common amongst career politicians, so many of whom are corrupted by the hubris and opportunity that come with long tenure and the lack of competitive elections. It should not be surprising that Senator Jon Woods was an active opponent of term limits, but it is nonetheless still shocking how passionate and how brazen was his animosity towards this voter-approved reform that restrained his vicious appetites. Woods was the author, the author of the Arkansas Elected Officials Ethics, Transparency and Financial Reform Act of 2014, the primary aim of which was to gut term limits in Arkansas. Now, note, the title does not mention term limits. No, that provision was buried deep in the text of the document, beneath some other feel-good ethics planks and bramites. Nonetheless, this so-called ethics package, and oh yes, that’s the nickname that Senator Woods gave it, doubled the term limit of Arkansas representatives, and nearly doubled that of senators.
Philip Blumel: Many voters didn’t know what they had passed until after election day. Not incidentally, one of his accomplices in the ethics package scheme, as well as the college kickback paper was former Arkansas State Rep Micah Neal. “I do know this confirms what I’ve always suspected about Jon Woods,” wrote Max Brantley in the Arkansas Times. “He never had a job. He bragged about the good life he lived off state pay, per diem, travel and the hog slapping that legislators enjoy. I should mention too, that he was the architect of the so-called ethics amendment that provided a path to longer terms in office. Many politicians oppose term limits due to naked self-interest, but not more than the careerist criminals that consciously aim to enrich themselves at the expense of the public.
Philip Blumel: Next up, it’s political season. We had a bunch of grandstanding Congressman, specifically senators of the Senate Commerce Committee last week that grilled social media CEOs for like four hours. There was Facebook Chief, Mark Zuckerberg; Twitter’s, Jack Dorsey; Sundar Pichai of Google. Wow. The purpose of the hearings was basically that the Congress is upset with the flow of information through these social media platforms. And according to the 1996 law, these platforms are sort of shielded from liability for what they publish because they present themselves as neutral platforms. Anybody can post stuff and everybody else can see it, but since the last Presidential election, we’ve seen them try to control a lot of this flow of content, and a lot of politicians don’t like it.
Nick Tomboulides: Well, it’s so funny because everyone here is lying. Social media platforms are lying, because everyone knows they’re not content neutral, and everyone knows they have a political agenda. The Republicans are lying because they’re claiming these are public companies and that they have the ability to regulate their speech, and Democrats are saying the same thing. Republicans are saying that these groups are censoring too much, the Democrats are saying they’re not censoring enough. It’s crazy.
Philip Blumel: That’s exactly what they were arguing about at these hearings. Absolutely. Yep. And in fact, Senator Ed Markey said that specifically. He said, “The issue is not that these companies before us today are taking too many posts down, the issue is that they’re leaving too many dangerous posts up.” [chuckle] And then we had other Republican senators say just the opposite. So you’re right, it seems to me like these guys have their feathers ruffled. They don’t like what’s being said about ’em on social media, and they wanna have some control over it.
Nick Tomboulides: Right.
Philip Blumel: And so to me, it’s a bunch… It’s typical congressional hubris and trying to interfere in the private economy and what we choose to consume and choose not to consume.
Nick Tomboulides: And look, like we have anti-trust laws, so the question of whether a private company is too powerful, it’s an interesting policy question, and I don’t mind it being debated. But all too often, these hearings like just careen in a totally different direction, where you’ve got the hubris of the politicians on full display. These people want more ability to regulate what is read on social media, and they wanna make sure whatever gets through shows them in a good light.
Philip Blumel: That’s it. I wanna play one clip that I think just capsulizes the entire four-hour hearing, and this is from Senator Marsha Blackburn, a Republican from Tennessee, grilling the CEO of Google about his hiring practices. Let it roll.
Speaker 5: Okay, Mr. Pichai, is Blake Lemoine, one of your engineers, still working with you?
Speaker 6: Senator, I’m familiar with this name as a name… As an employ… I’m not sure that he’s currently an employee.
Speaker 5: Okay, well, he has had very unkind things about me, and I was just wondering if you all had still kept him working there.
Nick Tomboulides: Oh my goodness.
Philip Blumel: That’s pretty explicit. I mean, there’s nothing… There could be no other implication, that she wants this person fired because this person said nasty things about her online. Oh, man.
Nick Tomboulides: And in the middle of a pandemic and a crazy presidential election, our Senate has nothing better to do than single out one employee at a social media company and try to get on his hide for criticizing one US Senator, I mean, give me a break.
Philip Blumel: Paul Jacob is a board member of US term limits and president of the Liberty Initiative Fund.
Paul Jacob: This is common sense. United, we term limit. Most Americans appreciate the truth of Lord Atkin’s venerable dictum, power tends to corrupt, and absolutely unterm-limited power corrupts absolutely.
Paul Jacob: I’ve slightly reworded it, sorry Baron. “Anyway, instead of presuming,” said John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton, “that powerful men like Pope and King can do no wrong, we should presume the opposite. The more power a person can freely exercise, the more likely he will abuse it. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.”
Paul Jacob: Americans tend to agree, so we see the wisdom of regularly depriving incumbents of power that increases the longer they are in office. Even as they become more inclined to abuse this power, most incumbents hate term limits. We’ve also seen strong bipartisan support for the reform from many eminent politicians. For example, US Senator, Pat Toomey, Republican, and former governor Ed Rendell, Democrat, both of Pennsylvania. Entrenched politicians have been steering the ship of state for decades, and we’re about to hit a 25 trillion dollar national debt iceberg. It’s time for a new approach, they say in a recent op-ed. Our elected representatives seem afraid to do anything that would jeopardize their re-election. Term limits allowed them to operate without that pressure, secure in the knowledge that they are not risking the position that could be a lifetime career. The two experienced elected officials, Rendell, retired, and Toomey, retiring in 2022 also support a convention of states as the most practical constitutional method of term limiting Congress. Americans are coming together, right now, over term limits. This is Common Sense, I’m Paul Jacob. For more Common Sense, go to thisiscommonsense.org.
Philip Blumel: Our last issue, Nick, is one that’s close to your heart. You gave us a monologue last week on the podcast about these ballot issues, and we now have in our hands the specific ballot language that voters will see when they go to the ballot in Arkansas, tell us about it.
Nick Tomboulides: Why don’t I do that? How about we just do this, why don’t I read… This is the actual language a citizen in Arkansas will see when they walk into the ballot box on Tuesday. Why don’t I just read it verbatim? I’ll read what they will see, and you can tell me what this amendment means and what this amendment does, and our audience can ask itself the same question.
Philip Blumel: And I think also when you hear this, ask yourself if you face this. Would you vote yes or no?
Nick Tomboulides: That’s it. That’s it. Okay, so it’s called issue number two, Constitutional amendment referred to the people by the General Assembly, and then it has a popular name. The popular name is, A Constitutional amendment to amend the term limits applicable to members of the General Assembly to be known as the Arkansas Term Limits Amendment. The ballot title says “A Constitutional amendment to be known as the Arkansas Term Limits Amendment and amending the term limits applicable to members of the General Assembly,” then there are two boxes, “Are you for it or are you against it?” What the fuck does that mean? Please bleep that Ken.
Nick Tomboulides: “Amending the term limits of the General Assembly,” how are you amending them? Are they getting shorter? Are they getting longer?
Philip Blumel: Are you being abolished?
Nick Tomboulides: It doesn’t say, this ballot does not say.
Philip Blumel: Oh, my word. I think that if I… Well, knowing what I know in these games that politicians play, I could not vote on this. But if I didn’t, I might say to myself, “Oh, oh, Arkansas Term Limits, oh I’m for term limits. Arkansas Term Limits Amendments? Oh, I live in Arkansas, I’m for term limits, I guess I should vote for.”
Nick Tomboulides: If you go into the ballot with the same mindset I have, I have a mentality… I call it the presumption of political crookedness, where I assume that every single amendment is politicians attempting to screw me, and that has to be… They have to prove otherwise if they’re not, but I think only about 90% of people believe politicians are trying to screw them, and there might be 10% of people still out there who trust politicians and might not know what this amendment is gonna do.
Philip Blumel: I think if there’s any hope, it’s because a lot of people voted from home. They sat with this in front of them and they had to mark it and they thought, “Well, maybe I should look this up.” And they went online, hopefully they did, and if they did, then hopefully they came across the US Term Limits page and discovered what this scam is all about. But if you showed up in the ballot box, you cannot vote on this with any idea of what you’re trying to accomplish.
Nick Tomboulides: If you wanna know about the sorry state of courts in this country and the all too cozy relationship between the politicians and the courts, hear this. This ballot title that I just read to you that explains absolutely nothing was just challenged in the courts of Arkansas. It was actually appealed all the way to the Supreme Court of Arkansas, the highest court in the state. And the argument was that this amendment is a manifest fraud, it’s a total misrepresentation, it was intentional, and it was designed by politicians to induce people into voting for it. All true. All true beyond any reasonable doubt. But guess what? The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that this amendment is clear, that this amendment is not fraudulent at all, and that everyone who reads this should understand exactly what it’s going to do.
Philip Blumel: Well, listen, Nick, it’s called the Arkansas Term Limits Amendment, that’s what it says in the ballot, and that is the name of the bill. It is entirely truthful.
Nick Tomboulides: What does this amendment really do, by the way, folks? This amendment takes the hollowed-out husk of term limits in Arkansas that still exists and just completely… Just gets rid of them entirely. This is the lifetime politicians amendment. This amendment would cripple term limits, like we said on last week’s podcast, it would cripple term limits and it would let politicians stay in the legislature for 30 and 40 years.
Philip Blumel: Well, Arkansas has a history of playing with the ballot language in order to get its way on term limits.
Philip Blumel: Thanks for joining us for another episode of No Uncertain Terms. Politicians in Arkansas have placed two scams on the ballot for November, amendment two and amendment three. One is a direct assault on term limits, and the other is an assault on the initiative process that made term limits possible in that state. For this week’s action item, we are asking our Arkansans to go to termlimits.com/noon2, it looks like noon2. There, you will find a great Facebook video explaining the amendments that you can forward to your friends. There’s also a downloadable flyer for distribution, that’s termlimits.com/noon2. 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 8: U-S-T-L.