Philip Blumel: The term limits movement turns a corner. Hi, I’m Philip Blumel. Welcome to No Uncertain Terms, the official podcast of the term limits movement for the week of November 16th, 2020.
Stacey Selleck: Your sanctuary from partisan politics.
Philip Blumel: From the point of view of the term limits movement, the 2020 election returns were a game changer. As we noted last week, our account of US Term Limits pledge signers in the Congress jumped from 65 to 92 on November 3rd. Local term limits initiatives and referendum won coast to coast, and about 642 US Term Limits pledge signers were elected or reelected to state legislatures. How will this change the direction of the movement? Let’s talk to one of its leaders, Nick Tomboulides, Executive Director of US Term Limits. Hey, Nick.
Philip Blumel: So this is pretty much a continuation of last week’s podcast where we were talking about the election results, because there’s just a lot of news, a lot of changes to cover. Last week I think we focused mostly on Congress, a little bit about governors, about some of the state-wide referendum and ballot measures. Let’s talk a little bit today, Nick, about what happened in the state legislatures. I mentioned in the intro that we have 642 pledge signers elected to legislatures now. We started this year’s session with 250, so that’s a pick-up of 392. That is incredible.
Nick Tomboulides: I believe… Just to update you, I think we’ve had some new election results roll in and we are now up to 654 pledge signers.
Philip Blumel: Okay.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah, so we’ve got more pick-ups actually.
Philip Blumel: Fantastic. Wow, alright. What we’re talking about when we’re talking about pledge signers are those candidates who had signed the US Term Limits Pledge, committing themselves to co-sponsoring and voting for Term Limits Convention resolutions in their legislature. And that, of course, is one of our chief strategies to try to get a constitutional amendment passed in the US Constitution to require congressional term limits, and so this is really a move forward in that effort.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah, that’s absolutely right. As far as I know, there’s really no other group out there that has secured this many commitments from state legislators on any issue, much less an issue that is not traditionally popular with politicians. You have to remember, the pledge is just the life blood of everything we do at US Term Limits. Because it’s one thing to talk to a candidate on the campaign trail, raise your hand and say, “Are you for term limits?” They say, “Yeah, sure, I’m for term limits.” And then after the election, you text them and they say, “New phone, who dis?” Right? That is why we get the pledge, to secure that commitment in writing, to be able to avail ourselves of the evidence that this person supported term limits, and to hold their feet to the fire when the session starts. Because we’re going all over the country, we are getting these resolutions filed for the Term Limits Convention. We need 34 states to pass it, and when we get those resolutions filed, we need the cavalry to stand behind us and co-sponsor it and vote for it so we get the numbers needed for passage. So yes, this is a consequential year.
Philip Blumel: And I’ll remind our listeners, because I know that our listeners tend to be a cynical sort when it comes to politicians, that a politician’s word generally means nothing on this issue, but pledges do. There’s certainly been exceptions, we’ve talked about on our podcast, but generally speaking, politicians who sign our pledges live up to these pledges. They are on the hook. And they know also that US Term Limits is willing to take action when they don’t. So this is, when we say life blood, this is really the lever that we have to get politicians to take action on this issue.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah, let’s just go back, rewind a minute. It’s not enough to just ask them whether they support term limits, it’s not even enough to get them to sign a pledge, you need to enforce the pledges, you need to have Veto and Bruno standing by with a baseball bat if they refuse to support term limits. Okay, not really. But what we really do if they refuse to honor their pledge is we’ll put mailers in their districts. We’ll let everyone know that they’re a scofflaw, that they’re breaking their word, that they have reneged on their promise, and that is how you get legislators to do the right thing. If you can’t make them see the light, make them feel the heat, and that’s what we do. We played in over 100 state legislative races this year, where we basically just educated voters on who were the good guys on term limits, who were the bad guys on term limits, and the pro-term limit candidate as a result of those stances won 80% of the time.
Philip Blumel: That’s incredible. 84 out of 105. And these are what we call our voter education races. So these are… Of all these pledgers that are running for office, these are the ones where we actually took a role and really let the voters know that they voted for it or that their opponent broke their pledges or whatever. Yeah, fantastic. That’s part of why we had so much success this year, is going out and making sure, not just that the politicians sign these pledges, but that people know they sign these pledges.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah, we’re the group getting the word out there. In these 104 races, we literally spoke to either through our mail program or through our digital program, we spoke to every likely voter in that district, so they were aware of who agreed with them on term limits and who was standing in the way. And we see that borne out in the results, and it wasn’t just low-hanging fruit. 90% of the incumbents who supported term limits through that program got re-elected, but almost 90% of the incumbents who had really good challengers got re-elected. 89% of the pro-term limits candidates in open seats won their races, and about 50% of the pro-term limits challengers defeated the incumbents who were anti-term limits when voter education came into play. So we basically broke the probabilities, we broke the model on that because incumbents are supposed to win 90% of the time, but when they had a pro-term limits challenger and we were doing voter education behind them, we won about half of the time.
Philip Blumel: Right. I’ve been looking down the list of all these victories, and it’s a pretty thick report here, page after page after page. And I notice some states, we really knocked it out of the park. The state where we have the most pledgers in office is West Virginia. I counted 75.
Nick Tomboulides: That’s right, 75. And a little bit of the backstory on West Virginia, it’s been kind of a cruel twist of fate these last two years, because the Term Limits Convention passed the State House there in 2019, it passed the State Senate in 2020, but it’s never passed both chambers in the same year. So in 2021, we need both. As you said, we’ve got 75 pledge signers. That’s 53% of the Senate, that’s 57% of the House. So we have already got a majority in both chambers committed to the Term Limits Convention. The pump has been primed. We’ve got activists in West Virginia who are excited about this, we’ve got amazing sponsors in West Virginia. And the cool thing about going through the Article V Convention is you do need 34 states, but the Constitution doesn’t care whether it’s a small state or a very big state. So West Virginia, in terms of getting term limits on Congress, just as valuable as California, just as valuable as New York, just as valuable as Texas.
Philip Blumel: Right. This is why I support this organization, US Term Limits. This is concrete action towards our goal. We’re not out there just talking about how terms limits are great, ’cause everybody agrees with us about that anyway. This is about figuring out how to get this done and going out and doing it, and this was an absolute proof of concept in this election.
Nick Tomboulides: And when you say you support US Term Limits, you really mean it. I mean, you’re a full-time volunteer president. I don’t know if everyone knows that, but Phil here, Phil’s an unpaid volunteer. He’s all heart and soul behind this movement.
Philip Blumel: That’s it.
Scott Tillman: Hi, this is Scott Tillman the National Field Director with US Term Limits. Our pledge program was a huge success this cycle. We now have over 600 state legislators who have signed our pledge to help us term limit Congress, and we have some pretty impressive totals in the states. This is important because the number of pledgers is a good indicator of how our votes will go in those states. In Louisiana and Tennessee, over 20% of their State House have pledged to support the Term Limits Resolution, and in South Carolina, over 20% of the State Senate. In Georgia, we have over 20% of the House and 20% of the Senate that have made the pledge. And in Arizona, over one-third of the House and one-third of the Senate. But the highest numbers we have in the nation come out of West Virginia, where over half of the Senate and 58% of the House have taken the pledge to help us put term limits on Congress. In the last couple of years, we’ve had some close votes in West Virginia, but now we have more than enough support pledged to get us there. Connect with us on Facebook and you can follow our updates on how we progress in the different states through 2021.
Ken Quinn: Hi, this is Ken Quinn, Regional Director with US Term Limits. Now that the elections for Congress are basically over and all the negative TV ads are gone, we can finally breathe a sigh of relief knowing that the people we elected are going to work together to solve our nation’s problems. Yeah, right. Let’s be honest, we all know that not much is going to change in congress after this election. Yes, there will be a few new faces and a few old ones will be gone, but we all know it is going to be business as usual because the same party’s in power. Now, I’m not talking about the party of the elephant or the donkey, I’m referring to the party of the lion, the king of the jungle, the incumbent party. These are the people that have been in office for decades and they control what really happens in Congress.
Ken Quinn: You see, they care more about maintaining their power and protecting their party than tackling the tough issues facing our country. And until we get rid of these career politicians, don’t expect much good to come from Washington DC. So what can we do when our government no longer operates as it’s supposed to under the Constitution? Well, James Madison foresaw this problem and advised us to use the very remedy they provided in the Constitution to solve it, the Amending Provision under Article V. In a speech in Congress in 1796, Madison describes the three methods of controlling the government: Checks and balances, elections, and amendments. “In the first place, the responsibility which every department feels to the public will under the forms the Constitution may be expected to prevent the excesses incident to conflicts between rival and irresponsible authorities. In the next place, if the difference cannot be adjusted by friendly conference and mutual concession, the sense of the constituent body brought into the government through the ordinary elective channels may supply a remedy. And if this resource should fail, there remains in the third and last place, that provident article in the Constitution itself, by which an avenue is always open to the sovereignty of the people for explanations and amendments as they might be found indispensable.”
Ken Quinn: According to Madison, when the ordinary checks and balances no longer work and the elections fail to make a difference, there remains one final option for we the people, and that is to amend the Constitution through our state legislatures. He further advocated this option in a letter he wrote in 1830. “Should the provisions of the Constitution as here reviewed be found not to secure the government and the rights of the states against user patients and abuses on the part of the US, the final resort within the purview of the Constitution lies in an amendment of the Constitution according to a process applicable by the states.”
Ken Quinn: Today, checks and balances in our government are basically non-existent. Elections continually fail to bring the needed reforms to our country, and the approval rating of Congress has been dismal for decades. It is time to resort to our final option: Amend the US Constitution. At US Term Limits, we agree with Mr. Madison, and that is why we are seeking to have the state legislatures propose a Congressional Term Limits Amendment. Only term limits will bring the needed structural change to our government to prevent people from holding office for life. The time has arrived to finally put and end to the career politicians in Congress, and if you agree, then please join the Term Limits revolution by signing our petition at termlimits.com. Join us today and help us in your state to pass our Article V Congressional Term Limits application.
Philip Blumel: What other states did we really kill it?
Nick Tomboulides: So Arizona, we did very, very well. There, we had 35 pledge signers. They have a pretty small legislature, so we’ve got 33% of the Senate behind it, and 42% of the House. That doesn’t necessarily mean we don’t have majorities, even if there are some members who just never sign any pledges under any circumstances, but they’re still supportive of term limits. Arizona is a state where we passed the State House twice, and now we need the State Senate. Thankfully, the pro-term limits majority actually held on to its control of both chambers in Arizona by, I think, a single vote. So the leadership that has been in place that supports term limits in both chambers is still there. Kelly Townsend, who was like the superstar of term limits in Arizona, is moving from the State House to the State Senate, and she will be our sponsor there, and I have no doubt she’ll do a fantastic job.
Philip Blumel: Oh, that’ll be very helpful. Yes, she’s fantastic. Great, alright. So West Virginia, Arizona. Now, another state that we came very close in was Louisiana, and this is a state where we have about 36 or so pledge signers in the legislature. Is this another state that we’re gonna be looking at again in 2021?
Nick Tomboulides: I think so, yeah. I just had a call with some activists from Louisiana today, and they’re excited about this. Louisiana, we actually passed the State House twice in one year in Louisiana. How often do you see that happen? We passed the House in the regular session, and then we passed it again in the special session, and we came up just short in the Senate. So Louisiana is a top target, it is on our radar. We had that problem with those two senators who refused to honor their pledges, and we beat them up. We did mail in their districts, we put billboards on the interstate near their offices, and we really let the people know what was going on. So yeah, I’m bullish about Louisiana. I think we’re gonna need a lot of support from the grassroots, we can’t do it on our own, we’re gonna need volunteers out there, but Louisiana is in a pretty good position.
Philip Blumel: Okay. Another state we’ve had success in in the past was Georgia. And I notice it’s another one that’s top of my list in terms of number of pledgers.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah, Georgia, we have passed the State Senate twice. We have never gotten through the State House. And I’ll just be honest with you, the reason we haven’t gotten through is not because the Georgia House doesn’t want this, it’s because one man is holding it up. David Ralston, the speaker of the Georgia House, is a career politician. He doesn’t support term limits, he doesn’t listen to his caucus, he’s a one-man band, he has the my way or the highway approach, and he refuses to bring this up for a vote because he’s afraid that it’s gonna pass. But if you look at Georgia right now, the winds of political change are definitely blowing. Georgia is totally being reshaped politically. The Democrats are gaining more of a foothold there. Within the Republican party, you’re seeing a lot of younger, more dynamic, energetic Republicans who are taking on key roles. So I don’t know how much longer David Ralston will be able to hold the line. I think eventually he’s gonna have to give us this vote because Georgia is just moving in a pro-term limits direction.
Philip Blumel: Well, I’m looking at 48 members of the legislature that have signed a pledge to co-sponsor and vote for the Term Limits Convention Resolution, so yeah, he’s gotta listen.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah, look at how close we are in all of these states. Like we said, West Virginia, we’ve passed the Chamber. Georgia, we’ve passed the Chamber. Louisiana, we’ve gotten a chamber. Arizona, a chamber. Well, actually, West Virginia, both chambers, just different years. We’re just on the cusp of a major breakthrough here. It’s like we’re standing at the gates of the career politician fortress with a huge term limits battering ram. The entrenched incumbents are under siege, and the walls are about to come down, we just have to keep pushing.
Philip Blumel: Okay, before I move on, any other states worth pointing out?
Nick Tomboulides: We can point out those miserable states where nobody signed the pledge.
Philip Blumel: Oh, yeah. Well, last…
Nick Tomboulides: We can encourage our listeners to direct their hate mail there.
Philip Blumel: Well, we mentioned in the last podcast, we were wondering if there were any states where we didn’t have any pledgers, and we talked about why a little bit. And we did have a couple of candidates sign the pledge in Hawaii, but they didn’t win, so it is true, we did not have any winners in Hawaii. I noticed in looking down the list that there’s only one state where we had not only no winners, but no pledgers. There’s one state that has no pledges: Oregon. Oregon. We gotta get to work out there.
Nick Tomboulides: We do. And by the way, lockdowns are no excuse, folks, for not getting us pledges. You can print it out at home, you can sign it, you can scan it in, you can have your wife be the witness, just send us some damn pledges. Listen to the people.
Philip Blumel: But I tell you, there’s not many states like that. How many states did we pick up winners this election cycle?
Nick Tomboulides: As of last count, we had winners in 43 states.
Philip Blumel: So good.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah.
Philip Blumel: On January 2nd, 2019, the FBI lodged a 37-page criminal complaint against Edward Burke, a 50-year incumbent on Chicago City Council. Since 1983, he has chaired the city’s powerful Finance Committee, and during that time, he has apparently also been using his position to shake down individuals and companies for money. For much of 2017, federal agents followed him around and recorded his phone calls, and eventually raided his office. The FBI says that Burke insisted that a chain of fast food restaurants, including a Burger King, hire his law firm, Klafter & Burke, to handle their tax affairs in Illinois. Burger King didn’t need a new tax firm, so they settled on a $10,000 donation. The FBI also says that Burke withheld a city permit from a restaurant owner who wanted to renovate until the businessman wrote Burke a big check, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
Philip Blumel: That this case should arise in Chicago is hardly surprising, as the University of Illinois study from 2018 called Chicago “the most corrupt city in the US.” Its author, political science professor Dick Simpson, estimated that there have been 200 council members, or Aldermen as Chicagoans call them, since 1969 when Burke first got elected. Of them, 33 have been arrested for corruption, including extortion, bribery and fraud. A survey in 2016 found that more than 90% of Chicago business leaders observe cronyism in city government. Of the 10 largest cities in America, Chicago is also the only one without term limits on its city council or its mayor. Term limits discourage corruption, as corruption is highly correlated with tenure and power, as long tenure breeds both arrogance and provides opportunity.
Philip Blumel: Term limits also encourage transparency, as the critical institutional knowledge is not bottled up amongst the team of entrenched incumbents. Instead, you have a regular stream of ex-council members constantly being created who have intimate knowledge of the system. Meanwhile, new members come in and review the system with fresh perspectives. Voters know all this, and in 2018, about 60% of voters told pollsters they supported term limits for the Chicago Council. In 2018, there was a serious attempt to put mayoral term limits on the Chicago ballot, led by former Democratic Governor Pat Quinn. The requisite signatures were collected and the measure was okayed for the ballot. However, under state law, only three ballot questions can appear on the city ballot in one election. The Chicago City Council promptly approved additional advisory questions for which zero signatures have been collected so that the term limits measure would be crowded out. One non-binding question read, “Should the city of Chicago ban the use of plastic straws within corporate limits?” Governor Quinn called this a sabotage tactic. It’s also fair to call it corrupt. Guess who sponsored the measure to boot term limits off the ballot? Alderman Ed Burke.
Philip Blumel: Well, let’s take a look then at the local races. There was about 48 ballot measures that we counted across the country that dealt directly with term limits, and we saw a 80% victory rate across all these races. Another great year.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah, it would be 95% in a normal year. I think the politicians are getting a little bit more clever with the ballot language. They’re learning how to fool people into voting against term limits, when they really want term limits. So you see a little bit of that. But my takeaway from the local initiatives is this. You look at the races where it’s happening, we’re not talking US Senate here, we’re not talking governors, what we’re talking about are city council members, county commissioners, local treasurers, school board members, local politics in small areas, small regions. Even in a small town, people acknowledge that there should be no tolerance for corruption and careerism and entrenchment. And my question would be, “If it’s good enough for local officials in a small town, what is so special about the United States Congress that people should be able to serve for life?” You think about it, term limits are good enough for the President, they’re good enough for governors, they’re good enough for local officials, why are term limits not good enough for Congress?
Philip Blumel: Right, especially when you consider the talent pool for those positions in Congress are huge. It’s only the self-interest of politicians that is the obstacle and that’s it.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah. But it’s great though, because it’s raising awareness of the issue, it’s creating an awakening among people and building the grassroots where folks get to experience what it’s like to get involved in the term limits campaign. They get to experience the thrill of victory, of a community coming together, to do the right thing, and that is the foundation of the movement to get term limits on Congress as well. The people say all politics is local, and it is so true in this movement. It’s all about talking to legislators and pressuring them to do the right thing.
Philip Blumel: I was looking down the list of all of the local ballot measures across the country. You can look at it too. It’s on the termlimits.com website. A couple of things jumped out at me. One is that California had the most term limit measures on the ballot: 13. And of the 13, term limits only lost in one locality. Another state that stuck out to me was Illinois, which is, as we know, one of the most corrupt states in the country, and it’s also where term limits is a very big issue and…
Nick Tomboulides: Very popular.
Philip Blumel: Very popular, and politicians are forced to talk about it a lot, they’ve had a lot of battles over that, over it there. We’ve had twice legislative term limits make it to the ballot and be tossed off by politicians and courts. It’s a fight in Illinois. So I look at the five races, the five ballot measures in Illinois, and it’s interesting to see the big margins by which term limits have been winning in Illinois: 87%, 72%, 81%, 79%, 77%. The people in Illinois, when they get a chance to vote for term limits, they go out and they vote for term limits with gusto because they don’t get the chance to do it where they’d really like to term limit, which is on the state legislature.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah, and they’ve been getting fake crumbs and cookies for so many years from the state legislature. They’ll say, “Oh yeah, we’ll pass a term limit on leadership,” and then it never comes to pass. Illinois is home to arguably the greatest term limits foe in America. Michael Madigan is the 37-year House Speaker. They’ve had one House speaker since the 1980s. It’s a tragic situation. They’re number one in every index of corruption. And when I was looking at polling across different areas for term limits very early on, I was trying to figure out, well, it’s enormously popular everywhere, but in Illinois, the numbers were even higher. And what I found was there is a huge direct correlation between the amount of corruption in a particular area and the popularity of term limits, or an inverse correlation with term limits. So in area with no term limits, we see more corruption, in areas with term limits, we see less corruption, and in very corrupt places like Illinois, you see astounding levels of popularity for this issue.
Philip Blumel: One last thing that I’ll point out from the list is that the highest vote total for term limits, and again, it’s a city council, was in Belleair, Florida. 91% in favor of term limits.
Nick Tomboulides: I think I’ve seen higher. That’s great. Barefoot Bay, Florida, which is a modular home community in my county, passed, I think, term limits on its trustees with 93% of the vote a couple years ago. We need to look to see if term limits have ever passed with 100% of the vote and give that town a medal.
Philip Blumel: Well, that assumes that the people on the council itself didn’t vote.
Nick Tomboulides: Term Limits should receive the key to a city if it passes with over 90% of the vote. They should fly us in to get the key to Belleair. I wanna be the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Let’s do it. Belleair, Florida, that is.
Philip Blumel: Thanks for joining us for another episode of No Uncertain Terms. The election is finally over. The action item for this week is to send a congratulatory email message to your elected representatives at both the congressional and state level who enjoyed victory last week, and thank them for signing the US Term Limits pledge. Go to termlimits.com/congrats, and type in your street address. If your victorious rep is a signer, you’ll have the opportunity to congratulate them. Now, it doesn’t matter whether you voted for them or not, or even if they replaced another pledge signer who you liked better, your reps need to be reminded of their commitment. That’s termlimits.com/congrats. C-O-N-G-R-A-T-S. Thanks, we’ll be back next week.
Stacey Selleck: The revolution isn’t being televised. Fortunately, you have the No Uncertain Terms podcast.