Philip Blumel: Is American democracy sick?
Philip Blumel: Hi, I’m Philip Blumel. Welcome to No Uncertain Terms, the official podcast of the Term Limits Movement for the week of February 15, 2021.
Stacey Selleck: Your sanctuary from partisan politics.
Philip Blumel: A new Associated Press poll suggests that nearly half of the country believes America’s democracy is not functioning properly. Are they right? Let’s discuss this with the US Term Limits Executive Director, Nick Tomboulides. Hey, Nick.
Nick Tomboulides: Happy Presidents’ Day.
Philip Blumel: Oh, thank you. I think you’ve seen the new Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll. They took it in early January, and the big result is that Americans don’t think our democratic system is working that well; 45% actually believe it’s not functioning well, an additional 38% believe it’s operating somewhat well, and only 16% think it’s operating very well. What say you?
Nick Tomboulides: I would say that if your first thought is to blame this on Biden and Trump, think again, because these results have been around for a while, this goes back long before Trump. This is the type of problem that got Trump elected, and I think the blame lies squarely with Congress, right?
Philip Blumel: Yeah.
Nick Tomboulides: Congress is not at all representative of the country anymore.
Philip Blumel: That’s right. No, it isn’t. And I’ll tell you it’s… We talk about on this podcast a lot of the reasons why that is, and it starts with, if you’re talking about democracy, you must be talking about elections and to have well-functioning democracy and well-functioning elections, which means you need access to running for office, access to being able to vote for meaningful candidates in meaningful races, that is competitive races. You need rotation in office, you need all the things that our founders tried to build into the system of American democracy. And these things are withering on the vine, there’s no question about it. How many times on this podcast have we talked about the fact that 90% to 95% of the time incumbents in the US House win their own seat.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah. And I think inherent in a good definition of democracy is the ability of ordinary people to step up and serve in government, to run for office and have a viable chance of winning, but that simply doesn’t exist. Our elections are monopolized by these incumbents. A third of elections in this country are just an incumbent running unopposed, no competition whatsoever. And there’s this funding disparity, I know you’ve got some of the data, coming from these PACs that has basically created a wall. It’s bigger than anything Donald Trump could imagine. It’s a barrier to entry, and it’s blocking ordinary people from running for office, it’s blocking new voices, new faces, new perspectives from getting to Washington and actually making a difference.
Philip Blumel: Oh, yeah, money is the root of it. And you’re right about that wall, and that wall is getting higher and higher. Get this, from 2016 to 2020, one full presidential election cycle, the donations to federal candidates have doubled. The total cost of the 2020 election, at the federal level, is expected to be around $14 billion, double that of 2016. And so the problems that we were complaining about four years ago are arguably twice as bad in 2020.
Nick Tomboulides: And what percentage of that money is going to incumbents as opposed to challengers? It’s the huge ratio. I think $9 from special interest PACs go to incumbents for every $1 that flows to a challenger, it just makes it impossible to compete.
Philip Blumel: Oh, absolutely, I have the fresh numbers on that, too. The site, opensecrets.org, is a wealth of information on this stuff, also Ballotpedia as well. But I’m looking at where all the PAC money is going, so, of course, this money is double, too. And in every industry, when you go down the list, over 90% of the money they give out goes to incumbents and not challengers. Just give me a couple of examples, agribusiness, 91.5% of the dollars that agribusiness PACs gives out goes to incumbents, 91.5%. The most extreme is defense, 97.5% in 2020 of all the money given out by defense PACs went to incumbents. Healthcare, 95%.
Nick Tomboulides: This is where I have a real problem with the folks in Washington, DC, because you know they’re being disingenuous, and they’re being dishonest when they opposed term limits. If you recall, when Trump said he wanted term limits for Congress, Mitch McConnell was the first person to stand up on a pedestal and say, “Oh, there will be no vote on this, because we have term limits and they’re called elections.” And if he genuinely believed that, if he genuinely believed elections were fair, that anyone could step up to the plate and challenge him any time they wanted, then maybe I would give him a mulligan on that, and I would say, “He’s not evil, he’s just wrong.” But what you just described proves that he and every other career politician in Washington knows better, they know how the system really works, because they have…
Philip Blumel: This is what they do for a living.
Nick Tomboulides: ‘Cause they are the ones acting like Hoover Vacuum Cleaners sucking up all of these dollars from the lobbyists and the PACs, they’re spending five hours a day raising this money, each one of them, they’re sitting on $2 million, $5 million, in some cases, $20 million, if you’re a senator, to make sure that no one else can run against you. They know it’s mo’ money mo’ problems, they know that the only color that matters is green up there, and yet they continue to just spew these talking points against term limits that have no basis in reality.
Philip Blumel: Yeah. How about this talking point, the average house challenger who won had to spend $3.5 million to do it. And keep in mind, all the PAC money is going to the incumbent, as we just discussed. So, the challenger is running, they’ve got to raise $3.5 million. And then, guess what, the amount that an individual is allowed to give to a federal candidate is $2800 per person. And they don’t have the name recognition and everything else. It is so skewed against the challenger. Yeah, sure. If we just can vote out the incumbents… That doesn’t happen, it is clear why it doesn’t.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah. And then what you have is you have such a tiny percentage of people who actually live in this country that have access to public service, who actually have a reasonable chance of winning office, and they’re not at all representative of the country. This is why… You go back 1970. In 1970, 29 members of the US House said that their prior occupation before getting to Congress was a career politician. Now that number is 171, that’s a 500% increase in career politicians. The Senate has increased by 200%. The second most represented profession is lawyers. And so you come away from this idea of representation. John Adams said legislature needed to look like the people but in miniature. He said, “It should think, feel, reason, and act like them.” Well, that just isn’t true. Congress isn’t like us at all.
S?: This is a public service announcement.
Philip Blumel: One reason that the US Congress is dysfunctional is because it is run by its most senior members, members who statistically cannot be defeated. Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont was elected in 1974, nearly 47 years ago. He is 80 years old and is having increasing difficulty performing his role as senator. In this clip from the impeachment trial last week, Senator Leahy is managing a request from Senator Mike Lee to have a quotation of his stricken from the record. As you listen, keep in mind that, as of January 21st, Senator Leahy is president pro tempore of the US Senate, and third in line for the presidency, after Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Mike Lee: Pursuant to Impeachment Rule 16, I make a motion. Statements were attributed to me moments ago by the house impeachment managers, statements relating to the content of conversations between a phone call involving President Trump and Senator Tuberville were not made by me. They’re not accurate, and they’re contrary to fact. I move, pursuant to Rule 16, that they be stricken from the record.
Patrick Leahy: Pursuant to Senate Resolution 47 Section 4, party’s presentations are not limited to the record provided for in Section 1 of that resolution.
Speaker 5: We might as well hear clearly what the ruling of the chair was, so if you would repeat that.
Patrick Leahy: Of course, I will and pursuant to Senate Resolution 47 Section 4, the party’s presentations are not limited. The senator from Utah has appealed that ruling, is that correct?
Mike Lee: Yes, I have.
Patrick Leahy: The yeas and nays have been requested… Or sufficient…
Speaker 5: And what is the question? Is it, shall the ruling of the chair be sustained? Is that the question?
S?: Whether the ruling of the chair with respect to…
S?: What, may I ask, is the ruling of the chair? My point was not about whether it’s appropriate for them to make characterizations. My point was to strike them because they were false.
S?: Senate Resolution 47 applies to this situation is correct.
Patrick Leahy: The question is whether Senate Resolution 47 Section 4 is correct. The party’s presentations are not limited to the record provided for in Section 1 of that resolution.
Mike Lee: Mr. President, that is not my motion. You’ve ruled on a motion… You’ve ruled on something that was not what I moved. Statements were attributed to me repeatedly, as to which I have personal knowledge because I am the source. They are not true. I never made those statements. I asked that they be stricken. This has nothing to do with whether or not they’re based on depositions, which they’re not. It’s simply based on the fact that I’m the witness. I’m the only witness. Those statements are not true when I asked that you strike them.
S?: Here, here.
S?: Joe… What is he doing?
Patrick Leahy: The yeas and nays were asked for on an appeal.
S?: Mr. President…
S?: The Senate will vote on the appeal ruling of the chair that this…
S?: Come on.
Patrick Leahy: [0:11:19.6] ____, I’m sorry. The yeas and nays have been asked…
S?: No. The yeas and nays have been asked for…
Patrick Leahy: The yeas and nays have been requested…
S?: Let him explain. Please, let him explain, Mr. President. Why is it false? What was not false? What was false about it?
S?: Mr. President, we’ll ask you then to present to the senator’s question.
Patrick Leahy: [0:11:38.4] ____ is not in order under Senate Resolution 47 Section 4. Party’s presentation not limited to the recorded provided for in Section 1 of that resolution, and that has been appealed. The yeas and nays have been requested. The [0:11:55.3] ____ will call the roll.
S?: Ms. Baldwin. Mr. Barrasso. Mr. Bennett.
Mike Lee: A point of clarification. What is the question?
Philip Blumel: I get this, too, and we also just talked about how special interests, how PACs give 90% to 95% of their PAC dollars to incumbents. And then we see over time, since the late ’60s, that incumbents have won 90% to 95% of the time. In fact, in 2020, the re-election rate in the US House was 97%. This system is broken, and the 45% of Americans that told this pollster that there’s something wrong with American democracy are right.
Nick Tomboulides: I would just challenge you to ask, how… If you are a teacher or a farmer, or a nurse, or the owner of a small grocery store, you represent the heart and soul of this country, how are you gonna get elected to Congress? If you don’t have a well-oiled political machine behind you, if you are not a self-made millionaire, how are you going to get to Congress?
Philip Blumel: Do you want me to answer that question or is it just rhetorical?
Nick Tomboulides: It’s term limits. That’s the answer.
Philip Blumel: Yeah, the answer is they can’t, we need term limits. And if we needed them four years ago, we need them doubly so now with the amount of money doubling in entering these federal races.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah. It’s sad but not surprising that people believe democracy isn’t working. They’re right about that.
Philip Blumel: So, that’s the problem, Nick. We’re working on the solution. What kind of action have we seen over the past week around the states and the federal level on the term limits convention and the term limits amendment bills?
Nick Tomboulides: Well, we’ve been reporting week to week that more and more states have been filing the term limits convention. We are now up to nine states filed; Tennessee, Kentucky, South Carolina, Georgia, Arizona, Iowa, Indiana, North Dakota, and Minnesota. West Virginia, which is a priority state this year, is pending. That will be filed any time now. And we’ve got several others that are gonna be filed this year. But the big announcement this week is one of these bills, in a very critical state, is moving forward, and that is Arizona. In Arizona, SR 1025, the Senate version of the Congressional term limits convention, has a committee hearing and that is taking place today, February 15th, in the Arizona State Senate Government Committee.
Philip Blumel: That’s exciting. What’s our history with Arizona? I believe we’ve won at least one of the Houses in the past.
Nick Tomboulides: Arizona, we have won the State House twice. We’ve not been able to capture the State Senate. In fact, we have not gotten a vote in the State Senate, which means, regrettably, we don’t have all the politicians on record so we can hold them accountable. But that’s what makes this committee announcement so interesting. It looks like the Senate will be moving first this year in Arizona, which increases the likelihood of us getting a vote. So, I would tell people, “Look, the hearing is today, it’s the 15th at 2:00 PM local time in Arizona.” If you’re just listening to this podcast when it was first released, you live in Arizona, you still have an opportunity to visit termlimits.com/takeaction, send a message to the committee members. If you happen to miss the timing from the Senate committee, we also have a State House committee hearing in Arizona, Wednesday at 9:00 AM local time. So, you can go to termlimits.com/takeaction if you live in Arizona, send a message to the legislators on both committees. It’ll have a huge impact.
Philip Blumel: That’s great news. One of the states that I’m excited about is West Virginia, which you mentioned. One, because so many members of that legislature have signed the pledge that they were going to co-sponsor, vote for and defend the term limits convention resolution in that state. Sorry to hear it hasn’t been introduced yet, but I know that the two likely sponsors have been busy working in the issue anyways, but also Senator Randy Smith and Delegate Jeff Pack co-authored an op-ed, which appeared on an important political website in West Virginia last week, and it’s really good, it’s really good. It really shows these guys understand the issue, and it’s really great to have them on our side.
Philip Blumel: Listen to some of the stuff here they wrote. First, they complain about what we’re complaining about, about the US Congress, and they say, “Is it any wonder the power of the incumbency has grown so strong that special interest super PACs now give $9 out of every $10 to incumbents over challengers? ‘Just vote them out,’ one might say. It now costs a bonafide fortune to begin to mount a credible challenge against an incumbent.” That’s just what we’re talking about. They get it. In fact, what I really like here is when they say, “Congress won’t propose term limits on itself. If two-thirds of both houses of Congress were willing to propose term limits on themselves, we probably wouldn’t need term limits.” Good point. [chuckle] I thought that was pretty good.
Philip Blumel: Anyway, they’re gonna go around Congress and that’s what the term limits convention bills are about because they’re saying, if Congress is not gonna propose an amendment for the states to ratify, then the states themselves can propose an amendment in a term limits convention if such a convention is called by 34 states. If you wanna check out this op-ed in West Virginia, go to lootpress.com. That’s L-O-O-T-P-R-E-S-S dot com. It’s one of their editorials, and it’s called, “Are you fed up with Congress? We are too.” By Senator Randy Smith and Delegate Jeff Pack. Good work, guys.
Nick Tomboulides: Lootpress, as in what the Congress is doing to the republic, followed by the group enabling them, lootpress.com.
Philip Blumel: Very well. Very good. [chuckle] That’s good.
Scott Tillman: Hi, this is Scott Tillman, the National Field Director with US Term Limits. We ask candidates for Congress to sign a pledge that will help us get a term limits amendment into the US Constitution. The pledge reads, “I pledge that as a member of the US Congress, I will co-sponsor and vote for the US Term Limits Amendment of three house terms and two senate terms, and no longer limit. Every two years, when a new session of Congress starts, the Term Limits Amendment must be introduced again. The current resolution is HJR12 in the US House, and we currently have 57 co-sponsors, four new co-sponsors this week. At the same point, last cycle, we only had 32 co-sponsors. SJR3 is the new Senate Resolution for 2021, and there are currently 10 co-sponsors. We are making progress. You can help by contacting your representative and senators to ask them to sign the pledge and to co-sponsor HRJ12 or SJR3. For more ways to help, search US Term Limits on Facebook. Like and follow our national page and the page for your state. Thank you.”
Philip Blumel: Thanks for joining us for another weekly episode of No Uncertain Terms. For this week’s action item, I point you to a great new tool found at termlimits.com/takeaction. This site is a progress report of all of our target states for advancing the term limits convention bills in 2021. The site will tell you where the term limits convention bill stands in your state, whether it’s been introduced or even passed to one or more committee votes, so you can track its progress. If it’s been introduced in your state, there’s a “take action” button, which allows you to quickly and easily send the relevant legislators a message, urging them to support the bill. It will take two minutes. You can find this progress report at termlimits.com/takeaction. Thank you and Happy Term Limits Day, February 27th. We’ll be back next week.
Stacey Selleck: The revolution isn’t being televised. Fortunately, you have No Uncertain Terms podcast.