Philip Blumel: It’s time for another Term Limits Convention Progress Report. Hi, I’m Philip Blumel. Welcome to No Uncertain Terms, the official podcast of the Term Limits Movement for the week of March 8th, 2021.
Stacey Selleck: Your sanctuary from partisan politics.
Philip Blumel: The Term Limits Convention news is coming in fast and furious. In this episode, we continue to report on all the progress, but we also take a moment to slow it down and put all of this exciting data into context. Here to help us sort it all out is US Term Limits, executive director, Nick Tomboulides. Hey, Nick.
Nick Tomboulides: Hello, Phil.
Philip Blumel: I know you got a lot of news for us, but I promised in the intro that we weren’t gonna do just a news dump. That we were gonna take it slow, go top to bottom, give the context and you can slip the news in as we go along. Is that a deal?
Nick Tomboulides: That sounds great.
Philip Blumel: Okay. Let’s remind our infrequent listeners and inform our new listeners, what the heck is it that US Term Limits is trying to do at the state level?
Nick Tomboulides: Well, we are trying to create a constitutional amendment for term limits on Congress, and we are asking state legislators to create that amendment via a convention.
Philip Blumel: Right.
Nick Tomboulides: Now when you look at the US Constitution, under Article 5, there are two processes to propose an amendment to the Constitution. The first is a two-thirds vote in the US Congress to propose the amendment. The second process is getting two-thirds of state legislatures. So that would be 34 states, to pass resolutions that say, we want a convention for a specific amendment.
Philip Blumel: Right. And this would be limited in our case, solely to congressional term limits.
Nick Tomboulides: It would be limited to congressional term limits. And this has its roots in the very founding… The very framing of our Constitution. Because back in the summer of 1787, when the Framers were debating this they were initially going to give all the power of amendment to Congress, but there were a few detractors to that. Charles Pinckney, George Mason, among them, who stepped up, who spoke up and said, “Well, wait a minute. If you allocate all the power of amendment to Congress, then you’re never gonna get an amendment of the proper kind. Because what happens when Congress starts to abuse its power?” What kinds of amendments could you get to reign in abuse of power in Congress? Your hands will be tied. If Congress has all the power, you’re gonna be at their mercy.
Nick Tomboulides: So why not create a safety valve, a plan B that the American people can use to bypass Congress. To circumvent all of that self-interest within the swamp in Washington DC. And of course, they turned to, who are really considered the fourth branch of government, the state legislatures.
Philip Blumel: Right. Okay. So we’re going to the states asking them to pass resolutions calling for a Term Limits Convention. A amendment writing convention limited to this subject. Great. How many states have passed the term limits convention resolution so far?
Nick Tomboulides: Three states have passed the term limits convention fully, and they are Florida, Alabama and Missouri. So we’re on the road to 34 and three have passed it so far.
Philip Blumel: Now, sometimes I hear people say that we have much more than that… Like we have 20 or so. What are they referring to when they say that?
Nick Tomboulides: When they say that they are referring to a… One legal argument, which says that when a state has called for a convention that is not singularly focused on term limits, but might include term limits among other issues that that can be aggregated with calls for strictly, a term limits convention, in order to hold the convention for congressional term limits. Now it’s possible that when you get to the end game here, the courts may rule that that approach is fine, that then can be done. So for example, Georgia, which has already passed a resolution calling for a convention that would be term limits, balanced budget and a few other subjects in one convention. Could you aggregate that with calls from other states for just a term limits convention? Some legal scholars say yes, some say no, but we do not want to rely on that approach.
Nick Tomboulides: We do not want to get all the way to the finish line just to be told by some court somewhere that nothing that we did is valid and they’re gonna throw all of it out just like they did in 1995.
Philip Blumel: Okay.
Nick Tomboulides: When they said states couldn’t term limit Congressman in their state constitutions. So in order to hedge our bets, we are going state-by state, we’re asking every state legislature to pass a resolution for a single issue term limits convention. We’re gonna line up 34 states, 34 resolutions, all with the same language, so that no one can deny the legality of this effort, and so that we can present those resolutions, get the convention and get this done.
Philip Blumel: Okay, so we might have 20, but we definitely have three. Alright. Now, during the last election cycle, and of course previous ones, we have went around… Us as an organization, US Term Limits, and utilizing our many volunteers in the states have gone to legislators running for office with a pledge and ask them to sign it that says that if I win this seat or re-win this seat that I will co-sponsor, vote for and defend a resolution for the term limits convention. And I know that we have had an enormous number of signers elected in this last election in November. Do you remember the number on that?
Nick Tomboulides: Well, the total number elected… Not all of them were elected this past election cycle, some of them were in the middle of a four-year term. But the total number of US term limits pledge signers that have been elected to state legislatures is 674.
Philip Blumel: That’s tremendous.
Nick Tomboulides: Approximately.
Philip Blumel: So we would expect with all of those pledgers in office, pledging to co-sponsor and vote for and defend the resolution that we should start seeing these resolutions be introduced and supported in the state legislatures, and we are. How many states so far in 2021 have introduced the Term Limits Convention Resolution?
Nick Tomboulides: Twelve.
Philip Blumel: Alright, excellent.
Nick Tomboulides: Twelve have introduced it. And there are more on the way. And as you said, there’s a direct link between the number of term limits pledges you get signed by your state legislators, state House, state Senate members, and the likelihood that state will pass the Term Limits Convention.
Philip Blumel: Mm-hmm. Alright. Now have any states made the call in 2021 so far?
Nick Tomboulides: Not yet, no. We’re still in the early part of legislative sessions right now in 2021, but we have gotten one chamber to make the call in Georgia, that would be the Georgia Senate. And we have gotten committees passed across several other states, including Arizona, Tennessee, West Virginia. So committee passage… The committee is a smaller group of state legislators within the state that needs to pass this resolution before it can get to the full floor of either the state house or the state senate. So when a resolution gets an approval by committee, that is a good sign that it has a chance to pass in the floor. And if it gets voted down by committee, you’re dead. So far, no committees have voted us down.
Nick Tomboulides: Every single committee that we’ve gone through has passed the resolution. In fact, just this week, we got through two additional committees. We went through the Tennessee House State Government Subcommittee. We passed there by… It was a six to one voice vote. Overwhelming bipartisan support. We had Republicans and Democrats on board. And we also passed the West Virginia House Government Operations Committee. And we are now looking at a floor vote in the West Virginia State House.
Philip Blumel: Okay.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah, so we’ve made significant progress just in the last week.
Scott Tillman: Hello, this is Scott Tillman, the national field director with US Term Limits. We ask candidates for Congress to sign a pledge to help us, put a term limits amendment into the US Constitution. The pledge reads, I pledge that as a member of 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 HJR 12 in the US House, and we currently have 59 co-sponsors. At the same point, last cycle, we had 35 co-sponsors. We are making progress. In the Senate, the resolution is SJR 3, and we currently have 11 co-sponsors.
Scott Tillman: You can help by contacting your representative and asking them to sign the pledge and to co-sponsor HJR 12, and also by calling your senators and asking them to co-sponsor SJR 3. 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.
Speaker 5: This is a public service announcement.
Philip Blumel: Erick Erickson hosts Atlanta’s Evening News with Erick Erickson a radio program broadcast on 750 WSB and runs the blog, The Resurgent. Two weeks ago he interviewed the surgeon, Dr. John Cowan, Chair of the US Term Limits in Georgia. The Howie, they reference here is US Term Limits National Chairman, Howie Rich.
Erick Erickson: Joining me from the fine and beautiful lovely city of Rome where it’s always good. Even when it rains is pretty in Rome, is Dr. John Cowan. Run for Congress, is a surgeon up there, a graduate of Johns Hopkins, no less. And well, he’s calling to change my mind on term limits where… John, welcome to the show. And I think I’ve been changing over time. Our mutual friend Howie… Been bombarding me on this issue for a while. And it’s not that he’s badgered me, it’s just that I’m starting to realize the deck is so stacked against people getting elected to Congress in terms of money, in terms of ballot access and the like that maybe we really do need term limits.
Dr. John Cowan: That’s right, Erick. Thanks for having me this morning. And I think Howie wanted a neuro surgeon in charge of US Term Limits in Georgia so that we could physically change people’s minds if we needed to. So if you’re [0:10:48.4] ____.[laughter]
Erick Erickson: No lobotomy for me.
Dr. John Cowan: There you go… Yeah… Look term limits are kind of those… New Year’s when everybody says they wanna lose weight everybody’s like, “Yes, it’s my New Year’s resolution.” This year, we’re gonna do term limits and it is something that is hugely popular. And then we get a few months into any legislative session and everybody forgets about it. And it really is one of these simple solutions to a major problem that we have in this country. And it’s just… Too much data out there, there’s too much gridlock in our current system that we just cannot afford… We have to act on this. And we’ve got a great resolution in the Georgia House right now that is ready to be passed. If we could just get it out of the Rules Committee for a vote. We just need to get it to a floor vote. And we can take one small step to forcing Congress to act.
Erick Erickson: Now, let me ask you a question here, ’cause it would require a constitutional amendment. I think if you got to the states, they would absolutely do it, but… I mean, how do you get term limits passed through Congress. Do we have to do a convention? Do you think we can get them done?
Dr. John Cowan: You’re exactly right. In 1995, there was a Supreme Court case that basically said when states individually were trying to pass term limits, they said, no, we can’t have multiple different standards across each 50 state for a US House or Senator. We need an amendment. And so since then, US Term Limits has been working on trying to pass a constitutional amendment using several methods. Obviously, Congress can propose an amendment or the state legislatures. If we get 34 of them to propose legislation and each of their houses can call an amendment convention. And that’s something that has not really been done, and it scares the heck out of people, but it shouldn’t… It is a valid mechanism and a preferred mechanism according to many of our Framers for amending the Constitution.
Erick Erickson: Well… I’ll tell you why I’m more and more aligned on your idea for term limits and where we are. It’s because every time I see a good member of Congress, the type of member of Congress you want to stay in Congress forever they’re the ones who say, I shouldn’t stay. And it’s always the bad ones who wanna stay there for 50 years. And I’m just… I’m kinda tired of seeing the good guys limit themselves because they know the longer they stay the more they’ll become a part of the problem. So they term limit themselves out and the problem stay. So I guess we’re gonna have to try to force them to adhere to their standards. I kind of feel like with tax reform, the Fair Tax, the… It’s things like that, that I just… I’m not optimistic. Is there any reason to be optimistic that we can ever get something like this done?
Dr. John Cowan: Well, I think so. A lot of states look to Georgia as to what… Will it draw a line in the sand. And we may see several other states come into a line. We start getting close to 34, you can almost guarantee Congress will act on this and propose their own amendment.
Philip Blumel: The one state that we got the floor vote where we actually won an entire chamber is Georgia. Now, for Georgia to become the fourth state to officially call for this term limits convention we have to win the House. In every state, we have to win both chambers. So that’s a big step forward. Now, have we been defeated in any state so far in 2021?
Nick Tomboulides: We have just this week, the North Dakota State House in a shocking outcome, voted down the Term Limits Convention on the floor by a vote of 65 to 26. So by more than a 2 to 1 margin, the politicians in North Dakota said, “We don’t want term limits on Congress.” We don’t wanna restore sanity at the federal level, we’re perfectly fine with the status quo, and they voted down the turn limits convention.
Philip Blumel: I’ll tell you what that points out, one thing to me about our efforts around the country. North Dakota is a place where we had not done a lot of groundwork and we’ve never actually introduced the resolution in the past. We had an opportunity there and so naturally we took it and it didn’t work out this year. And so now we’re laying the groundwork for the future, but it shows the power of having volunteers on the ground, getting pledges signed and working in the state over a couple of year period compared to, say, North Dakota to let’s say, Georgia or Arizona or some of these others we’ve been working on for a couple of years we’re much closer in Georgia and Arizona then we were in North Dakota even before we lost it, this last week.
Nick Tomboulides: That’s right, yeah. We went from never having a bill filed in North Dakota at all to getting it on the floor of the state House and getting a vote on it. That is progress. That is an achievement, to go from nothing to having a solid resolution with good sponsors, even though it got to defeated on the floor. But what you notice is once a resolution, once a bill gets to the floor, basically it is open to being attacked by all the enemies of term limits who are within that state… Within that state legislature. And there was no shortage of that on the floor in North Dakota. We had several members come out. They know they can’t attack term limits, they know that is a failed strategy, so what they try to do is they’ll attack the convention process.
Nick Tomboulides: And they are very cunning in how they do this. They will repeat myths that they’ve heard about, we don’t know who selects the delegates. They’ll say the process is unsafe. They’ll claim that this convention has the power to create other constitutional amendments outside of term limits. All of this is not true, but what happens is they pump so much disinformation misinformation into the debate, uncertainty that it gets a lot of members confused, and it has a tendency if you’re not careful to screw up the vote. And that is what happened in North Dakota.
Philip Blumel: Okay. Now one bit of information we get from a floor vote like this, is that we know who voted up and down in North Dakota now. So we know who we need to talk to and educate and who we need to thank, and basically it gives us information we need to go back to North Dakota and be more effective next time around. Right?
Nick Tomboulides: Exactly, right, exactly right. Yes, we know who the good guys and the bad guys are, and we can now hold them accountable.
Philip Blumel: Okay. So do we expect any more introductions of the resolution in more states or is this the dozen that we have to work on for 2021?
Nick Tomboulides: There will be more resolutions getting introduced, some of the introductions are forthcoming, like for example, Pennsylvania in the state Senate, we haven’t been introduced yet. We expect that is gonna come down the pike. There are a few others where we’re still awaiting introduction. So the number is gonna get higher, I think. I think, all in all, we’re gonna probably have 15 states introduced in 2021.
Philip Blumel: Alright. And what is US Term Limits staffers and volunteers doing in these target states. Let’s say we’ve identified a legislator to introduce a bill into a chamber, what is US Term Limits doing to help shepherd that along?
Nick Tomboulides: They’re trying to keep the politicians honest, right. They’re hoping that those pledges they signed at election time don’t go by the way side and are not forgotten about when it comes time to vote for term limits in committee or on the floor. So they’re working directly with all of our sponsors, all of our supporters in the state House to keep them honest, keep them to their word, so they vote the right way. And that includes traveling out to state Houses… They’re traveling safely with COVID. Everyone’s wearing a mask. They’re social distancing. They’re still doing meetings. They’re doing calls. They’re doing Zoom meetings. They’re connecting people with their constituents.
Nick Tomboulides: They’re creating calls to action on our website, so folks who can’t make it out to the capital don’t have the time for a phone call can go to termlimits.com/takeaction, scroll down the list, find their state and blast a quick message to a legislator in under a minute. So they’re doing all kinds of stuff to make it known to these politicians that the people want term limits. We’re not gonna take no for an answer. We’re insisting that our state legislators move the convention forward.
Philip Blumel: Okay. And most of these pledgers actually live up to their word. If they’ve signed a pledge saying they’re gonna co-sponsor and vote for it, they co-sponsor and vote for it. But sometimes they don’t. And what happens to them?
Nick Tomboulides: They get tarred and feathered in the public square, anything less would be uncivilized.
Philip Blumel: That’s right. You gotta live up to your word. I mean, these people actually, they sign a pledge, and they did it for the purpose of being able to go to the public and say, “Look, I agree with you on this very popular issue”, right, and then they get elected, and then they wanna sweep it under the rug, and most of them live up to their word, but some of them don’t. And you’re right, we have to go after them, and so we hit them with Billboard sometimes with the radio ads with… We’ll go door-to-door. There’s all kinds of things we do to make sure…
Nick Tomboulides: Mail.
Philip Blumel: These communities… Mail.
Nick Tomboulides: Mail pieces, yeah. Because they really rely on people being ignorant of their position, to get away with voting against term limits, voting against 85% of people in their State. But when we’re out there and we’re informing everyone in their district that they have either broken their pledge, or won’t sign a pledge, or they’re thumbing their nose at the 85% who want term limits, that’s a wake-up call. That is like a political earthquake in these States, because there’s no other group out there spreading the word. There’s no other group out there keeping politicians honest and holding them accountable for the promises that they make. And so, yeah, sometimes what they do is they’ll dig in their heels, they’ll double down, circle the wagons and try to protect each other, but if they have even an ounce of political common sense in their heads, they’re gonna come around. They’re gonna realize that the dilemma is, I either get on the term limits train or I get hit by it, because if I don’t vote for this, my constituents are gonna remove me from office and find someone who will.[music]
Philip Blumel: Kathleen Parker is a columnist at The Washington Post, her columns are syndicated nationally and appear in more than 400 media outlets, both online and in print, In a March 2 column, she focused on our aged Senate and the need for term limits.
Stacey Selleck: This is Stacey Selleck, Digital Director for US Term Limits. Today’s opinion piece is from The Washington Post, It’s Time to Talk about Term Limits for the Senate, written by columnist Kathleen Parker. As we age several things occur, death is no longer a curiosity, old becomes older and older, and people younger than 50 seem like teenagers. As a factor in employment or public service, age is increasingly confounding. How old is too old to work or serve when people live into their 90s and beyond? President Biden, the oldest person ever elected to lead the country was 78 on Inauguration Day. The US Senate is so grey it’s beginning to look like a first class flight to Palm Beach.
Stacey Selleck: Wisdom may come with age, but it comes sooner to some than to others. Yes, we all know people well into their 80s and beyond who are as active and mentally alert as others much younger, moreover, we are what we do and identity isn’t easily surrendered. For many people, ceasing to work feels like ceasing to be. It’s silly to pretend that age shouldn’t be a consideration for certain kinds of employment. Sure, sitting through committee meetings, attending events and showing up on a Sunday talk show while your staff writes your legislation can’t be all that taxing, but these jobs require a day-in, day-out stamina that many people in their 60s and 70s would struggle to sustain. When it comes to managing the country’s business, 80-somethings who believe their continued presence in Washington is essential to the country’s well-being, maybe placing pride before prejudice. Not only would term limits fix most of what ails our political system, they would provide a graceful exit for old soldiers with stories to tell and miles to go before they sleep.[noise]
Philip Blumel: US Term Limits has been working on this project for about three years, and right now we have three States, definitely. That seems to indicate that it’s gonna take another 31 years to get to 34. Now, how long do you realistically expect this project to take, ’cause 31 years is not something that you or I, or anyone listening, wants to hear?
Nick Tomboulides: No, it’s not gonna take that long, although I’m sure some of our foes and the career politicians in Congress will still be around in 30 or 40 years, based on current trends of age and seniority. No, I realistically expect that this is going to be a 5-10 year project. And I believe it’s gonna be on the shorter end of that, because you don’t just have the States pushing forward and trying to get a convention, you also have pressure coming from Congress. We’ve got a term limits caucus up there, we’ve got a record number of folks who have signed the congressional pledge, and I think what’s going to happen is, as more States sign on, and I’m very confident we’re gonna see more States signing on this year, there’s gonna be a copycat effect. Nobody likes to be the trail blazer, but once State legislators see there are compatriots across the country doing the same thing, they’re gonna want a piece of it. They’re gonna realize this makes sense for them, because they wanna serve in Congress. There’s no obvious path there, they’re blocked by 40-year, 50-year career politicians. This is an opportunity to open up some seats. Term limits mean job opportunities for state legislators who wanna climb the ladder and serve in Congress.
Philip Blumel: That’s true, that’s true.
Nick Tomboulides: They’re not gonna get there otherwise, so I think common sense will eventually prevail. You’ll see a copycat effect, you’ll see a ground-swell of momentum around the country with different States picking this up. And then finally, once you get a bunch of States on board, I think Congress might preempt them and propose the amendment on its own. Because they know if State legislators write the amendment, they’re not gonna grandfather any members of Congress. [chuckle]
Philip Blumel: Yeah, that’s right.
Nick Tomboulides: They’re gonna go for the jugular. And so Congress might want at that point to take control of this themselves, and propose the amendment on their own. So I think it could happen a lot sooner than many of us expect, but the 5-10 year timeline is what I’m projecting right now.
Philip Blumel: I believe that’s true. There is historic precedents to suggest that if there’s a powerful convention movement, that Congress will act. We’ve seen it before in history, and that’s why we’ve never had a convention before, is because when a convention movement to call for a convention gets off the ground, Congress eventually acts. And to go back to the timeline question, I’d like to throw something in there too. I think that we might not have this done in five years, but we’ll know in five years whether we’re gonna be able to do this. Nothing succeeds like success, and we’re three States in, we’re already proving that this strategy is working. And I think that when we hit a critical mass, where it’s pretty clear this is off the ground, then a lot more attention will be brought to it, a lot more contributions will be drawn in from people that view it as a more likely possibility.
Philip Blumel: So there’s a year out there floating around, and I don’t know what year it is, where it’s gonna be explosive. Just like in 1994 when US journalist was pushing the initiative process as a way to term limit congressman. All of a sudden, bang, it’s gonna hit in multiple States all at once, it’s gonna be a front page issue and we’re all gonna be talking about it. And when that happens we are going to be in shooting distance of our goal, and that will be the time that we know whether we’re gonna succeed or not. And if we pull together and work together on this, we have over 80% of the people with us, we are going to win.
Nick Tomboulides: Of everything that we’ve done on this issue, I am most encouraged by the passage in Florida, because Florida is America’s purple-ist State. No matter what you think about the last two presidential elections, yes, it went for Trump, the two before that it went for Obama, and it’s always by the skin of our teeth. People have said if Floridians were voting between eating ice cream and getting punched in the face, the results would be 50.9 to 49.1.
Philip Blumel: [laughter] That’s right.
Nick Tomboulides: We are such a politically divided State, and yet when the term limits convention came through Tallahassee, it passed unanimously with bipartisan support. And so my thinking on this is, if you could get Florida behind term limits for Congress, the Florida State Legislature, you can scale that. You can replicate that model in any State capital in America, because there is none that is more divided than ours.
Philip Blumel: Good point. We’re gonna win Nick. Let’s get back to work.[music]
Philip Blumel: Thanks for joining us for another episode of No Uncertain Terms. The term limits convention bills are moving through the State legislatures. This could be a breakthrough year for the term limits movement. To check on the status of the Term Limits Convention Resolution in your State, go to termlimits.com/takeaction. There you will see if it has been introduced and where it stands in the committee process on its way to the floor vote. If there’s action to take, you’ll see a Take Action button by your State, click it. This will give you the opportunity to send a message to the most relevant legislators urging them to support the legislation. They have to know you’re watching. That’s termlimits.com/takeaction.
Philip Blumel: If your State has already passed the Term Limits Convention Resolution, that is Florida, Missouri, or Alabama, or the bill’s not been introduced in your State, you can still help. Please consider making a contribution to US Term Limits. It is our aim to hit the reset button on the US Congress and you can help. Go to termlimits.com/donate, termlimits.com/donate. Thanks, we’ll be back next week.[music]
Stacey Selleck: The resolution isn’t being televised. Fortunately, you have the No Uncertain Terms podcast.[music]
Speaker 5: USTL.