Philip Blumel: Governor Andrew Cuomo, the latest poster child for term limits. Hi, I’m Philip Blumel. Welcome to No Uncertain Terms, the official podcast of the Term Limits Movement for the week of March 15th, 2021.
Stacey Selleck: Your sanctuary from partisan politics.
Philip Blumel: Is there any profession more afflicted by corruption, arrogance and sleaze than electoral politics? Third term, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York provides additional evidence, if any was needed, that the answer is no. In this episode, US Term Limits executive director, Nick Tomboulides and I talk Cuomo and the prospects of term limits for the Governor of New York. Hey Nick.
Nick Tomboulides: Hey Phil.
Philip Blumel: So Nick, do you have a few moments to share, to talk about arrogance, corruption, and sleaze?
Nick Tomboulides: You must be talking about the Andrew Cuomo scandal.
Philip Blumel: That’s right, exactly right. He’s a three-term governor, and he’s in trouble. Everybody knows the story, I guess you’ve been… If you’ve been awake, he’s been busted for releasing inaccurate info about the deaths in nursing homes in New York. The numbers he gave out were off by about 50%, and then also he’s… A growing number of women are accusing him of sexual harassment. And some of it really quite… Some of these accusations are quite graphic.
Nick Tomboulides: I thought he was a hero. At least the book I bought at the airport last year told me that he was a hero. I guess he’s the best governor in the country on COVID according to himself. Yeah. He’s up to, I think, 30 women now who have accused him of improper sexual harassment, and he is still refusing to resign. He’s the longest serving current governor in America.
Philip Blumel: Wow, refusing to resign. Now, 55 Democrats in the state legislature in New York signed a statement asking him for him to resign and the mayor of New York Bill de Blasio, has come out asking him to resign too. He’s under a lot of pressure from his own party. It’s not just a bunch of Republicans attacking him.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah. And obviously, in most cases, politicians will circle the wagons and they will defend their own in situations like this, but there are exceptions when the evidence is so overwhelming that you become a political liability to your party every minute that you stay in office, and he’s approached that point. People already have a very low opinion of state government in New York, and this is making a bad situation worse. You have to think about this, from 2011 through 2015, that’s a five-year period, you had Andrew Cuomo as the governor, Sheldon Silver as the assembly speaker, and Dean Skelos as the Senate Leader. It’s a bipartisan group.
Nick Tomboulides: Skelos was a Republican. Two of the three are now in prison for abusing their power, for corruption. Cuomo could be going next. He’s being investigated by Capitol Police. Not since Alabama, I think in 2016, have the three most powerful people in a state all been in this much legal trouble at the same time. I had a lobbyist in Alabama tell me once, “If you ain’t been indicted in Alabama, you ain’t nobody.” [laughter] And now we’ve got the northern Democratic leaning counterpart to that in New York State. Of course, it’s highly unusual for a governor to get a third term. 36 states do not even allow you to do that. They limit you to eight years, or in Virginia, one consecutive term. But New York is a very unique situation where they have a record of sleaze and corruption at the state level.
Philip Blumel: Yeah. It’s interesting too, in the political culture in New York, they actually talk about New York’s third term curse, both for the mayor of New York and for the governor, where they’ve had situations over and over again where governors have gotten in trouble and mayors gotten in trouble in their third term. The arrogance of power really starts degrading your personality and loosening your inhibitions over time like that. And for somebody like Cuomo, he has been known even before these current corruption and sleaze scandals, he was already known as being arrogant, verbally abusive. Everybody knew that about him. And the longer he’s in office, the more that he feels free to flaunt the mores of the community around him.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah, and some people might be asking, “Well, what the heck does sexual harassment have to do with term limits?” Rand Paul asked me that once, actually. I was hosting a panel that he was on, and I asked him about that sexual harassment slush fund in Congress. Do you remember that?
Philip Blumel: Yeah. Oh I do.
Nick Tomboulides: It was a couple of years ago. They found out Congress spent 17 million in taxpayer money out of the secret fund to settle sexual harassment lawsuits. And I said, “Well, that’s evidence of abuse of power, isn’t it, Senator?” And he’s like, “I didn’t know I was here to be asked about sexual harassment tonight.” so a lot of people don’t see…
Philip Blumel: It is connected though.
Nick Tomboulides: Don’t see the immediate connection, but I’ve seen this. I have worked in the Capitol, I can tell you exactly what happens. You get these kids who get political science degrees, they come right out of college, they are very idealistic, they wanna change the world, they watch CNN and they idolize so many of these politicians. And then they get the opportunity to do an internship or become a staffer. It’s their dream job. And far too often, their hero, this career politician turns out to be a creep. They usually start by making very suggestive comments. Like I read somewhere, Andrew Cuomo told one of these girls, “Oh, you’re not too young for me.” So it’s a grooming-type thing, and then eventually they try to make their move as he did, and it’s an abuse of power.
Nick Tomboulides: It’s an abuse of the power dynamic, because if you are the victim and you reject these advances, you could get fired, the politician could try to destroy your career before it even starts. They could try to stop you from working in politics again. And if you speak up, you could get black-balled. They’re gonna try to take your dream away from you potentially. And the reason they can do that is this immense power they’ve accumulated over so many years. They have the connections, they have the network, they have the ego, as you noted, and all of that gets much worse with time.
Philip Blumel: The ideal of a permanent professional legislature grew in popularity hand-in-hand with the growth of political science as a formal field of study. Nonetheless, many political scientists recognize the importance of rotation in office, competitive elections, and representative democracy. For Dr. Jo Renee Formicola of Seton Hall University in New Jersey, term limits tops the list of reforms that America needs for our system to survive. Dr. Formicola appeared on one-on-one with Steve Adubato on January 13th of this year.
Jo Renee Formicola: Pretty simply, I think it says, either we reform or we die. And there were so many things that need to be reformed in this country, from things like term limits, election reform, the way we fund organizations, perks, financing. I could just go on and on. And we can’t believe that the government that was set up 250 years ago is completely and totally responsive to the new context of the things that we face today.
Philip Blumel: This story is just another example of why we need term limits and term limits do play a role in the story. Just last week, John Faso, who is the minority leader of the State Assembly in the past, and he was also a congressman for a while for New York, ran for governor years back as well. John Faso published an article in the New York Daily News just last week, and the title of it is New York needs term limits, and he explicitly connects the Cuomo scandal and what we’re saying about the arrogance of power over time, and says that they need to have term limits in New York. And I’ll give you example of his argument here. He says that two, four-year terms are quite enough time, eight years, to advance an agenda on behalf of the people. Term limits would break open New York’s often sclerotic political structure, giving a predictable opportunity for ambitious politicians or political outsiders to compete in real contest for state office. He’s right.
Nick Tomboulides: He is. And I like the part in there where he focuses on the fundraising power of incumbency. How if you’re a candidate for governor in New York, you can legally accept a donation over $50000 from an individual donor. That’s far more… You can only give $2900 to a congressman as an individual. But in New York, there’s hardly any practical effective limit on how much money these people can raise, and they’re taking these donations and they are doling out economic development grants, they’re authorizing new casinos, legalizing cannabis, doing all these types of things at the behest of lobbyists without much effort. And they’re getting political donations, they’re doling out favors. It’s a patronage system in New York, and Cuomo has exploited that. He’s got nearly $20 million sitting in his war chest right now.
Philip Blumel: Yeah. He already announced prior to these scandals that he was planning to run for a fourth term. So he’s no fan of term limits obviously. He has made actually tiny noises as positive about term limits when called upon in media situation sometimes, by the way. I don’t know if you know that. But he’s never lifted a finger and he’s definitely not actually a term limit supporter. Now, this call of John Faso for establishing term limits in New York didn’t come out of the blue. It’s made a lot of noise this last week, but the last couple of years there’s been a movement in New York to put term limits on the governor.
Philip Blumel: Most states have term limits on their governors. And the experience that they’ve had with term limits in New York have been positive where they exist. And so there was a lot of members of the assembly calling for this and 2018 was a big year for this, in which Cuomo’s competition for the job, candidate Marc Molinaro, he was calling for term limits for the governor as part of his campaign to run for governor, and he had a lot of assemblymen standing behind him on this. And I wanna play a clip from a newscast at that time in 2018 that I think tells the story really well.
Speaker 5: You’ve seen him parading in and out of court, lawmakers like former assembly speaker Sheldon Silver and former senate majority leader, Dean Skelos there to face corruption charges. And some lawmakers say the only way to prevent that is term limits.
John Faso: So you’re an assembly speaker that’s served for 20 years as the assembly speaker. That kind of concentration of power can only lend itself to corruption here in Albany.
Speaker 5: In a dramatic and unusual end of session move that could have lasting repercussions in the gubernatorial election, a group of Republican lawmakers is now demanding that the state pass term limit legislation blaming Governor Cuomo for lack of leadership.
John Faso: I’m gonna put the blame at the governor’s step because for all the years he’s been governor now, he hasn’t proposed it, he hasn’t pushed it. And if he would lead, he would get that done.
Speaker 5: Actually, Cuomo has called for a constitutional amendment on term limits for the last three years. It was on page 334, of his 361-page state of the state presentation this year. But that’s as far as it’s gone, possibly falling by the wayside because assembly Democrats have no appetite for it.
John Faso: It’s an important step to say to these taxpayers of the State of New York, citizens of the State of New York that we’re serious about reform.
Speaker 5: And therein lies the rub. Whether term limits passes this year or not, it will come up as Cuomo seeks re-election for a third term. Republican opponent Marc Molinaro will be shouting it from the rooftops.
John Faso: The governor is not serious about reforming Albany because he is a creature of what is a culture of corruption, and it’s time that at least with term limits, we clean house and return the power of government to the people of New York.
Speaker 5: Good government groups also want to see it happen.
John Faso: Term limits have worked extremely well for New York City Council. They’ve led to younger more diverse council members, more voices.
Speaker 5: Spokesperson for Governor Cuomo says he will certainly review the bills, and there are several of them.
Nick Tomboulides: New York State constitution makes it very, very difficult to achieve constitutional amendments. First of all, the people have virtually no say in the process. Unlike places such as Florida and Ohio and others that have a initiative by petition, people who live in New York state, unfortunately cannot petition anything directly onto the ballot. You have to rely on the legislature to pass it, not once, but twice, before statewide term limits or any other constitutional amendment can be voted on by the people. However, there is some hope in this situation because state legislators have a personal self-interest in seeing statewide term limits get enacted, because when you have people sitting in the offices of governor, attorney general, comptroller for decades and decades, those job opportunities don’t exist for state legislators who want to move up and run for those offices. So the incentives are in total alignment here, even though politicians don’t typically like term limits, and it’s gonna be a cold day in hell before these New York lawmakers ever propose term limits on their own seats. You might very well see them propose term limits on statewide officials. Put New York State in line with the 36 other states that already do it, score a political win right now with Andrew Cuomo and others under fire, and finally open up positions so that state legislators can seek them later on down the road.
Philip Blumel: Well, let’s hope so.
Stacey Selleck: Hi, this is Stacey Selleck, digital director for US term limits. This week’s opinion is by John J. Faso, who also happens to be a US term limits pledge signer. It appeared in the New York Daily News and is entitled “New York needs term limits: More frequent turnover benefits all”. The scandal engulfing, Governor Cuomo will continue to occupy media and public attention over coming weeks, regardless of the outcome affecting Cuomo. The situation presents an opportunity for a long overdue reform for the Empire State term limits for statewide elected officials. Two four-year terms are quite enough time, eight years to advance an agenda on behalf of the people. If a statewide official cannot accomplish meaningful improvements in governance in eight years, it is time to go. Additionally, as Cuomo has discovered, third terms are fraught with trouble. Term limits would also break open New York’s often sclerotic political structure, giving a predictable opportunity for ambitious politicians or political outsiders to compete in real contests for statewide office.
Stacey Selleck: Let’s face it, incumbency offers a sitting governor, comptroller or attorney general a significant advantage over challengers. Incumbents have a powerful platform to command public and media attention, and capable officers will naturally use this visibility to their advantage. Incumbency can be a powerful tool for fundraising, particularly in New York, where the statewide candidate can legally accept contributions exceeding $50,000 from an individual donor. Cuomo, now in his 10th year in office, is reported to have over $17 million in his war chest. Given recent events, Cuomo will be unlikely to be running next year and may not be able to avoid a forced resignation prior to that time.
Stacey Selleck: The same holds true for positions of state comptroller, attorney general and lieutenant governor. Term limits would have a salutary impact on our State, fostering more political competition and allowing office holders in their second term the opportunity to govern without worrying about seeking or granting political favors to grab the third term in office. Over the decades, a variety of term limits initiatives have been proposed at every level of government. To enact term limits, the legislature would have to adopt a resolution amending the state constitution. The amendment would be put to a vote by the people. New York State has many problems to address in its recovery from the pandemic. We will need to rethink how we tax, regulate and spend in this State, get all our people back to work and revive economy. Some might ask, “Why not term limits also for the legislature?” While perhaps desirable, getting the legislature to adopt constitutional provisions limiting their own terms would be virtually impossible to pass. Limiting statewide office holder terms would be more palatable and would have greater impact. A competitive political environment with more rapid turnover in our highest statewide elected positions would help create conditions for addressing the genuine needs of New York.
Stacey Selleck: We have term limits for president, and 38 other states have term-limited their governors. It is time New York followed this example.
Philip Blumel: Hey Nick, before we go, let’s have an update on what happened around the states. As listeners know, we’re continuing to push the term limits convention resolutions in about a dozen states, and we’ve won the… Or just Senate so far this year and looking… Trying to get the House. But we’re making moves in lots of these states, are we?
Nick Tomboulides: We are. And we picked up another big win in Tennessee this past week. “New Term Limits Convention” sailed through the house government, full committee by a vote of 13 to five, and it was a bipartisan vote. The 11 republican yes votes were joined by two Democrats, Jesse Chism and John Mark Windle to get to 13. It’s what you love to see, two parties coming together to do what’s right for America. Shoutout to USTL’s own, Aaron Dukette, he spoke at the meeting, answered questions from the Dias, did a fantastic job. And to our lead sponsor there, Chris Todd, who has been pioneering through this process since day one, he’s just been a true champion, and now, like my uncle, after a Christmas party, it’s on the floor.
Philip Blumel: Great. When do we expect a floor vote in Tennessee?
Nick Tomboulides: Well, we’re still counting our votes, we wanna make sure that we have 60 before we go to the floor, we wanna be confident that we have enough yes, votes. There’s always gonna be some opponents, enemies of term limits who are going to try to attack the resolution, are gonna try to debate it, you know, not filibuster so much, but kind of distract and delay the vote, and so we wanna make sure that our guys are prepared for that, that we’ve got our champions ready to step up, make the arguments, not just for term limits, but also for the article five process. And so if I had to project it, I would say it’s a couple of weeks away, but it’s never too early to get on termlimits.com/takeaction, if you live in Tennessee, send the message to all these legislators and tell them you want this to happen and that they need to vote Yes.
Philip Blumel: We made some advancement in North Carolina as well, I think this last week… And are we waiting? I think we’re waiting for a floor vote in that state…
Nick Tomboulides: That’s correct. We were supposed to have the North Carolina floor vote this past week. It did not occur, it has been delayed. The resolution has been moved back to the Rules Committee for a little while, just again, similar situation to Tennessee, we’re just counting the votes, making sure it’s there, ’cause we wanna be confident that it will pass when it goes to the floor.
Philip Blumel: Okay, very good. So we continue to advance through the committees, and we got a couple of floor votes in the next couple of weeks.
Nick Tomboulides: We want to avoid the North Dakota situation, and so we’re being super careful to make sure it has the votes before it goes back to the floor.
Philip Blumel: Very good, good work, Nick and the whole team. Thanks everybody.
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 if your state has already passed the term limits convention resolution, that is Florida, Missouri or Alabama, or the bill has 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.
Stacey Selleck: The revolution isn’t being televised. Fortunately, you have No Uncertain Terms Podcast.