Philip Blumel: From Uganda to Utah, women call for term limits.
Philip Blumel: Hi. I’m Philip Blumel. Welcome to No Uncertain Terms, the official Podcast of the term limits movement for the week of March 22nd, 2021.
Stacey Selleck: Your sanctuary from partisan politics.
Philip Blumel: March 8th was International Women’s Day and it is helpful to remind ourselves how modernizing our legislatures via term limits has led to opportunities for American women in the States where term limits exist. It is also worth pointing out how the lack of term limits have limited women across the globe. The issue is particularly hot in Africa right now, where women are demanding them just as corrupt incumbent regimes are resisting them. Nick Tomboulides is out on assignment this week, so I will tackle these issues solo.
Philip Blumel: Before I get started, let’s review the term limits news this week. There was a lot of it. Now, as regular listeners know, US Term Limits and its supporters and activists are working on resolutions introduced in a dozen different state legislatures this year. These resolutions call for an amendment writing convention under Article V of the US Constitution, limited to the issue of congressional term limits. We call it the Term Limits Convention, since it would be limited to that subject. Three states have already passed the resolution, Florida, Missouri, and Alabama, and 31 more calls are needed to trigger this convention. A proposal emerging from the convention will have to be ratified by 38 states to become part of the US Constitution. This is all in Article V. Well, it was a big week for the Term Limits Convention. On Monday, March 15th, the full North Carolina State House passed the Term Limits Convention resolution. The resolution was carried by North Carolina House speaker, Tim Moore, something we don’t often see. Then, on Wednesday the 17th, the West Virginia State House passed the Term Limits Convention resolution in a bipartisan 76 to 20 vote. The effort was spearheaded by State House delegate, Jeff Pack.
Philip Blumel: In a previous episode, we mentioned a February op-ed on the important Lootpress news site in West Virginia, jointly written by Delegate Pack and also Senator Randy Smith. Together, they wrote, “Over the past several years, we have watched congress buckle under the leadership of career politicians who have spent 20, 30, 40-plus years in the Beltway. There is more interest in political theater than serving we, the people.” They’re right. Now, the senate version passed the West Virginia Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, clearing the way for a full Senate floor vote this week. Stay tuned. By the way, we will likely live-stream the West Virginia Senate vote on Facebook, so be sure to like US Term Limits on Facebook and follow us there for the up-to-the-minute news. If the West Virginia Senate passes the resolution this week, there will be four official state applications for the Term Limits Convention.
Scott Tillman: Hi, this is Scott Tillman, the National Field Director with US Term Limits. There are two ways to term limit Congress. First, Congress can refer a term limits amendment to the states. The Congressional term limits resolution is HJR-12, and we currently have 62 co-sponsors. The second way to amend the Constitution requires states passing resolutions asking for an amendment convention. We are pursuing both routes. We ask candidates for the state legislature to sign a pledge that will help us term limit Congress. That pledge reads, “I pledge that as a member of the state legislature, I will co-sponsor, vote for, and defend the resolution applying for an Article V convention for the sole purpose of enacting term limits on Congress.” About 75 special elections for state legislature take place each year. Special elections for 33 state legislative seats have already been scheduled in 16 states for 2021. Over 130 candidates have signed up to run in these races, and we now have received pledges from 35 of those candidates. Ballotpedia is a great resource for finding about the new election details, but we need help finding and contacting candidates. This involves a lot of research and calling the candidates. If you’re able to help, please email me, Scott Tillman, at email@example.com. That’s S-T-I-L-L-M-A-N@termlimits.com.
Philip Blumel: Now to our top story. Mbarara is an important transportation hub in the western part of the East African country of Uganda, and there, as the local Daily Monitor reports, there’s a movement among women to establish term limits for local councils and also the national parliament. At an International Women’s Day event in Mbarara City on March 8th, a group of women declared that greed for power has affected women empowerment in the country. The article quotes Jolly Kagira Tumwine, Secretary for Health and Community-Based Services at the Mbarara City Council. She said, “Government should put term limits mostly on local councils and MPs to have good women leaders. If only the government can create a system like that of the youth where you come and lead for a specified time and then go. Once you put up a system, it can reorganize the country to make sure we select leaders knowing that they will leave space for others.” She added, “There’s still a challenge when you stand with someone who has been occupying the same seat. She takes you as an enemy, yet she should be giving you advice. When you are here for five years, let another person come and also be in that position.”
Philip Blumel: The article also quotes Carol Owashaba who is a team leader for a group called Action for Youth Development, and she specifically calls for a standard provision for one or two terms. Of course, this should not surprise us. Data from the United States experience with term limits demonstrate that, yes, indeed, term limits assist women in being elected to office. On this podcast, we’ve discussed in the past the work of Samantha Pettey, she’s an Assistant Professor of Political Science in Department of History, Political Science and Public Policy at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. Her research interests are a blend of gender politics and US institutions. She had a study published in the Political Research Quarterly in 2017 that looked at women in term limited states here in the United States versus women in non-term limited states, and her findings were pretty stark.
Philip Blumel: First, in an open seat election, women are just as likely to win as men in the United States, yet only 25% of state legislators in the country are women. Now, states with term limits have seen a greater increase in the number of women candidates. Why? ‘Cause term limits create more open seats, and when there is no incumbent running, challengers have a far greater opportunity to win. So in other words, term limits by creating rotation create open seats that create people that weren’t represented fully in their legislature in the past, have an opportunity to run and win and become part of the legislature. Quite interestingly, she suggests that term limits create a new type of candidate, a new profile for a legislator that is particularly attractive to women. Let’s quote this, “Existence of term limits does impact the number of women running for office for one fundamental reason, it changes the profile of people to whom holding state office is attractive. In states with term limits, the job is temporary and politics is not necessarily a career path. Term limits can create a pool of amateur candidates, those with no previous office holding experience, who are motivated to run for factors other than being a career politician, particularly if a potential candidate thinks that they can win.”
Philip Blumel: “A CAWP recruitment study finds nearly 43% of women in the lower chamber of state legislatures had no previous office holding experience. In other words, female amateur candidates are fairly common in our state legislatures.” Interesting. Her study also found that more female candidates are emerging in all the states, not just term limited ones, but the increase is more pronounced in those states with term limits. The bottom line, the results show that the increase in female emergence was 33% larger in states with term limits. Well, good luck to the women of Uganda and all of Africa in their quest for term limits and opportunity, but as everywhere, it’s a tough battle. Even with broad popular support in Africa, as in everywhere else, leaders resist giving up their positions and their power, just like everywhere else. After the short break, we’ll look at how autocrats in some parts of Africa, mostly men incidentally, are trying to roll back term limits and disenfranchise their citizens.
Philip Blumel: Senator Rand Paul is a term limits stalwart in the US Senate. A US Term Limits pledge signer and a co-sponsor of SJR 3, the US Term Limits Amendment Bill in the Senate, Senator Paul regularly makes the case for congressional term limits in public forums. Here is Senator Paul at the Faith and Freedom Forum in Iowa in 2016.
Senator Rand Paul: Washington is so out of step. Washington is so broken. It’s not gonna change, it’s not gonna change if you put up somebody who is not dead set on changing Washington. Washington is so horribly broken that I’m a big believer that it doesn’t change until we finally send them all packing and we institute term limits.
Philip Blumel: The Economist Magazine in its January 9th issue had an excellent article about term limits in Africa that’s worth the long read. Its subtitle is, “Many African countries are letting presidential term limits slip and that’s a shame.” The title is “Time Out.” As is typical in The Economist, it’s an unsigned article representing the views of the editors. Here we go. “The passing of time improves many things. Friendships mature and deepen with the years, fond memories become sweeter and bitter ones mellow. Presidential terms, however, rarely get better the longer they last. Take the case of you Yoweri Museveni, who has run Uganda since 1986. Not content to retire to his farm, the 76-year-old is standing for yet another term in elections scheduled for January 14th. Mr. Museveni is not the longest serving president in Africa. That dubious record is held by family dynasties, such as the GnassingbŽs in Togo, the Obiangs in Equatorial Guinea and the Bongos in Gabon, who have ruled their countries for more than five decades, or by men such as Paul Biya, who has held the reins in Cameroon for nearly four decades and was Prime Minister before that.
Philip Blumel: Mr. Museveni is not far behind. His 35 years in office show how leaders who start with much at claim can look soiled when they stay too long. After Mr. Museveni took power, he was applauded by Western governments and donors for bringing peace, holding elections, liberalizing the economy and promising free speech. His candor and willingness to admit mistakes was particularly refreshing, yet after more than three decades in charge, he has become a caricature of the thin-skinned autocrat. In 2017, he jailed an academic, Stella Nyanzi, for taking to social media to call him a pair of buttocks. His police arrest, shoot and torture opposition activists and journalists. Repression is intensifying ahead of the election as he faces a popular young musician turned politician who goes by the stage name of Bobi Wine. There is no chance of a fair election. Uganda is a compelling example of why it is so important that countries set term limits and then stick to them.
Philip Blumel: In 1990, almost no country in Africa had set a constitutional limit to the length of time a president could serve. When Nelson Mandela stepped down after his first term as President of South Africa, he hoped to set an example for the continent. It was widely followed. Of almost 50 new constitutions passed during Africa’s wave of democratization in the 1990s, more than 30 limited the number of terms a president could serve. On paper, more than three-quarters of Sub-Saharan African countries now have such limits, but a depressingly large number of leaders have backtracked. Uganda under Mr. Museveni dropped the law in 2005 and lifted an age limit in 2017.
Philip Blumel: Since 2015, the leaders of no fewer than 13 African countries have side-stepped or weakened term limits. According to the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, many Africans say it is racist to lecture them about term limits when countries such as Russia and China have abolished theirs recently too. Many Western leaders, including Angela Merkel, Germany’s Chancellor since 2005, faced no restrictions. Democracies everywhere might be healthier if they insisted on periodic changes of the person in charge, but many African countries risk seeing incumbents accumulate too much power and then refuse to be dislodged at the ballot box. The danger is severe there because the checks and balances that reinforce democracy, such as electoral commissions, independent courts and free media are often weak and easily subverted. The consequences of leaders who overstay their welcome are starker in Africa too. Nine of the 10 countries involved in civil wars in Africa lack term limits, those without them tend to be more corrupt, that is why most African countries choose to put limits into their constitutions, even if many of the current leaders now wish to ignore them.
Philip Blumel: Peer pressure could help keep them honest. In the past 20 years, Africa has had far fewer coups than in the preceding decades, partly because plotters know they will face sanctions from the African Union if they grab power illegally. If the union also imposed sanctions on leaders who break term limits or rig elections, democracy in Africa would have more of a chance.
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: Contact your state law makers before they vote on term limits for congress. Go to termlimits.com/takeaction.
Speaker 5: USTL.