Philip Blumel: Victory. West Virginia is state number four. Hi, I’m Philip Blumel. Welcome to No Uncertain Terms, the official Podcast of the term limits movement for the week of March 29th, 2021.
Stacey Selleck: Your sanctuary from partisan politics.
Philip Blumel: With last Monday’s Senate vote in West Virginia, there are now officially four states that have called for an amendment writing convention limited to the subject of congressional term limits. When 34 states make such a call, the term limits Convention must be called according to Article 5 of the US Constitution. How did this victory occur and what does it tell us about the movement to limit the terms of the US Congress? Let’s talk to Nick Tomboulides, Executive Director of US Term Limits, one of the team that made it happen. Hey, Nick.
Nick Tomboulides: Hello.
Philip Blumel: Nick, it was a great week. This is for all the work we put into this and all the tenseness and pressure and all that, this is what makes it worth it when you have a breakthrough week like this, West Virginia is the fourth state to call for the term limits convention. Just how important is that?
Nick Tomboulides: It is the most important moment in modern term limits history, in my opinion, to date, to date. And that’s not to say that there won’t be other states passing it down the line, those will be important too, but this was huge because it is proof that the model works. We set out a couple of years ago and we said, “Look, Congress is feckless, they are useless, they are self-serving, they’re never gonna pass term limits on themselves, look at them, they are a dumpster fire.” So, what are we gonna do instead? We’re gonna follow the Constitution, we’re going to follow the framer’s wisdom, and they give you a second approach, the second method of amending the Constitution, we said, we’re gonna use that to get term limits on Congress. And that is going through state legislatures, it is asking states to pass a term limits convention. We said it was viable, we thought it was viable, this proves it’s viable. This proves that the model works, that state legislatures will step up and vote for a Congressional term limits convention.
Philip Blumel: Yeah. It is a proof of concept, and you know, I can’t help but think this will make it easier to pass in other states. The very fact that we had already passed in three states helped us to pass in West Virginia, having passed in four states will help us pass in our next state, why? But one thing, politicians are always… They’re risk-averse, and it makes it easier for them to vote yes if other politicians already voted yes. It’s easier for states to vote yes and to approve the resolution if other states have already done it.
Nick Tomboulides: ‘Cause they don’t need to blaze the trail, they’re not venturing into unfamiliar territory when other states have done this, when other states have proven that this is a winner, politically, that it’s popular with the people, that there’s absolutely no downside to a state legislature calling for term limits on Congress, all those elements are super important in terms of getting others on the bandwagon.
Philip Blumel: Right. And we’ve got a big state, Florida, and a small state, West Virginia, we got two middle states, Missouri and Alabama. And I don’t know who’s next, but they’re gonna look at those other states and it’s gonna be a lot easier for them to go along. I think that’s fantastic, that’s exciting.
Nick Tomboulides: There are quite a few states in the pipeline. As you know, we’ve recently passed the Georgia Senate, we passed the North Carolina House, we’re on the cusp of a vote in the Tennessee house, the Arizona house, Arizona Senate, and several other states. So, West Virginia has paved the way, and it’s not just proved that the model itself is viable, it hasn’t just proved the concept, it has also answered some of the biggest questions that the people have about this, for example, is this bipartisan? It absolutely is. This vote was bipartisan.
Philip Blumel: It was overwhelming.
Nick Tomboulides: It was bipartisan and overwhelming. Another question, if a state legislature does not have term limits on itself, would it be willing to vote for term limits on Congress? The answer to that question also, yes. So, we’ve not only answered, how are we gonna get term limits on Congress, but we have also dispelled some of these little obstacles that people try to put in our way, this is how it’s done. The solution is right here, State legislators not only can do it, but they will do it. And when 34 states have done this, Congress must call for the convention, that’s in Article 5 of the Constitution.
Philip Blumel: That’s right.
Nick Tomboulides: It’s a mandate.
Philip Blumel: Yeah. Another thing that gives me optimism about this win in West Virginia is that… And this is a little bit inside baseball, but everyone who listens to this podcast is really part of the inner circle of the term limits movement. From the practical point of view of an organization like ours trying to push these resolutions through state legislatures, when we win, nothing succeeds like success. When we win, it’s easier for us to raise money for the next target state, it’s easier to get activists inspired to make those calls to go up to the capital and go door to door and do all the things that need to be done, why? Because it’s not wasting people’s time, they know this can work. If they’re gonna spend the time in their state to get the resolution passed, they can do it.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah, it’s achievable. It’s replicable, or I don’t know if that’s a word, replicable around the country, and it’s super cool. It’s a great achievement. Hats off to everyone in West Virginia who helped make this happen. And by the way, if you go to our Facebook page, US term limits on Facebook, you can see an actual copy of the Term Limits convention passed by the state of West Virginia, it has the gold seal of the state on it. Super cool. Great reminder. Victory is in our reach.
Philip Blumel: Yeah, let’s talk a little bit about how this was achieved ’cause we’ve been working on West Virginia for a couple of years. And we lost in previous years, and then we get to this year where we have not just a victory of the entire state, but an overwhelming bipartisan victory. Now, that didn’t happen by itself, right?
Nick Tomboulides: No.
Philip Blumel: So, what did we do to lay the foundation for this victory?
Nick Tomboulides: No legislation ever passes without hard work, much less term limits legislation, it’s not naturally that popular with the political class. But I would say it’s grit, it’s tenacity, it’s perseverance. Two years ago, we died, this same resolution died on the floor of the West Virginia State Senate at 11:59 PM after a nasty attempt at a filibuster by one of the legislators who hated us the most, that guy is still there. But this time we were able to overcome his opposition. Last year, we passed the State Senate, but never came up for a vote in the House. Now, we have done both, and it was a campaign of being relentless, leaving no stone unturned, talking to every single lawmaker on multiple locations to find out where they stood. You win friends. It influenced people. We ask for pledges, if they’re for term limits, great, if not, why not? And then our team gave them the info they needed to be better informed.
Philip Blumel: Right. And collecting those pledges definitely laid some of the groundwork because we had pledges for a majority of both the House and Senate of the state, and that took a lot of leg work.
Nick Tomboulides: It’s no coincidence that West Virginia had more pledges signed than any other state and also had the most overwhelming victory when this actually went to a floor vote. Pledges, there’s a direct correlation between pledges and success.
Scott Tillman: Hello, this is Scott Tillman, the national field director with the US terms limits. We ask candidates for Congress to sign a pledge that will help us get a term limits amendment added to the US Constitution. That pledge reads, “I pledge that as a Member of 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 62 co-sponsors. At the same point last cycle, we only had 36 co-sponsors. The Senate resolution is SJR3, and we currently have 14 co-sponsors, but at this point, last cycle we only had 12. We are making significant progress. You could help by contacting your representative and asking them to sign the pledge and to co-sponsor HJR12. For more ways to help search US Term limits on Facebook, like and follow our national page as well as the page for your state. Thank you.
Philip Blumel: Two men are walking across America to get people talking about term limits, it’s apparently working. On March 2nd, ABC channel 27 at Tallahassee, Florida told their story.
Speaker 5: Two advocates are making a cross-country trek to get people talking about term limits. Tom Israel and Robert Dan Weber kicked off their land limits for term limits journey on December 22nd in the Florida Keys and walked about 670 miles before arriving here in Tallahassee. Legislative term limits vary from state to state, with legislators here in Florida currently serving eight-year terms.
Speaker 6: When you’re in that position of power for that long, you are going to be susceptible to corruption. So I believe that this is important, that we all get together as a people, we’re 329 million people, we can change our entire way of living by giving term limits to these people that can’t make law.
Speaker 5: Their next goal is the Georgia State line, from there they hope to finish all 300,690 miles of their journey in Cape Flattery, Washington within eight months.
Philip Blumel: The pledges is part of our strategy, that is definitely working. Now, once we get set up in a state, we get these pledgers, we go seeking the right sponsors, and we had that in West Virginia.
Nick Tomboulides: Yes, the sponsors there, they were unwavering, Randy Smith, Jeff Pack, Brandon Steele, Geoff Foster. There’s so many more, it would take me forever to name all of the heroes in this situation, these guys are rock stars, they’re just a rare group of elected officials who said, “You know what? We don’t work for the swamp, we don’t listen to them, we don’t have to listen to Washington DC, we work for the people of West Virginia, and we’re gonna get congressional term limits done.” They put their minds to it, and they did it, and you can’t overlook the hard work of the US term limits team that was on the ground in West Virginia, either.
Philip Blumel: Of course.
Nick Tomboulides: Shanna Chamblee, Aaron Dukette, Ken Clark, our superstars. There’s really no words to describe how committed they were to West Virginia.
Philip Blumel: Yeah, that’s a really good point. And these people helped shepherd these bills to the committee and reported back on who in the Legislature needed to hear from the people. Another group that really helped out is citizens of West Virginia who made those phone calls to the important committee people at the right time. We had those action items on our website, and people could make that easy call or that easy email. Somebody had to do that, and it was because we had so many fired up activists in the state of West Virginia that when called upon, contacted their legislator. And those legislators heard from the people of West Virginia and they only heard people saying they wanted it, they weren’t hearing from people opposing it.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah, phone calls, emails, in-person visits, pandemic permitting, all of the above. It was all additive. The state legislatures are a lot less coin-operated than what you see in Washington DC. They will listen to their constituents, they’re more accessible to their constituents. If you don’t happen to live in West Virginia or Florida or a state that’s already passed the term limits convention, you can call your state legislator right now and have this conversation with them or leave a message with their office, make your voice heard, that really is the way that we get this done. Just an incredible, incredible team effort, and I have to give another shoutout to Aaron, Shanna and Ken. They practically moved to West Virginia to get this done at various times. And despite the setbacks from those first two sessions, they never gave up. Just like all of us, they’ve got challenges in their own lives, they’ve got challenges from this pandemic that’s making everything more difficult for everyone, they never gave up. They got it done. It was incredible.
Philip Blumel: Yeah, one last piece of the puzzle. We had some opposition, was it Senator Romano? I think was one of the chief opponents of this. And he came back again and tried to halt our victory again this year, but this year we overcame him. Now, did we take any action in West Virginia to overcome that opposition, either by making moves against scofflaws who signed our pledge and didn’t go along, or anything along those lines as we have in other states?
Nick Tomboulides: Well, we didn’t have a huge scofflaw problem in West Virginia. And by that, of course, you mean people who signed the pledge and then broke their word.
Philip Blumel: Okay, so we didn’t have that issue here.
Nick Tomboulides: Not a huge issue. There were a couple of them who did that on the floor vote, but it passed anyway, and so you know, there’s no sense in going after them at this point. But in Romano’s case, after he staged that ridiculous filibuster, we put a giant billboard in his district and said, I’m paraphrasing here, “This guy is a huge jerk and he’s against term limits.”
Philip Blumel: Yeah, I hope you’re paraphrasing.
Nick Tomboulides: I’m absolutely paraphrasing, yeah. But no, his jerkiness not withstanding, that shined a light on them, it told people in his district that he was undermining what they wanted in terms of fixing congress. And I think that neutralized him a little bit, but it also let every other member of the legislature know, “Look, the people are following this, they are watching. US term limits is out there, we’re connecting folks with their constituents, and everyone wants to see this happen.” And so Romano is kind of a wacky guy, sometimes the best way to defeat him is to just let him talk because he’s just gonna say something so ridiculous, it’s gonna hurt his own cause. And we did that strategically. But yes, we hold anyone accountable who broke their pledge or who just didn’t support term limits at all and thought they could thumb their noses at the people.
Philip Blumel: Okay. So, a little bit of carrot, a little bit of stick and lots of hard work here.
Philip Blumel: Dr. Lawrence Lessig of Harvard University is an expert on the domineering influence of special interest money over the US Congress. In February this year, Lessig gave video testimony to the state of Washington’s state government elections committee on why an Article 5 convention is the best tool available to address the problem.
Dr. Lawrence Lessig: I just wanna briefly make three points in support of this legislation. The first point about the convention is to recognize that contrary to the testimony of many, very intelligent and informed people, including my friend Robert Reich, Article 5 convention has no power to do anything except propose an amendment to the Constitution. It is no power to change the rules by which an amendment can be adopted and there is no historical precedent to support the claim that it does. This is a simple path to propose amendments that Congress might not have the political will to propose themselves. Number two, it’s my view that we need to build a convention movement that reaches across partisan lines, and that might mean being open to proposals for conventions that include issues that not all of us are happy about, but that we accept because we recognize that if America used a convention as a partisan entity, that guarantees that the work of the convention will fail.
Dr. Lawrence Lessig: And number three, I wanna strongly endorse the really brilliant strategy that Washington [0:16:19.0] ____ here to force Congress to act. What we know about Congress is that it has no real desire to change the system they’re living under right now. At a Constitutional level, there are many people who are pushing for an amendment in Congress, and I certainly hope Congress proposes that, but as any Amendment requires two thirds of Congress to support it, Congress needs an effective incentive. And the structure that Washington has proposed in this bill is a brilliant incentive to do that by calling on Congress to propose an amendment, obviously that has no effect directly on Congress, but by having that resolution transition into a call for a convention, Congress knows it’s living under a time clock, that at a certain point will create the demand for a convention, that if called will propose amendments that maybe Congress itself is not eager to see proposed. So, this is a brilliant evolution in the strategy to get Congress to respond to the problems that we’ve seen with the concern about money in politics. And I’m very hopeful Washington adopts this, and we can take this very same idea around to other states across the country to get them too to join this movement that Washington has begun to force Washington DC to act.
Philip Blumel: When I look at this in the bigger picture of our entire mission, which of course ultimately is to term limit the Congress, I look at in the context of all our other projects over the years in the state and local level. And we haven’t won Congress, although we’ve made some great stabs at it over time, but I kind of think that the biggest challenge that we have to achieving congressional term limits, it’s certainly not educating or persuade the public. The public are on our side, for sure. And it’s not really a partisan issue because we know that polling tells us that term limits on Congress is supported by huge majorities of Democrats, Republicans and Independents. And although we get opposition from politicians themselves, the support for the people is overwhelming, that I can’t see that as the ultimate obstacle to passing Congressional term limits. To me, the ultimate obstacle to passing term limits is the 83% of Americans that support term limits, but they just don’t think it can actually happen. Somehow the politicians are gonna win. It isn’t worth it. It’s great but it can’t be done.
Nick Tomboulides: Pessimism and cynicism. Yeah.
Philip Blumel: Right. So, to me, that’s the great thing about this vote in West Virginia is it says, “No, no, it can be done,” we got another state in the win column, and that means we can get another State after this in the win column and another state after that, this program is working. And you and I have been in this quite for a long time, and we’ve seen lots of victories at all different levels, and I think that part of my motivation in this project is that I’m used to winning when working on term limits projects. At the state and local level, my gosh, just about every campaign you ever work on for term limits succeeds, particularly if it gets to the ballot box.
Nick Tomboulides: I think part of that is overcoming this learning curve. Because people who worked in the term limits movement before are used to doing this by ballot initiative. If I run around my city right now with a clipboard, I get 2000 signatures, boom, we’ve got term limits on the ballot tomorrow, you can’t do that for Congress, you have to rely on some group of politicians to make this happen. And a lot of people are under the misconception that Congress has a monopoly on this process. That in order to get term limits, you need the chickens to vote for Colonel Sanders, but that’s not true. The founders, in their infinite wisdom and brilliance, gave us this safety valve. They knew that state legislators would just have that additional degree of independence, that additional degree of closeness, cohesiveness with the people that would allow them to take action if Congress ever abused its power or refused to rein in its own abuses, and that is what we’re doing here. We’re following the playbook, which is the US Constitution.
Philip Blumel: We have term limits in 15 states. That was the result of a lot of hard work. 36 governors, nine of the 10 largest cities. We can’t count all the small counties and cities across America, we have attorneys, mayors and councils and whoever else. Polling is all on our side, and we win routinely at the ballot box and we usually win in our core cases, too. Then there’s a 22nd Amendment, which we commemorate every year on term limits day, on February 27th. The 22nd Amendment limited the term of the president of the United States, and that was done by constitutional amendment, which is exactly what we’re trying to do. So, I look at all this and I look at this win in West Virginia, and I see that we’re making progress and that I believe we’re going to win or I would not be putting all this work into this project.
Nick Tomboulides: Amen. This is huge. This is epic.
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 break-through year for the term limits movement. To check out 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 or the bill has not been introduced in your state, you can still help. Please consider making a contribution to US term limits, it’s 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.
Speaker 8: USTL.