Philip Blumel: Six versus 12. Does it matter? Hi, I’m Philip Blumel. Welcome to “No Uncertain Terms”, the official podcast of the term limits movement for the week of April 5th, 2021.
You’re sanctuary from partisan politics.
Philip Blumel: Citizens tell pollsters that they wanna limit members of the US House to six years. Politicians often call for 12 years, [chuckle] when they see term limits legislation as inevitable. Who is right? A recent anecdote from a Central Texas Schoolboard sheds some insight on this sometimes contentious question. After a busy week working to advance the Term Limits Convention resolution through several state capitals, US Term Limits Executive Director Nick Tomboulides will not be joining us for this week’s podcast, although he did inspire it. Nick came across an article in the San Marcos Daily Record recently. It was a story about a school board trustee named John McGlothlin in San Marcos, Texas, who was first elected in 2015 to an at-large position on the school board. And then he was reelected to a second term in 2018, and he’s just announced that he’s not gonna run for another term, that six years was long enough for him. And it’s such a refreshing story, because here’s the reason he gave.
Philip Blumel: This is John McGlothlin speaking, “Six years ago, I was new energy, new ideas and fresh eyes to a system. And after six years, I don’t feel like I’m any of those things,” he told the Daily Record. “I think after six years as a trustee, any trustee becomes more a part of the institution or an institutional defender, instead of a disruptor. So I think six years is long enough.” And that’s refreshing for a lot of reasons. One, the honesty. [chuckle] Clearly he wasn’t in office long enough to [chuckle] speak out both sides of his mouth. But also he brings up something that many people in professional life recognize, and a lot of times there are term limits on private nonprofit boards, for instance, that are of a short length for that exact same reason. When you get onto a board, you’re usually excited about it and you’re basically throwing yourself into the job, thinking about it all the time, coming up with ideas, trying to put things to work that you were interested in that made you run for office. But then after a while, it becomes sort of a job and you start to identify with the institution you’re working for and you just start coasting.
Philip Blumel: This is one reason why also that CEOs of S&P 500 corporations usually stick around in that role for something like five or six years. As you probably know if you listen to this podcast, the federal legislation to propose a constitutional amendment limiting the terms of both houses of Congress calls for a six-year or three-term limit for the US House of Representatives and a 12-year or two-term limit on the US Senate. That six years strikes a lot of politicians as too short, and the rejoinder from the politicians is usually, as a last resort if they can’t stop term limits from being imposed at all, their rejoinder is that 12 years is more appropriate for a house term limit. We only ever hear the call for 12-year term limits from politicians. You get a much different answer if you ask the people of this country, as pollsters do over and over again. And the results we get, such as in this 2019 poll by McGlothlin & Associates, is that 67% of Americans favor a house limit of six years or less, and again as usual, that includes 70% of Republicans, 63% of Democrats and 70% of Independent voters. Only 3% of Americans favor a house term limit of 12 years, and that’s 4% of Republicans, 3% of Democrats and 4% of Independents.
Philip Blumel: So six years is the people’s term limit and 12 years is the politician’s term limit. It’s interesting that the most common term limit imposed in the United States is eight years. The people are right about short term limits being more effective. We don’t see the full benefits of term limits that we’re always touting on this podcast, when you have really long term limits like 12 years and beyond. One example of this that comes immediately to mind to me is that there was a study done by Daniel Lewis and Robin Coolman of the University of Central Missouri, and they looked at voter participation and term limits. And what they found was that there absolutely is a connection between increased voter turnout and term limits. But you really only saw the effect with shorter term limits, six and eight years, not 12. The benefits of term limits just drop off the longer the term limit is. And it’s clear why. The great benefit of term limits is that they generate competitive open seat elections in every district. Well, this occurs half as many times in a 12-year term limit situation, than it does in a six-year term limit situation, and these competitive open seat elections is what draws quality candidates out of the woodwork to run for office.
Philip Blumel: Otherwise, what’s the point? And if that happens, then it gives voters a more meaningful voice at the ballot box, if there’s not a foregone conclusion in the election, as there is in most races where there’s an incumbent versus a challenger, then the election has more meaning. And the more of those elections you have, the more people will want to participate in it.
This is a public service announcement.
Philip Blumel: Since term limits are so popular, opponents rarely attacked the term limits amendment squarely. Instead, they often attack the Constitution’s amendment process itself as dangerous, and often resorting to falsehoods to do it. At the Wisconsin Senate Committee on Government Operations last week, vice chair Senator Mary Felzkowski schools a young term limits opponent and sets the record straight.
Speaker 2: Minutes in. We have the rest of your testimony in writing. I do believe we have a rule here. Now we’re gonna be moving forward. It’s gonna be five minutes. So we have the rest of your testimony in writing. I appreciate your testimony. Do we have any questions from the committee? Yes, Senator Felzkowski.
Mary Felzkowski: So you made the statement in your testimony that Anton Scalia was against the convention. Are you citing that off a reference?
Speaker 4: Yeah, this is at a Q&A session at the Federal Society event on May 8, 2015. I have it cited in the testimony.
Mary Felzkowski: Mr. Chairman, for clarification, we have from the AIE form, that he is not for an open convention, Anton Scalia, but in reference to a convention limited in cable report, Anton Scalia would not want a constitutional convention, an open one, but if there was a targeted amendment that were adopted by State Article 5, he was very much in favor of it. I just wanted to put that in the record for clarification.
Speaker 2: Thanks for putting that in the record.
Philip Blumel: We see the six verses 12 phenomenon with other benefits that we talk about for term limits. For one thing, we talk about how the longer a member of Congress has been in office, the more he or she is able to develop a powerful fundraising stream from special interests. So again, under which schema, six or 12, is a politician more likely to lose touch with his constituents and start following the money and thinking about his own career? And three terms is clearly not a career. Twelve years, more or less, is arguably but it definitely is if you max out in both the House and Senate, 12 years in the House and 12 years in the Senate, 24 years, that’s a career. And what we’re trying to do is cut down on career politicians and have more citizen legislators. Another consideration is one that comes to us from our founding fathers. You know when they set up the system, they intended the House and the Senate to be very different. In fact, they intended them to be far different than they are today in a lot of ways, but one important distinction that the House was going to be the more rough-and-tumble, closer to the people House, where you had people coming in and going constantly. That’s why there’s a two-year term.
Philip Blumel: Now, on the other hand, the Senate was seen as the house of elders, which is actually what Senate means in Latin. The Senate was intended to be more aloof, more deliberative, more establishment, if you will, verses and as in contrast to, the more populist House. This is a distinction that has increasingly been lost over the years, and that term limits would help bring back, particularly those term limits that are included in the current legislation in the US Congress, three terms or six years in the US House, two terms or 12 years in the US Senate. Let me make one last point. It’s fair to call 12-year term limits the politicians term limit, but even that doesn’t tell the whole story. Most politicians don’t want any term limits at all. They will push 12-year term limits for various reasons. One, to get longer term in office if they feel like the term limits are going to be imposed anyway. But also as a tactic to prevent term limits from ever being enacted. How is that? As we speak, 93 members of the US Congress, that’s the House and the Senate, have signed the US term limits pledge.
Philip Blumel: This pledge commits them to co-sponsor and vote for a constitutional amendment resolution calling for three-term limit in the house and two-term limit in the Senate, and no longer. The reason why that’s added is because in order to get this passed, which is hard enough as it is, all of the term limits supporters in the Congress has to be united between one bill. The politicians know this, so they know that if they call for some other kind of term limit, that they can still sound like their supporting term limits, but they’re actually promoting something that cannot happen as a practical matter, when 93 members have already signed their names to a document saying that they would oppose it. In sum, I and also the rest of us at US Term Limits, agree with the vast majority of the American people that a six-year limit is better, and also Nobel Prize-winning economist, Milton Friedman, who was quoted as saying, “The most important reform would be term limits, six-year term limits.”
Philip Blumel: Ed Crane was a co-founder and president of the premier Libertarian think tank The Cato Institute until 2012. He currently serves on the board of US Term Limits. In this video from bigthink.com from around 2012, Crane explains who has the real power in Washington and how to remedy the situation.
Ed Crane: Well look, the people are there, they’re mostly entrepreneurs, but the way to do it is to have term limits because a lot of smart people look at the process of getting elected and say, “You know even if I did get elected, I’m gonna have to be under the control of professional politicians, and my influence is gonna be negligible.” Whereas if you had a citizen Congress, particularly in the House of Representatives, a lot more people would find that attractive, and of course, there would be a lot more open seats if you had six-year limits, three terms, there’d be a lot of open seats every election.
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, 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.
Stacey Selleck: Find us on most social media @USTermLimits. Like us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram and now TikTok.