Philip Blumel: Another State House calls for the Term Limits Convention. Boom. Hi, I’m Philip Blumel. Welcome to No Uncertain Terms, the official podcast of the Term Limits Movement for the week of April 12th, 2021.
Stacey Selleck: Your sanctuary from partisan politics.
Philip Blumel: This time it’s Tennessee. Last Thursday, in a bipartisan vote, the Tennessee House of Representatives voted 53 to 34 to officially apply for a national amendment writing convention, limited to the subject of congressional term limits. If it’s State Senate follow suit, Tennessee will be the fifth state to make the call, that is unless North Carolina or Georgia does it first. To help us handicap this race, let’s turn to US Term Limits Executive Director, Nick Tomboulides. Hey, Nick.
Philip Blumel: So Tennessee, that’s new territory for us.
Nick Tomboulides: Yes, it is. Tennessee has never passed the Term Limits Convention before through either chamber, State House or State Senate, but they did it this week. It was the Tennessee State House that voted 53-46 to pass the Term Limits Convention. It is the fifth chamber we’ve passed this year. It’s a record actually. We’ve never passed that many chambers in one year, and so we added to the West Virginia House and Senate, North Carolina House and Georgia Senate. It was a close vote, but we got it. And now it’s on to the Senate.
Philip Blumel: Gosh, that’s great. So we won the House. We have to get the Senate. When does the session end?
Nick Tomboulides: It’s a two-year session, which means that if it doesn’t get through the Senate this year, the House vote will carry over into next year, then you have all of the next year’s session to get the Senate done. But I think it’s gonna end in early May. So we’ve got about a month of time on our hands to get this through the process.
Philip Blumel: Okay, but if we don’t succeed by then the House victory will carry over to next year, so we have a whole extra year to get the Senate.
Nick Tomboulides: That’s exactly right. You don’t lose the House. That carries over because it’s actually a single session that’s broken up into two years. It’s not two separate sessions.
Philip Blumel: Right, well, that’s interesting. Now to my understanding, that’s the same situation we’re in in Georgia where we won the Senate and we’re looking to pass the House, and also North Carolina where we passed the House and we’re looking to pass the North Carolina Senate. Both of those are also split session over two years. Am I right?
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah, you’re right, those are carry-over states, so if we’re not able to get a vote this year… Obviously, our goal is to get a vote as soon as possible, and we’re gonna be working as hard as we can to do that. But if we can’t get the vote this year, we are gonna be in a very advantageous position coming into the second part of the session next year.
Philip Blumel: Great. We had some superstar endorsers of this effort in Tennessee that helped us get across the finish line.
Nick Tomboulides: We did. We actually got two op-eds, and the timing could not have been better. These op-eds, one of them dropped two days before the vote. The other one dropped the day of the vote, and the authors were Mayor Glenn Jacobs of Knox County, Tennessee, better known to most people as World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Famer, Kane, one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all the time, also happens to be a great mayor in Knox County. And he published an op-ed for the Term limits Convention. That was two days before the vote. And then the day of the vote, we got some reinforcements from Congressman Tim Burchett of Tennessee, published an op-ed as well. So we got… Yeah, we’ve got some real blue-ribbon supporters out there.
Philip Blumel: That’s great. So Representative Burchett is basically asking the State Legislature of Tennessee to term limit him. [chuckle]
Nick Tomboulides: Correct, yes. And he noted that in his article. He said, “Look.” He said, “I’m in Congress. I’m trying to get term limits here. It ain’t gonna happen, folks. States, it’s the only way to do it. Tennessee needs to step up. Tennessee and the other 49 states need to get into the driver’s seat because this car is not gonna move forward with Congress.”
Philip Blumel: So how did we decide to target Tennessee if we’ve never really had any serious inroads there before?
Nick Tomboulides: Well, it’s a good question. Tennessee has some history with the Article V Convention, although not for term limits. They have previously adopted a resolution for a balanced budget amendment. We had been there with the bill a couple of years ago, but it was different leadership then. There was not a lot of support. They’ve since had a lot of turnover. I think maybe 25-30% of the legislature has turned over in the last two years. And so what you see is a lot of new voices, a lot of fresh faces, new perspectives, people like our sponsor, Chris Todd that sponsored the Term Limits Convention in the House. He wasn’t around last time around, so we didn’t really have these champions last time around who were stepping up and going to bat for this. Now we do. That’s been a tremendous difference, and then you couple it with the overall support for term limits in Tennessee, which is stratospheric. It’s over 80%. It’s completely bipartisan. In fact, this vote was bipartisan. We had a couple of democrats who supported as well, in addition to the Republicans in the majority.
Philip Blumel: Very good. All right, well then here I got a tough one for you. We passed West Virginia, the entire state, this year. Now we have four states that officially have called for the Term Limits Convention. We have three states this year that have passed half: Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee, and all three of these states we’re looking for the second House to approve the measure. Which will come first? Georgia, North Carolina or Tennessee?
Nick Tomboulides: That’s a great question. I would never be someone who would BS our audience, so I’m just gonna tell you the speaker in Georgia is a foe of term limits. He doesn’t like it, and so…
Philip Blumel: Okay. All right. So that’s gonna make it tough there.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah, that knocks Georgia down the list. At least next year is an election year. He may change his mind ’cause he may need to pander for votes or something, but I think it’s gonna be a photo finish between North Carolina and Tennessee. I feel like we have strong numbers in both Senates. If we got to the floor right now, I think we would probably pass, but the challenge is actually getting there, getting through the process, because in order to get to the floor of the Senate in either North Carolina or Tennessee, you have to go through a committee. In North Carolina, it’s the rules. In Tennessee right now, it’s the finance committee, but we could be assigned somewhere else ’cause this bill is jumping over from the House as we speak. And depending on the make-up of that committee, that will determine what our chances are of getting it done this year. And so we’ll probably have an update on that next week. We’re cautiously optimistic, but we’ll see what happens.
Philip Blumel: In North Carolina, I understand we have the full support, active support of the House speaker, who helped shepherd the resolution through his chamber, but he’s still talking about the bill. Do you think his influence carries over to the Senate in that state?
Nick Tomboulides: I do. I do. The speaker in North Carolina, he’s one of the most proactive lawmakers on the Term Limits Convention that I’ve ever seen. He has been such a superstar. He has appeared in committee. He’s done things that speakers don’t typically do. He’s appeared in committee to testify for it. When he was presiding over it on the floor right before the vote in North Carolina, he left the dias, the speaker’s dias and went back to his desk and spoke on its behalf. He’s just doing all kinds of unprecedented things, going around the state, talking about the importance of term limits. He’s got so much conviction, Tim Moore. He’s a true believer in this, and he’s a really good guy. And I think he can do a lot to influence the Senate, but he can only do so much. The Senate might come back and say, “Yeah, Tim we’ll give you this if you do something else for us.” And I don’t think he’d be willing to cross the line like that ’cause he’s like… He’s not that type of person. So I think this has to come from the grass roots if we’re gonna be successful in North Carolina. People in North Carolina need to contact their state senators. The speaker has done a lot of heavy lifting, but now it’s time that he passes the torch to the people and they finish the job.
Philip Blumel: Okay, citizens in Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee, go to termlimits.com/takeaction.
Speaker 4: Hello, this is Scott Tillman, the National Field Director with US Term Limits. There are two ways that we can put term limits on Congress. First, Congress can refer a Term Limits Amendment to the states. The Congressional Term Limits Resolution is HJR12, and we currently have 62 co-sponsors. The Senate version is SGR3, and we currently have 13 co-sponsors. The second way to put a Term Limits Amendment into the Constitution requires states passing resolutions asking for the Term Limits Amendment, and we are pursuing both routes. We ask candidates for State Legislature to sign a pledge to help us term limit Congress, and 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.”
Scott Tillman: About 75 Special elections for state legislature take place each year. Special elections have already been called in 16 states for 33 different state legislative seats. Over 130 candidates have signed up to run for these races, and we have received pledges from over 40 of those candidates. Ballotpedia is a great place to find new election information, but we need help contacting those candidates. If you are able to help, please email me, Scott Tillman, at firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s S-T-I-L-L-M-A-N at term limits dot com.
Nick Tomboulides: Presidential term limits, the 22nd Amendment, we know it’s very popular, and it’s the ultimate proof that term limits work because any time some nut job suggests getting rid of Presidential term limits, the whole country rises up in unison and says, “Get the heck out of here. You’re crazy. Why would we ever do that?” Even members of Congress who hate term limits for themselves seem to love Presidential term limits, but the amendment is shrouded in some mystery. We don’t know exactly how it came about. All we know was FDR’s four terms were a contributing factor. So, Phil, you recently read a book, a new book, it’s called, “The 22nd Amendment and the Limits of Presidential Tenure” by Martin Gold. What did you learn about this topic?
Philip Blumel: I’ll tell you what, to my knowledge, this is the best treatment of the subject that’s out there, and it helps that it’s brand new. It came out 2020. It’s a serious book. This is no polemic. It’s basically written for specialists. It’s written for libraries. It’s written for historians. But I’ll tell you what, in reading it, I learned so much about the specifics of the 22nd Amendment and presidential term limits that I didn’t know, but also it had a lot of insights about our effort to term-limit the US Congress as well. I think the three things that jump out at me about this book, and I think we gotta go over each of these, is that, one, term limits are a founding American principle. They were there from day one. Second, it’s always been bipartisan, always. And then also [chuckle] anti-term limit politicians have always played the same games to try to get around them. They’ll try to pretend they’re for them when they are against them and etcetera, and try all kinds of tricks and shenanigans.
Nick Tomboulides: Let me jump in real quick and just ask if you could elaborate on that. You said term limits are a founding principle of American democracy, and my question is, the amendment was done in 1951. How is it a founding principle? What do you mean by that?
Philip Blumel: Well, the argument over term limits, specifically for the President, but not only for the President, basically, that argument came up in the Constitutional Convention of 1787 when they drafted the US Constitution, and not only that, but there was no subject that the Constitution spent more time on than the length of the Presidential term and then how many terms that the President should be able to serve. So it was that central. And when the Constitutional Convention was called, it was called by the State of Virginia, which had ambitions to rewrite the Articles of Confederation, as we know, because there was an earlier convention in Maryland, and Virginia was ready with sort of a blueprint for a replacement for the Articles of Confederation. They called it the Virginia Plan. So this was the very first model of the replacement of the Articles of Confederation and part of it was term limits on the President, in fact, a single term.
Philip Blumel: The Virginia Plan didn’t specify how long that term should be, but they said that it was very important that they limited the term of the Chief Executive. So it goes back all the way to the beginning of the writing of the Constitution, the Founding Fathers, arguing over this idea.
Nick Tomboulides: I didn’t know exactly how long it was debated at the Philadelphia Convention. I do know that Thomas Jefferson, who wasn’t there, he was an envoy in France at the time, but he wrote a letter around the time of the Convention that said… After he had read the Constitution, he said, “The feature that I greatly dislike in the Constitution is the abandonment of rotation in office,” AKA, the abandonment of term limits, the fact that they had been omitted from the Constitution. So that’s very interesting. We’ve got your book review up on termlimits.com, by the way, on our front page for anyone, who’s interested in reading it. And one thing you have on here is, I’m looking at it now, politicians who oppose term limits, who oppose Presidential term limits, offer alternative term limit arrangements in order to divide support, in other words, divide and conquer. And we see that all the time in Congress, right? A member who opposes term limits like my congressman Bill Posey, he will offer an alternative term limits bill with no support, no chance of getting anywhere in order to protect himself politically and amputate the real Term Limits Movement, which is us. But you seem to suggest that happened with presidential term limits also.
Philip Blumel: Yes, we saw this in the debates over the 22nd Amendment, so this was in the late ’40s. And this was a popular idea. The country was behind it, and everybody knew it. And so we had the situation where politicians didn’t wanna come out directly against it. And so one of the arguments that was thrown out there during the debates was, “Well, there has been a debate during our history about whether we should have two terms for the President or just one longer term. Maybe it’s a better idea to totally switch gears and instead of codify the two term tradition set by George Washington, instead, maybe we ought to move to something new and have a single term, blah, blah, blah.” Well, that sounds nice, and that’s a reasonable argument to have. It sounds plausible on the surface, and you can make some arguments for that single term. But that’s not why they introduced it. The people that introduced it during the debate were because they wanted to shoot down, to divide and conquer, to shoot down support for codifying the two term tradition, right? They just wanted to have the votes split.
Philip Blumel: They didn’t mean it. In fact, the guy, the person that actually introduced it in the house was an opponent of term limits. He opposed term limits before the debate. He opposed term limits after the debate. But during debate, he thought, “Hey, maybe we ought to talk about a one term President.” I mean, this guy, Representative Seller, he’s the guy that did this. He’s the one that really made this jump out at me, but we’ve seen this kind of trick from so many politicians saying, “I love term limits. We gotta do it, but 12 years. We gotta go for 12 years.”
Nick Tomboulides: He was a pioneer in the field of sleazebaggery, and we see many people in Congress walking on that trail that he blazed.
Philip Blumel: No kidding. The movement for this was strong enough that the initial hearings on the amendment was held while the Democrats still held power in 1945 before the Republicans even took over. Once the Republicans took over in a massive victory in 1946, partially fueled by support for presidential term limits, that’s when the machinery started turning and it became inevitable that this was going to occur.
Nick Tomboulides: So Phil, when presidential term limits were developed, was it a Republican issue or a Democratic issue?
Philip Blumel: Okay, key point, key point. I just mentioned that the Republicans taking power made it inevitable that this would eventually occur because they had jumped on that bandwagon as FDR, a Democrat, broke the two term tradition. But it went back and forth from the beginning. It’s really always been a bipartisan idea. In fact, in the earlier years of this nation, it was the Democrats who really, really supported the idea and kept bringing it to the fore. The first two challenges to presidential term limits were by President Grant, a Republican, and President Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican. Both of them had reached their two terms, and they were flirting with the idea of a third. They know that the tradition was very strong and important to people. They didn’t wanna come right out, and they sort of allowed themselves to allow people to think that they might run again or they could be persuaded if they were drafted at a Convention, if there was a public acclaim that made them feel like, “Oh, I have to serve the people. I have to do a third term,” typical politician behavior. But when they started playing these games, there was a backlash, and the backlash, of course, was from Democrats, as the Republicans tried to skirt the tradition.
Philip Blumel: And so several different actions were taken by Democrats. They added a pro-term limits plank to their platform. On two occasions, there were resolutions passed just basically sent to the Senate and sent to the House resolutions pass saying, “Wait a minute. We have a two term tradition and this should be respected.” And so we really saw the Democrats step up and defend term limits when need be. When FDR decided that he was going to break the tradition, he used the war as a pretext, and successfully did that, and a lot of Democrats came to his support, and that’s when we really saw this turn occur. The people always supported term limits, but for political reasons, we saw the Republicans jump on this. There’s always been support in the Republican party for those, too, and made it a promise, and when they took power again, they made sure they got the job done. So this is a bipartisan tradition. There’s no question about it.
Nick Tomboulides: The book is “The 22nd Amendment and the Limits of Presidential Tenure” by Martin Gold, and your review is up right now at termlimits.com.
Speaker 4: This is a public service announcement.
Philip Blumel: In an Associated Press story airing on ABC Channel 7 in Los Angeles, we are told of yet another indispensable politician scheming, successfully in this case, to skirt his term limit and remain in power. Well, what could citizens do without the experience of their long-term representative Vladimir Putin.
Speaker 5: Russian President, Vladimir Putin has signed a law that could keep him in power for another 15 years. It allows him to run for President two more times. Putin is already on his fourth term holding office longer than any other Kremlin leader since Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. The change was part of a package of constitutional amendments approved in the election last July. The opposition criticized the vote saying it was tarnished by reports of pressure on voters and a lack of transparency.
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 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.
Speaker 2: Contact your state law makers before they vote on term limits for Congress. Go to termlimits.com/takeaction.
Speaker 6: USTL.