Philip Blumel: Governors 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 June 28, 2021.
Stacey Selleck: Your sanctuary from partisan politics.
Philip Blumel: In 2017, the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, held a Town Hall Forum on term limits. After some panels, sharing the marquee was Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, a Democrat, and then Congress member Ron DeSantis, now a Republican Governor of Florida. Since then, Governor DeSantis has risen to some national prominence, and it’s worth looking back at this important and persuasive bipartisan event at the birthplace of the US Constitution. US term limits, Executive Director, Nick Tomboulides and I will return next week with our usual term limits news round-up and banter.
Jeff: Ladies and gentleman, welcome back to the concluding key note conversation of this really fascinating evening. We are so lucky to have joining representative DeSantis, Governor Ed Rendell.
Jeff: The Governor, as all of us know him here, is, first of all, a dear friend of, and the Vice Chair of the National Constitution Center, the founding father of the NCC. Without him, this incredible institution would not have been created. I want you to give him a round of applause for that.
Jeff: And in addition to that great gift that he gave to the nation, he is one of the America’s most astute political observers, commentators, successful politicians, and in a really dramatic twist, he moved from once opposing term limits to coming to support them, so Gov lets begin. What, you gonna applaud that as well? Governor, Why did you change your mind?
Ed Rendell: Well, first, let me begin by complementing all of you for being here. When I spoke to Vince Tango and he said, “We have a packed house.” I said, “That’s amazing, given the weather and how cold it is, and the winds.” And then he said, “Well, people pre-paid.” Which made you all a little bit less noble, all of you. Well, for most of my political career and for Congress and the Senate, so I’ve held elective office for 24 years. Eight years as DA, not term limited, I could have continued. Eight years as Mayor, term limited and eight years as Governor, term limited. And for most of my 24 years, I absolutely supported term limits for executives, ’cause I just think you run out of steam, you run out of ideas, it’s too much of a burden almost physically to do it. And I think it’s good to have someone come in with a new outlook every eight years in an executive position. But I always believed that the institutional knowledge of having people in a legislative body for 14, 16, 18 years was good and it was important. And I was against it, and my theory was, look, we do have term limits, the voters.
Ed Rendell: But as all the things that have occurred in the country for so long for the last couple of decades, but my experience as Governor was what convinced me we needed term limits. First in Harrisburg. When I came in to office, as you recall, I proposed the second biggest tax increase in the state’s history. I did so because we had a $2.4 Billion deficit that I inherited from the Republican predecessor, and I wanted to put a half a billion dollars into early childhood education. We were one of only nine states that didn’t give a nickel to early childhood education. We had a bitter budget battle that lasted till December 21st. I had Democrats come up to me and said,”Governor, I know we need this money for education, but I’m two years away from my pension.” I heard the Congressman talking about getting rid of pensions. Absolutely. Let’s, if we do nothing else, let’s get rid of pensions. Because there are people out there who literally hang on until they’re qualified for their pensions. I don’t believe it’s polarization alone that’s killing the country, although it’s part of it, it’s the fact that we are, as I wrote in 2012 in a book, which not enough of you bought, we have become a nation of wusses and our leaders have lost the guts to make us great. And that’s true in Springfield. It’s true in Albany. It’s true in Harrisburg. And it is doubly true in Washington.
Jeff: Wow. Congressman, do you agree that we’ve become a nation of wusses and then tell us how… In fact let me start with that, what’s your response to that?
Ron DeSantis: Well, look, that’s a great story, one, it’s just great to have somebody like Governor Rendell here who’s done so much at very different levels. You have a great city here, great state, and to have him enlisted in the cause that means a lot, and I think it’s great. But I was really taken aback when he was talking about the budget fight, where guys are coming up and it’s about their pension and that to me, is just like clenching my fists when I hear that, because that is not what serving the people is all about. And when I got elected, I told the folks with the pension I was gonna decline it, not because that is gonna make a difference in the debt, it’s not, but it was a symbol to my voters that I was going in with their interests in mind, and I was not doing it to benefit myself. I could have done other things to do that. And people still come up to me today, they really appreciate that you are able to do that.
Ron DeSantis: So, we have incentives like that in Washington. You also have some incentives that are, to me, much more benign. I mean, if you come in, and you really wanna do good things, you get elected to the Congress, what do people tell ya? “Well, you just gotta wait in line. You got guys that are way more senior to you. Don’t rock the boat, don’t get out of step with anybody, just kinda keep your head down and raise money for people, play the game, and that’s how you advance.” And so if you don’t like the way Washington works you’re in a conundrum, because you have to play the game in order to eventually advance in the game. And as a military guy, it’s frustrating, with so much being based on seniority, because in the military your rank is determined by merit. I could be somebody who is a Navy captain in ’06, and maybe somebody is a commander, one rank below me, but they’ve been in for six years longer than me. Guess what? I’m the superior officer, because I’ve earned it. It’s not just because I’ve hung around a long time. Unfortunately, in Washington those are the incentives.
Ron DeSantis: And so I think if you had term limits you would get people from a wider variety of parts of American life, not necessarily people who are dedicated to be in politics for 40 years. And some of the people who’ve been in for 40 years have done a good job, many have not, but the key is, is why don’t we get people who come and wanna just be in it for like six years? It’s really not worth it right now to be in the House if you only wanna dedicate six or eight years to being in the House of Representatives, ’cause you’re never gonna be able to chair a committee, you’re not gonna be in the leadership, you’re gonna kinda be one cog in the machine, very difficult to have any individuality. So I think term limits helps the incentives that we face now in Washington. And as much of a supporter as I am, I’m not gonna say that this is a panacea for everything, but I think it would help get us in a better direction going forward.
Ed Rendell: And Jeff, can I just jump in real quick? The average term of service of Committee Chairs in the House is 27 years. That means that they started when Lyndon Johnson was President.
Jeff: Wow. Well, then so say more about that, because Governor, the Congressman says Democrats should favor term limits ’cause it’ll give ’em chairmanships more quickly. What is the politics of term limits among Democrats? How much bipartisan support does this have?
Ed Rendell: It’s usually viewed as more of a Republican issue emanating from the Contract for America, where many people who got elected that year lived up to it. They voluntarily stepped down. Many people, unfortunately, didn’t. It’s not a commentary under people who were elected in…
Ed Rendell: In 2004, and 1994. Then the Tea Party took up the issue and the [0:09:00.0] ____, so it’s mostly viewed as a issue that comes from the Right, or a Republican issue. Democrats, we don’t have… And I heard the Congressman speaking about the term limits for Chairs that the Republicans put in. It’s a good idea. We don’t have it, and as a result our Chairs are really old, and…
Ed Rendell: I guess I shouldn’t be talking about really old, but they’re really old, and there isn’t the movement that the Congressman said, which is I think an important thing. You go to any business and say to young people going in, “You have to wait 20 years before you’re gonna have a decision-making role in the business,” they’re gone. They’re gone. And so I think Democrats have been more reluctant to get on this issue than Republicans have, but I think you’ll find, interestingly, Democrats who served in executive positions in the State government will be more in favor of term limits, because they’ve seen what happens in Harrisburg, in Springfield, in Sacramento.
Jeff: Congressman, more about the mechanics of running for office, the kind of money you have to raise, and how term limits would make the incentives better.
Ron DeSantis: You often hear people say against term limits, “Hey, vote ’em out. You have the choice. Every election’s a term limit.” And in theory that’s 100% correct, in practice it’s not true at all. And the reason is in order to run for office right now you have to do it in the context of a system that’s been designed by incumbents to benefit incumbents. And so take for me, and for example, I ran for Congress in 2012, I had never run for office in my life, I was not… I don’t have a famous name or anything like that, I’m not wealthy enough to fund my campaign. Guys like me, in my freshman class, there were like a handful of us who went from just a private citizen to Congress without having been elected to anything before, have the family name, famous name, or have your own money that you can spend. The reason is, is because it’s very difficult when districts have 700,000 people to get known by the voters. It costs money to do it. It takes a lot of time and effort to do it.
Ron DeSantis: Maybe in Congress you can do a lot of grassroots. I did where you knock on the doors, in a primary, but even that is not gonna get you. You have to be able to raise enough money to get your name out there, so that people know who you are, and then, obviously, know who you stand for. And when you’re in a country where regardless of how you even draw the districts most of the districts are gonna go one party or the other, your only hope is to do that, to defeat an incumbent in a party primary, well, guess what? All the donors who typically give to candidates, they usually are never gonna go against an incumbent, certainly none of the people in the influence industry, but even people back in the district, some business guy that just… Not that they want anything, but maybe if they have an issue with an agency they can kinda call a Congressman or something, they’re not gonna wanna give against.
Ron DeSantis: So the barriers to entry are very high the way we’re doing it. It’s difficult to get known if you’re not already known. And I think of my freshman class, I don’t know, we had 30 members who came in new in 2012. I would say the overwhelming, overwhelming majority were either people who had held elective office and developed kind of a network, people who had famous names, or legacies. I think Joe Kennedy was in my class, or people that just funded their own campaign, they didn’t have to worry about it. And I’m not saying that those folks have done a bad job. Many of them have done a good job, but that, if you limit it to those people, that is a very, very small segment of American society that really has a functional opportunity to run for something like the United States Congress.
Kenn Quinn: Hi, this is Kenn Quinn, Regional Director, at US term limits. In today’s Article V in a flash segment. I just wanna ask you a question, take a guess how many amendments have been introduced by Congress since 1789? I think you’re gonna find the answer quite surprising. I’m gonna give you a few hints. There are currently 27 amendments that have been added to our Constitution, that means they were ratified by the 3/4 of the states needed, there are actually six amendments that were proposed by Congress that were never ratified in our history. Now, in order for Congress to propose an amendment, it requires 2/3 of both Houses to basically pass the amendment and then send it out for ratification. Now, I wanna ask you, how many had just been simply introduced, meaning they didn’t get the 2/3 needed, but someone in Congress introduced a reform as an amendment that they would like to see added to the Constitution. Maybe 100. Would you guess 100 amendments? Well, it’s a little bit higher than that. How about 1,000? That seems like quite a few. Doesn’t it? No, it’s more than that. Okay, 10,000. Actually, the answer is over 12,000 amendments have been introduced by Congress since 1789. In fact, this year alone in this Congress, I checked recently, there’s over 40 amendments that have been introduced by a member of Congress.
Kenn Quinn: Now, many of these are great reforms that our country needs, unfortunately Congress cannot get its act together to pass it by the 2/3 needed, so the states could then have an opportunity to ratify. That’s what we’re trying to do at US term limits. We are working on a congressional term limits amendment, but we’re not gonna depend on Congress to do it, we want the state legislatures to do it so that we can finally get this done on behalf of the American people. To learn more, please visit termlimits.com/debunkingmyths. There, you can find more flash cards relating to either the Article V convention or congressional term limits. Thank you.
Jeff: Governor, what about this claim that term limits would reduce the role of money in politics? I just moderated a fascinating seminar of state elected officials, and they said that you had to be a millionaire to be elected Governor of say Tennessee, you couldn’t be known otherwise, would term limits help that question, and are there other things that could reduce the role of money in politics?
Ed Rendell: There are plenty other things that could reduce the role of money. I’ll say one thing on a federal level, we should pass a law, and I think down deep everyone would be in favor of this perspectively, they wouldn’t be in favor for their own election, but form a… Perspectively. No one who was a registered lobbyist in Washington can give or raise money for a Congressman or a Senator, bingo, that changes the whole dynamic, it changes the whole dynamic, and it makes sense. Let the lobbyists earn their money by the cogency of their arguments, and by the way, the best lobbyist in Harrisburg, even as Governor, I would talk to a lobbyist, I’d give them an audience. The best lobbyists in Harrisburg were the ones that did the most research, that had the best arguments, they’re the ones who maybe didn’t get me to change my mind, but got me to modify stuff, and that’s a rule that ought to be passed for the good of everyone, for the good of everyone. And that would also diminish the power of incumbency, because incumbents raise their money from lobbyist, to the greatest degree, I mean, isn’t it true that there’s a Monday through Thursday when the House is in session and the Senate in session, there’s at least one fundraiser on virtually every night.
Ron DeSantis: Oh I mean, I would… Not necessarily for each individual member, but there’s constantly… There’s a Republicans and Democrats both have built clubs right off campus, ’cause you can’t do it in a federal building, so there’s constantly coffees, lunches, things that are going on in both of those. And yes, when you’re in Washington, you’re raising money from within people who have interests before the Congress, it’s not as true when you get into your district, to be honest with you, I mean, the vast majority… I ran for the Senate, I was trying to run for the Senate, ’cause Senator Rubio said he wasn’t gonna run for re-election, 100 times changed his mind, so I ran. So I had to go and raise money, and when they did, who what industry’s giving to Ron DeSantis, my number one industry, by far, was retired, so these are people that were retired, ’cause it’s a different ball game in your state or in your district, by and large, compared to Washington. So I do think that there’s a lot of truth to just how the inside Washington… And I’ll tell you, if you look at people who do a good job, I think on both sides of the aisle, the people who raise a higher percentage of their campaign money from regular citizens, vis-a-vis the Washington, tend to be people who I think are doing a better job on both sides of the aisle.
Ed Rendell: The way I would try to do it, and I’m not involved in the movement, although I’m gonna tell Congressman DeSantis, if he needs me to speak out at any forum, I’m happy to do it. But the way I would do it is go to Congress, and someone made the point at the end, it has to be a front burner issue for the public, but if enough people go to Congress and say we want this, and then tell the Congress, you can grandfather everybody. Grandfather, everybody that’s here right now, the day it passes, grandfather them, and then you get Congress to pass it.
Ron DeSantis: We’ve actually… I’ve worked with US term limits and Howie Rich, we developed that last Congress, and the idea is, is people will say, “Well, why would they kick themselves out of office,” and it’s not just kind of in pure self-interest, I mean some of these guys have been working for 8-10 years there, maybe they’re in line to be a chairman or something, they’ve put in a lot of time to be able to do stuff. I can understand why they wouldn’t wanna vote for something that’s gonna short circuit everything they’ve worked for, so if you tell them, if your grandfather-ing in saying, “Look, you joined under different rules, we’re gonna put term limits in and then when new people come in, it’s gonna apply to them.” Then they have the situation where their own personal self-interests of advancing in the Congress whether there are good self-interest, bad self interest, whatever, and the voters interest and overwhelmingly support that. Well, there’s no longer a conflict there, so I think grand-fathering is probably the one way where it is plausible to get it through the Congress, and even though I support doing the convention route, if we can do it through the Congress, that’s been tried and true. Let’s go ahead and do it. And a compromise like that to me, I’d be all in favor of.
Jeff: But why do you think that the states should be able to impose term limits and basically why term limits are a good idea?
Ed Rendell: Term limits for themselves? Of course they can’t.
Jeff: No on Congress.
Ed Rendell: For Congress?
Jeff: Yeah for Congress. Why is that a good idea? Make something up. Make the case to the audience.
Ed Rendell: Well, I actually don’t care how it happens. I think we need to make it happen. And whether the states can do it, or whether the Congress can do it, or whether it’s a constitutional convention, I think the issue transcends the process. Sometimes the process is important. To be honest Jeff, I don’t know the legalities of the decision enough to comment on it, but you can say the states are closer to the people than the Congress is. And to some extent that’s true. The smaller a government is, the closer it is to the public. If you’re a Congressman, you represent how many people now? 787?
Ron DeSantis: 700,000.
Ed Rendell: When you’re a state legislator, you represent maybe 150,000, so you tend to be a little closer and have a little bit more dialogue, so that’s probably the reason it would be good to start in the States. But look, get away from the process and think about the substance. Sometimes, often in American politics, we get caught up in the process so much that we forget about the substance. And, keep our eye on the ball with substance here. It will serve as well to have term limits. It will help a little bit on the polarization, help a little bit diminish the influence of money, and help an awful lot in courage. I mean, those guys who came to me with their pension and said, “I know the kids need the money for education.” They almost had tears in their eyes. And I just felt like grabbing them by the lapels and saying, “Man up. First of all, you’re not gonna lose. You’re not gonna lose.” And they didn’t. But, man up and do it. I had to get the necessary votes for my tax increase.
Ed Rendell: I had to give the 18 Republicans in the House who put us over the top, I had to give them letters saying that I wouldn’t campaign against them, and if their democratic opponent or primary opponent campaigned against them for voting for the income tax increase, that I would campaign for them or I would write a letter for them, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. We’ve gotta make this work again, and I believe term limits is an important facet in getting our government to be more responsive. I think I heard Congressman DeSantis say, in his summation in the prior panel, “Look, they’ve gotta be thinking about what’s right for all of you, not what’s right for them.”
Jeff: Beautiful. Alright, Congressman. You get definitely…
Jeff: Applause for the Governor. Congressman, you get the last word. I’m gonna take the process issue out and ask you to make the case for the audience for why you think that Congress should propose a term limits amendment.
Ron DeSantis: There’s one argument that hasn’t necessarily been brought up, but sometimes it’s argued against term limits, that we have all this expertise and then if we don’t do it, no one’s gonna know what’s going on and look, there’s some members who have been very knowledgeable that I’ve seen, don’t get me wrong. And this is not a broadside against all of them, but Congress isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire right now. We have 320 million people in this country. We got people that are very talented, and there’s not one person walking the halls of that Congress that is indispensable, not even close.
Ron DeSantis: And it’s kind of fitting that we’re here in Philadelphia because the one guy who presided, George Washington, over the convention, obviously the first president, well first he surrendered his sword as the commanding general after we won the Revolution. Earth shattering thing to give up power like that, and then he walked away from the presidency after two terms and set this precedent, and it was a very important precedent because Washington, if anyone was indispensable, he was indispensable and he said, “You know what, no? We’ll have a new president and the Republic is gonna endure because it’s a government of laws, not a government of men.” And I think that that kind of spirit, we’re much more likely to get a return to that if we have term limits. If it’s not a 20, 30, 40-year vocation where, yes, you’re in touch with the people, ’cause you do gotta get re-elected a couple of times, but your whole life is not consumed with how to position yourself to be in Washington for your whole adult life.
Ed Rendell: Great job.
Ron DeSantis: Thank you. Yeah.
Ed Rendell: Good luck.
Ron DeSantis: That was good.
Ed Rendell: Yeah, good luck.
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 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’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: Contact your state law makers before they vote on term limits for Congress. Go to termlimits.com/takeaction.