Philip Blumel: Ken Quinn gets a peek of the future, and it works. Hi, this is Philip Blumel. Welcome to No Uncertain Terms, the official podcast of the Term Limits Movement for the week of July 19th, 2021.
Stacey Selleck: Your sanctuary from partisan politics.
Philip Blumel: States, and before them, the colonies, have sent delegates to multi-state conventions to debate and propose new laws since before the Constitution was written, and this practice continues today. Last week, US Term Limits Regional Director, Ken Quinn, personally attended the annual meeting of the Uniform Law Commission, a multi-state convention created in 1892 for the purpose of proposing standardized laws across the states. The real world example of the ULC provides a clear glimpse of what a term limits convention would look like. So let’s debrief Ken about his experience. Hey, Ken.
Kenn Quinn: Hey, Phil.
Philip Blumel: Alright, so you just came back from Madison, Wisconsin, and I teased in the intro here that you had attended the annual meeting of an ongoing multi-state convention called the Uniform Law Commission, and in a way, it’s a preview of what a term limits convention would look like, I believe. Is that right? In what way?
Kenn Quinn: Yeah, so I was in Madison for a week, and this is an official convention of the states called the Uniform Law Commission, and I’m very interested in it. I became very interested back in 2016 because this body functions virtually identical to how our Article V convention to propose a congressional term limits amendment would work, and it’s similar in a few ways. So number one, the commissioners or the delegates, they’re appointed by the states, either by the legislature or the governor of each state. When they arrive, they present their credentials. It’s a limited convention which is determined by the Scope and Program Committee ahead of time, so it’s not an open convention. It’s limited to a pre-determined subject matter. Now, the difference is they’re not obviously proposing amendments to the Constitution. What they are doing is they are proposing uniform state laws to create uniformity amongst the states.
Philip Blumel: Right. So someone can do… Someone in Florida can do business with someone in Connecticut without having everything be different.
Kenn Quinn: Exactly, exactly.
Philip Blumel: Okay. Well, that’s very important.
Kenn Quinn: Oh, absolutely. They are sitting there together in their delegations by state, so all 50 states plus the territories are represented. And it’s one state, one vote, just like an Article V convention would function, and it’s passages by a simple majority. And then it even mirrors the ratification process. And what I mean by that is, once an act is passed by this conference, this convention, those commissioners bring it back to their state legislature to find a sponsor and have it adopted or ratified by the legislature to become state law.
Philip Blumel: Okay, so this convention is not actually changing any law, it just makes proposals. But these proposals are for legislation, for laws, that can be passed by the states rather than a constitutional amendment.
Kenn Quinn: Exactly, it’s just a proposed law.
Philip Blumel: So that’s probably… That’s gotta be the big difference. From what you’re telling me, the states all come together and they don’t all have to participate if they don’t want to, everyone is because it’s to everyone’s mutual benefit. And then you have subjects that are brought up that are decided on advance, you have committees set up from amongst all the delegates that were sent by the states, they hammer out these ideas, they have a vote, majority vote, passes an idea out of this convention, and then the states can consider it. I don’t see really any difference between this and the Article V process for amending the Constitution. That’s fascinating. What are differences? Well, actually one jumps out at me is that when the states ratify any laws that come out of this convention, they’re not ratifying it for everyone, only for themselves, isn’t that right?
Kenn Quinn: Correct. It’s only for their state.
Philip Blumel: Okay, so if a law comes out of the ULC and then, let’s say, it goes back to the state, and then if they want to enact it, they enact it like any other legislation.
Kenn Quinn: Exactly. And while I was out there, there was actually a meeting. Two of the Wisconsin commissioners, one who’s actually one of our pledge signers and co-sponsors of our term limits resolution, they were… Not debating, but discussing one of the model acts that came from a previous Uniform Law Commission convention to be adopted as law, so it has to deal with LLC law in the state. And so they had a meeting and it was just great to see how what came out of that convention is now being discussed and being considered by the legislature to be adopted as law.
Philip Blumel: I noticed that there’s a lot of laws that are on the books that start with the word “uniform”. Does that indicate that that came through this process?
Kenn Quinn: Yes, that’s an indication that it came out of the ULC.
Philip Blumel: Fascinating. So every state has these… Well, I guess most states have most of these on the books. They come out, they sort of agree on them in this convention, and they go back to the states and they argue over them, and many or most will probably pass this legislation. Fascinating. Now, with the Article V Convention, there’s a concern out there that somebody could bring up an idea that’s not appropriate for the convention. Let’s say someone wanted to bring up something from left field at the ULC, how would that occur? Could someone raise their hand and say, “Point, I’d like to make a motion that we discuss… ” I don’t know, something way off subject.
Kenn Quinn: No, that just simply cannot happen because these committees are set up ahead of time to specifically… If you consider more as a task force, it’s a specific meeting of a body of commissioners to deal with those particular issues that have been put on the agenda. And what’s different about the ULC is now, it takes two conventions before they can actually vote on any of these acts. So for instance, there were several that were introduced this year and discussed and they began working on, and then that will have to go through that same process through a second meeting of the Uniform Law Commission before they can even vote on it. So it’s a very drawn out process there, and there’s no chance that they can change the topic of the Model Act that that committee was called to address.
Philip Blumel: And indeed, we can say that in theory, but, of course, we have practice, because this is the 130th meeting of this ongoing convention. This process was launched way back in 1892. There’s a couple of years that they didn’t meet and there’s never been a problem of it being hijacked or someone trying to bring up subjects. Well, I don’t know about bringing up, but they didn’t successfully bring up any subjects that derailed the convention in all those years. The reason I bring this up is that some people who oppose term limits and some, that I guess, are just concerned about the Article V convention process, say that, well, I don’t know, in today’s political world, I’d worry about them opening up the constitution because somebody would bring up something crazy, but very much like the ULC under an Article V convention, the subject matters decided on beforehand, and all these delegates have sent from the States with instructions based on those particular instructions, and so very similar to the ULC, there’s really no process by which you could go from having to talk about uniform laws to have to talk about banning guns or something.
Kenn Quinn: No, it just cannot happen, and they determine it ahead of time what the purpose of the convention is called for, and they limit the discussion to that particular act or acts.[music]
Philip Blumel: Another one, biting the dust in Chicago. Chicago City Alderman Carrie Austin, representing the 34th Ward is the second longest serving member of the Chicago City Council. In early July, Austin pleaded not guilty to one count of bribery conspiracy, two counts of using interstate facilities to promote bribery and one count of lying to the FBI. Not surprisingly, Carrie Austin is also an opponent of term limits. Austin is the third sitting member of the Chicago City Council to be charged with federal crimes. In previous podcasts, we’ve highlighted the corruption of fellow term limits opponents Ed Burke of the 14th Ward and Patrick Daley Thompson of the 11th. Carrie Austin is accused of taking bribes in the form of home improvements, including new kitchen cabinets and granite countertops, and then she lied about it to the FBI. The indictment also names Austin’s Chief of Staff, Chester Wilson Junior as a part of that conspiracy. At the center of the plot line is a development firm that launched a $50 million project in the far south side of Chicago, which is part of Austin’s Ward. The project was eligible for $10 million from a local tax financing district, as well as from the so-called Aldermanic Menu, which is a quite legal fund of city moneys controlled by Austin, from which she can funnel money to subsidize infrastructure projects to politically connected firms in her Ward.
Philip Blumel: An example of the kind of projects that Austin can choose to fund is say, road surfacing in a key part of town. To entice Austin to move money in their direction the indictment charges that a developer offered $5250 in kitchen cabinets in June 2017 as a down payment. A month later, she accepted two brand new sump pumps and had a rep of the firm buy and install a new dehumidifier for her home as well. She also requested new bathroom tiles, she prefer “White or vain white tile,” the indictment notes. In October that year, the firm agreed to pay for a portion of a new heating and air conditioning system at Chief of Staff Chester Wilson’s property as well. Both Austin and Wilson got granite countertops in their homes. According to the indictment, and unnamed individual told Wilson, “You helped me a lot and I’ll help you.” And another quote, “I get what I want next week, it’s worth it.” Such is the state of politics in the third largest city in the United States. It’s notable that Chicago is the only city in the top 10 largest cities in the country without term limits. That’s the way Alderman Carrie Austin likes it. When new mayor Lori Lightfoot ran for office in 2019, she promised reforms such as term limits for committee chairmen and ending the Aldermanic prerogative that repeatedly lure Aldermen like Austin into trouble.
Philip Blumel: However, The Chicago Sun-Times identified Alderman Carrie Austin, the budget committee chair, not incidentally, and Alderman Anthony Beale, also not incidentally, the transportation committee chair, as two council members who are “Dead set against such reforms.” As with Aldermanic prerogative, the committee system in Chicago is another way that Aldermen can funnel money and even jobs to their supporters. Supporters of Lightfoot’s promised reforms see term limits as a way to increase transparency and discourage corrupt systems from emerging. Maybe Alderman Carrie Austin sees term limits as a way to root out corruption also, and that’s why she opposes them.[music]
Kenn Quinn: It gave me an insight to how an Article V convention would operate, and I use this today. Whenever I testify, I try to refer to this organization because when people have this unfounded fear of an Article V convention, it’s not based on reality or our experience, and most legislators are not even aware that they are voting on bills that have come out of a convention of the states.
Philip Blumel: No kidding.
Kenn Quinn: Yeah, yeah, and that’s what I try to educate them and say, “You are already participating in an official Convention of the states, you’re appointing them, and then you are considering the model acts that they pass.” And so that’s what I refer to as a way of nothing to fear. We’ve been doing it for over 100 years.
Philip Blumel: Yeah. Now that you mention that, that most are unaware, that really shows how comfortable the states are with this process and how steady it’s been. The fact that it hasn’t generated any sort of controversy or even that much interest, it’s doing its job, it’s pumping ideas back out to the states, individual legislators are taking it and proposing the legislation as their own basically, except maybe with the word uniform in it and then being considered by their states. That is fascinating, and I can totally picture how this would work with what we’re talking about with the Article V Amendment proposing convention, a place would chosen and states would send delegates, they’ll break up into committees, they’ll hammer out ideas, they’ll have an ultimate vote, one state one vote, as is the convention tradition in this country, and then we have a proposal. The Article V convention, just like ULC, of course, can’t make or change or abolish any law, they could only make suggestions, and then those suggestions will be considered by the states. It’d be really exciting and probably a lot less sleepy when the subject is Congressional term limits. That would be something that’s on TV every day, but the process, the rules, the procedures, the goals, they’ve been laid out and they’ve been tested over time.
Kenn Quinn: Not only tested, but they work extremely well. And so, it’s a great example of how the states can introduce reforms needed, obviously, the one we’re working on is Congressional term limits.
Philip Blumel: And to see this process work year after year really gives me faith that we’re on the right track, because we can’t really expect the Congress to pass term limits on itself, at least without some kind of major leverage, and to know that we don’t need Congress, that the states can pull together a convention like this, hammer out the proposal without Congress and send it back to the States for ratification without Congress. In a process that isn’t experimental, it’s one we deal with every year, that just gives me great confidence. Any other last comments you have about your experience at the ULC.
Kenn Quinn: Yeah. It’s a true example of federalism in action, isn’t it? Seeing the states come together to address these issues, and that’s how it all began back in the late 1800s to allow the states to really exercise your 10th Amendment rights and leave what was left to Congress to Congress, but all the other powers to the states and it’s a great exercise. We’re seeing it work. It still works today. We have plenty of hope, so don’t lose hope, we can do this, and we just gotta get it done now for our issue for term limits.
Philip Blumel: Great, the constitution still works.[music]
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.[music]
Stacey Selleck: Contact your state law makers before they vote on term limits for Congress. Go to termlimits.com/takeaction.
Speaker 4: USTL.