THIS WEEK IS A REPEAT EPISODE WITH AN EXTRA SEGMENT
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.
Stacey Selleck: Your sanctuary from partisan politics.
Philip Blumel: Citizens tell pollsters that they want to limit members of the US House to six years. Politicians often call for 12 years when they see term limits legislation as inevitable. Who is right? A recent anecdote from a central Texas school board shed 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.
Philip Blumel: Nick came across an article in the San Marcos Daily Record recently. It was a story about a school board trustee named John McLoughlin in San Marcos, Texas, who was first elected in 2015, to an at-large position on the school board, and then he was re-elected to his 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, this is John McLoughlin 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. Clearly, he wasn’t in office long enough to speak out both sides of his mouth.
Philip Blumel: But it’s also, it brings up something that many people in professional life recognize, and a lot of times, there are term limits on private, non-profit boards, for instance, that are of a short length for that exact same reason. When you get on to 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. 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.
Philip Blumel: 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.
Philip Blumel: And the results we get, such as in this 2019 poll by McLaughlin & 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. 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.
Philip Blumel: 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. 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.
Speaker 3: This is a public service announcement.
Philip Blumel: Always the optimist, Nobel Prize winning economist, Milton Friedman, in the early 1990s, shared an upbeat message on political reform. This forgotten interview was recently unearthed and posted on YouTube by Achievement TV in the UK.
Milton Friedman: The people no longer run the government. The government has become a self-generating monstrosity. We don’t have a government of the people, by the people, for the people, we have government of the people, by the bureaucracy, for the bureaucracy. And by “the bureaucracy,” I include members of Congress, because being a member of Congress has become a lifetime career. Incumbents, it’s very difficult to displace them. In order to change that, in order to follow the rest of the world and move in the direction that we ourselves pioneered, toward a greater role for free markets and for individuals, we need to change the incentives under which our government operates. In my opinion, the most promising movement at the moment, to produce such a change, is the term limits movement, which has been moving like wildfire. State after state has passed the term limit amendment for its constitution. I’m very optimistic about the long run because I think the public at large, recognizes what’s wrong. The people know the government is too big and needs to be cut down, and sooner or later, the people are gonna have their say.
Philip Blumel: We see the six versus 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. 12 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.
Philip Blumel: Another consideration is one that comes to us from our founding fathers. 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. 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, versus, 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.
Philip Blumel: Let me make one last point. It’s fair to call 12-year term limits “the politician’s 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 that 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. 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.
Philip Blumel: 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 they’re 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.”
Scott Tillman: 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, the people who’re 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, “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’d 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 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.
Stacey Selleck: Find us on most social media, @USTermLimits. Like us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram, and now, TikTok.
Speaker 7: USTL.