Nick Tomboulides: New York State is one of just 14 states, a minority of states that have no term limits for their governor. George Phillips is the executive director of the organization, Term Limit the New York Governor. He’s working on an amendment to the New York State constitution that would create term limits for the governor and other state-wide officials. It would apply eight is enough, which is the most universal and recognized term limit for statewide officials in New York. George, thank you for being on No Uncertain Terms.
George Phillips: Nick, thanks for having me on.
Nick Tomboulides: We’re really happy to have you on finally, glad we could organize this. When we think of the New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo is the first name that comes to mind. He won three terms, he was running for a fourth, resigned in disgrace, and I think a lot of people are familiar with some of his abuses of power, at least 11 instances of sexual harassment, but… Correct me if I’m wrong, that was really just the tip of a very large iceberg, right? What else can you tell us about Cuomo and corruption?
George Phillips: This has been a corrupt governorship, not just for Cuomo but other governors as well. We’ve constantly had an abuse of power. As we see with career politicians, New York State is not alone, but we seem to have our fair share here. We’ve had previous governors resign, comptrollers resign, attorney generals resign, speakers of the state assembly and state senate majority leaders wind up in prison. It’s about a corrupt, corrupt state. Term limits is a great way to counter the abuse of power here in New York.
George Phillips: My inspiration for starting this was years ago, I saw an article in the Rochester paper, and it was right before the 2018 election. It said, “How did Andrew Cuomo become the $100 million man?” So think about that for a governor, $100 million in campaign funds raised. How did he do this? Through the money, through state contracts. Legally, there’s no quid pro quo. Legally, the governor can’t say, “Hey, if you donate $40,000 to my campaign account, I’ll give you this state business, millions of dollars in contracts.” But that’s the way it’s been going, that’s the way things have been operating here in New York, and everyone under the sun that’s interested in state contracts has been pouring money into the Cuomo campaign, so $100 million right before his third reelection, before he resigned in disgrace, he was up to about an $18 million war chest, and as you’ve mentioned, eight is enough.
George Phillips: He was going on 16 years. Sixteen years. His dad did 12 years. Republican governor, Governor Pataki did 12 years. If you add those numbers up, that’s 40 years of three people being governor in our state, 16 years is way too long, 12 is way too long. So many abuses of power have happened.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah, and correct me if I’m wrong, but was there not a legal action brought against, I believe it was Cuomo’s closest aide, right? There was a fraud probe, bribery, bid rigging, no-show job, stuff like that, that the administration was giving out.
George Phillips: Well, we got the famous Buffalo Billion. There was an investigation years ago, supposedly a non-partisan investigation into the Cuomo administration, and the Governor had it shut down. There was nothing really to stop him, because so many of the politicians in Albany, so many of the special interests group said, “Oh, he’s the guy that’s in, and chances are he’s gonna be in for the next term as well. So we’ve gotta play nice with him.” His resignation has blown this issue open for us, because as you’ve said, as your chairman, Howie Rich, has said, this is an [0:03:52.7] ____ issue. Almost everyone agrees with term limits, and if you survey most politicians, they agree with term limits, but it’s the matter of getting it done.
George Phillips: Now that the king has gone, so to speak, now that Cuomo is out, everyone’s on a reform bandwagon. Oh, yes, it was sexual harassment. It’s horrible what happened to these women. It was an abuse of power. And as you alluded to in your introductory remarks, there’s been many other abuses of power in New York State. Term limits is the way to curtail that. And so we have a lot of people talking and we’re hoping that a powerful coalition will come out very soon to be pushing for term limits. The best advocate is always the people. We need the people of New York to be talking to their representatives about this, and I know many of them are listening to this program here, and I know many who are listening to this program have friends in New York. Almost everyone knows someone in New York. So we want to get the ball rolling. We want to close the gap here. Thirty-six states have term limits for Governor. We have been ranked, in some of the research that I work through with your group, we’ve been ranked as one of the most powerful governorships in the country.
George Phillips: The old saying in Albany is three men in the room, it’s the speaker of the assembly, the senate majority leader, and the governor. They control the wheels of power here. The Governor of New York with a massive bureaucracy, with a budget that’s twice the size of the state of Florida, we’re looking at going on $180 billion, before too long it will be $200 billion. And when you get the governor controlling that budget, controlling the jobs, thousands of thousands of jobs that are given out, and it’s an abuse of power. It’s not gonna stop until we get term limits. Term limits will be a huge victory for the people of New York and for the American people, because this is such a large state and one of the most important states that doesn’t have term limits yet.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah, and as you noted, there was a New York Times article several years ago, talking about the cauldron of corruption in New York state, how… I believe you guys had a record number of corruption accusations and convictions in a rather short period of time. We saw Sheldon Silver, I think he went to prison, Dean Skelos, the senate leader, and Andrew Cuomo is sort of just the next domino to fall in this string of corruption in New York, is he not?
George Phillips: Absolutely, and I alluded to others the average listener might not be familiar with, but we lost our most recent comptroller out of the state budget here. We lost the previous attorney general. Before Governor Cuomo, listeners would be familiar with certainly Eliot Spitzer. That was a scandal that terminated his governorship. The governor who took over after him, Governor Patterson. He had improprieties that forced him not to run, and that set the stage for Cuomo, so it’s just been scandal after scandal. Again, the scandals happen when politicians get in and think they’re invincible. It’s terrible what Andrew Cuomo said and did to these women, and I believe one of the reasons he did it is because he thought he was invincible, he thought he was gonna be in office, in power, and no one can touch him. No one wanted to go against the governor of New York until a few brave women stood up and then everything started to fall.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah, it’s that toxic cocktail of power and hubris, and the problem just tends to compound with more time in office, as we’ve observed. Let me ask you about this amendment specifically, ’cause we know it’s going to be eight years for the governor that you’re proposing, but you also mentioned that the other statewide elected officials are within the scope of the amendment, so who else would be included and why is it so important to include those offices as well as the chief executive?
George Phillips: I personally… I’m a term limit purist like yourselves, I’d love to have term limits for the legislature in New York here. We don’t know that’s it’s politically viable at this point, but for New York, there’s four statewide offices, it’s governor, it’s lieutenant governor, it’s attorney general, and it’s comptroller. And term limiting all of those, I think, would level the playing field and say, look, we’re term-limiting all statewide officials, and as you know, part of the reason that legislatures want to initiate term limits for executives is it opens the door for them a little bit. Okay, hey, I’m an ambitious young state senator or assembly person, I’m thinking about governor, maybe I’m not thinking more governor, maybe I’m thinking about comptroller or attorney general, so that opens the door.
George Phillips: One, we think it’s the right thing to do. We think that major offices should be term limited in this state, and in this country, but secondly, I think it gives us some more viability. Yes, governor is the high profile one, but as I mentioned, we had an attorney general leaving scandal, we had a comptroller leaving scandal, and it helps keep them honest and accountable for the people of New York and for the American people.
Scott Tillman: Hi, this is Scott Tillman, the national field director with US Term Limits. We’re over a year out, but candidates have already been signing up to run for office. Next November, we’re going to elect people to fill 435 US House seats and over 30 US Senate seats. There’ll be several thousand people running, and we’ve already had 150 Congressional candidates sign the pledge for term limits amendment. We’re also working state by state to pass resolutions for a term limits amendment convention.
Scott Tillman: There are over 7000 state legislative seats in the 50 states, and over 6000 of those will be up for election in November 2022. One hundred and sixteen new candidates have signed this pledge: 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. There will be over 10,000 candidates in these races, and we need your help to get them to sign the pledge. Follow us on Facebook to see the new signers and to get other term limits news. And connect with me, Scott Tillman, at S-T-I-L-L-M-A-N@termlimits.com, that’s STillman@termlimits.com to help with pledges in your state. Act today to help us term limit Congress.
Nick Tomboulides: The fact that you have chosen to include the governor and other state-wide officials, but not the legislature, to me, that really underscores the seriousness and the credibility of your proposal. When you looked at this, you said, Look, it’s not as if the chickens are gonna vote for Colonel Sanders; to a lot of people, it would come off as impractical if you were asking the legislature to term limit themselves, but instead you have harnessed their ambitions. They all want to be governor, they all want to be AG some day, and they’re blocked by these prehistoric incumbents. You have harnessed those ambitions and channeled them in the right direction to get something, to get a proposal that might be not just good policy, but politically practical.
George Phillips: Absolutely, and for term limits junkies like a lot listening to this show, we have a rich history of term limits here in New York. Over 20 years ago, over 25 years ago, there was a big push for term limits in New York, and as some of your listeners might know, we’ve got term limits in New York City, a city of 8 million people. We have term limits in other cities that listeners would know about, like Syracuse, Utica, Binghamton. We have term limits in major counties, including Westchester County, just out of New York City, Ulster County, another big county near New York City. Suffolk County, one of our big counties in Long Island. These are term limits that are supported by Republicans and Democrats alike, so if we could do it throughout the state, we can do it for the most important office in the state at a critical time when everyone is talking about reform, reform, reform and cleaning up corruption. This is the perfect time for term limits for the New York governor and for these other statewide officials.
Nick Tomboulides: Sure, and all the evidence that we have shows that the enthusiasm for term limits in New York state has never waned. We’ve got the polls showing that four out of five New Yorkers strongly support this, we’ve got the referendum that was held in New York City just a couple of years ago to slap eight-year term limits on all of the community boards, so obviously the Eight is Enough model is still proving very popular, it’s become… Become the model for the country, really, and that’s obviously, 35 of 36 governors have an eight-year term limit. Only one has a different term limit, and that’s Virginia, which is shorter. No governor gets to serve longer than eight years in those 36 states that have term limits. So George, could you briefly explain what is the process for actually getting this amendment done, getting an amendment to the New York State constitution to term limit statewide officials. Politically, legally, what has to be done so that the citizens can vote on this?
George Phillips: We have to have legislation passed in two consecutive legislative sessions of separately elected legislatures. So viewers might remember the last elections were 2020, we have two-year terms from our senate and assembly. That means before the next election our goal is to get term limits passed for the first time, so ideally it would be in 2022, our legislature’s out of session now, they’ll go back in in January till June. So from January until June, we desperately need to get term limits passed. If we do that there is gonna be another election, obviously, in November, the new legislature will take office in January 2023.
George Phillips: Then we would get the same legislation passed again, that would give us a ballot initiative for the voters to vote on in November of 2023, which it seems like it’s a while off, but time goes by rather quickly here, and that means our goal is in two years, we get this ballot initiative passed, we know it’s gonna pass overwhelmingly. We know this is an [0:14:02.9] ____ issue. The issue is just getting the people of New York to get pressure on their elected officials and to raise this issue so we can get legislation passed that would make this a reality for us.
S?: This is a public service announcement.
Philip Blumel: Mark Meckler is President of the Convention of States Action, an organization dedicated to using the convention process outlined in Article V of the US Constitution to amend the Constitution and reinvigorate federalism and pare back the power of the federal government. Among the specific reforms his group espouses is term limits on both the US Congress and the Supreme Court. In a recent address to the Young America’s Foundation, Meckler shares some rarely heard historical insights about Article V.
Mark Meckler: So how do we get back to federalism? There is a way back to federalism, the Founders gave it to us, they put it in the United States Constitution for us. Most people aren’t aware of this. Article V of the Constitution gives us a way to go back to federalism. The first clause of Article V tells us how we amend the Constitution, the way Congress has done it. Congress proposes an amendment, it takes two-thirds of either, or sorry, both Houses to propose an amendment, and then that amendment goes out for ratification by three quarters of the states, that’s the way we’ve gotten all 27 Amendments. But they also put in there an Easter egg, something that we would find in time of need, and that Easter egg is the second clause of Article V, and it says that the states can call a convention for proposing amendments, and specifically, they put it in there for a time when the federal government becomes a tyranny.
Mark Meckler: Anybody in here think the federal government’s a tyranny today? Yeah, federal government is a tyranny. By the way, 72% of Americans say the federal government’s too big and does too much. So the Founders put it in there for a time just like this, and they said, there’s gonna come a time and we’re gonna count on you the people acting through your state legislatures to call a convention to limit federal power, to take power away from the federal government and give it back to the people.
Mark Meckler: September 15th, in my opinion, is the most important day in American history. The reason I say September 15th, it’s my wife’s birthday. I get in big trouble if I forget that. But it is also what I call Article V Day. This is the day, two days before the end of convention, Colonel George Mason from Virginia stands up, he addresses the assembly and he says this: We have made a terrible mistake in this document, it’s two days before the end of convention, they’re probably tired, ready to go home. He talked the second most of anybody there, they’re probably sick and tired… And their, “Mason, again, please.” And he says: We have made a terrible mistake, we’ve given the power to the federal government to propose amendments, but we’ve not given that same power to the people acting through the states.
Mark Meckler: And it’s incredible what Mason’s notes reflect at this point. Or Madison’s notes, they say: Nin com. That’s shortened Latin for no comment, nobody debates, these guys debated everything, they debated how to debate, and yet there is not a single debate about this idea that Mason has just proposed that they need to give the states this power. And in fact, if you look at the voting record, they vote unanimously to give you the power to call a convention to propose amendments to restrain federal tyranny. It’s the only thing I’m aware of where there’s no debate and it is unanimously inserted into the Constitution, and we have that power. It’s now been over 230 years, we’ve never exercised that power, but we can and we must. That’s where we’re at today.
Nick Tomboulides: As we know from looking at the polling, term limits is not a left issue or a right issue, it’s an American issue. New York happens to be a democratically controlled state with a democratically controlled legislature. What are you doing as the leader of this group to make sure that Democrats, Republicans, New Yorkers from all political stripes have a seat at this table to help this effort succeed?
George Phillips: Yeah, certainly, we’re talking to key players, we’re talking to key interest groups. I know a lot of times when people hear interest group, they think, Oh, these are groups who would be against term limits, like lobbyists that are trying to get their piece of the pie here, but there’s a number of good government groups in New York state. On the right, there’s Empire Center; on the left, there’s a group called NYPIRG. These groups are focusing on, for years, good government ethics reform, so we’ve been talking to them and saying, let’s make this a major issue here, this is the time for it, and everyone’s realizing not only is this is the time, time is long past for this, but this is the opportunity, this is the moment, because we have Andrew Cuomo leaving office, it’s a new game in town.
George Phillips: So politically, you have a lieutenant governor taking over, now Governor Hochul, and she may be the Democrat nominee next time, there’s Republicans running very hard on term limit issues. Lee Zeldin, Congressman from Long Island, and Rob Astorino, former Westchester County Executive, they’re running very hard on this issue. What will the Democrats be doing at it? At the end of the day the candidates are important, but we need the pressure, we need the action on the legislature, but the fact that we have people talking about this, we have other Democrats thinking of running for governor, and there may be a primary. And if you have a lot of candidates talking about term limits, that’s when it becomes a reality.
George Phillips: We’d like to get the ball going before the next election, but just think about it, if we have all the candidates for governor talking about term limits, what’s going to happen in January 2023? We’re gonna have a great chance for success. So the future is now, we want to get this done now, we want to get this done in the next legislative session, but it’s a great opportunity for New York and for term limit lovers who are listening to this, for people who love this country and want to see corruption cleaned out. We’ve got a great opportunity here in New York.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah, and you are already generating a lot of buzz, I know you’re very active on social media, I know your account followed me on Twitter, I saw that the other day. I’m sure the people who are listening would love to know, particularly those who are based in New York, which is a big portion of our audience, what can they do to help you? You mentioned that part of this is mobilizing, contacting legislators. How specifically can they get involved? Do you have a website? Where can they sign up to be a part of this?
George Phillips: Well, they should come by our website, it’s a termlimitthenygov.org, so again, that’s termlimitthenygov.org. They could see more information, some of the arguments we’ve discussed on this program, we do have a petition for citizens to shut sign, but what we’re looking at is actually to follow the US term limit model and have a pledge for legislators, we’re looking at some allies who have worked on this issue, and… ‘Cause that could be effective. I know it’s been extremely effective for US term limits that you have many, many, many members of Congress sign on a term limit pledge, you have a great success in states through Article V Convention of the states with the pledge.
George Phillips: So I would like to have a pledge here and just start counting numbers. Everyone says they’re for term limits, but step forward, are you for term limits or not? Sign this pledge, and then we count the numbers and… It’s not that hard. It’s even easier than the US Congress. Most of you listening might know there’s 435 members in the House. You need 218 for a passage here. In the New York state assembly, there’s 150, and so we would need just 76 members for a majority there. In the New York State senate there’s 63, so 32 is a majority. Those are real numbers that again, if we were able to get everyone on the record on this, yeah, they’re gonna be for term limits.
George Phillips: The pledge says, Look, you’ve publicly signed something on this. It puts them on the record, so we’re hopeful. Again, we’re trying to talk with allies and see if they think this is the best approach because… And again, they are the people that are elected to represent us, we need them to carry the water, we need them to actually introduce the legislation and work to get it passed, but we’ll be doing everything we can to make this a reality for the taxpayers of New York.
Nick Tomboulides: That is fantastic. As you know, US Term Limits is behind you 100%, you guys are doing the Lord’s work on this. We will be following your progress and helping as much as we possibly can, we will be activating our volunteers and supporters to be a part of this as well. And George, I just wanted to thank you for coming on the program.
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.
Philip Blumel: 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: The revolution isn’t being televised. Fortunately, you have the No Uncertain Terms podcast.