Philip Blumel: Back to the future.
Philip Blumel: In the 1990s, when state after state, or at least those with the initiative process, imposed term limits on their state legislatures and attempted to impose them on Congress, too, some term limits supporters made some bold predictions about their effects. How do they hold up today? Hi, I am Philip Blumel, welcome to “No Uncertain Terms”, the official podcast of the term limits movement for the week of October 4th, 2021. Some of the winning arguments for term limits aren’t really arguable. I mean, of course, term limits spur rotation in office. No one would ever dispute this, it’s definitional. That’s what a term limit is, they prevent a long-term incumbent from running again, which will necessarily bring in a new member of the legislature. Voila. You have heard term limits supporters argue that this rotation would bring in new faces and ideas.
Philip Blumel: Again, how could it be otherwise? The old face is out of here. Of course, we saw new faces and ideas enter the legislatures that adopted term limits. They tended to be younger, too, and of course, since they left, they’re replaced by other people that had new ideas and also tended to be younger. Back in the day, term limits supporters claim that term limits would create more access to public office for citizens. Well, yes, in every seat in the legislature where there’s term limits, there’s going to be an open seat every six or eight years, whatever the specified term limit is. That open seat gives challengers an opportunity to run they wouldn’t have had otherwise.
Philip Blumel: In all of my years of battling for term limits, I’ve never heard an opponent claim that term limits impede citizen participation, not once. Of course, the term limits supporters were right. The overwhelming support of the people in all parties for term limits is partly due to the fact that the primary arguments for term Limits are so simple, and they’re so easily verifiable. But not all the predictions of term limits supporters fall into that category. After this break, let’s discuss one that was very important in inspiring me to take up this cause, but one which generated a lot of debate at the time and still does.
Speaker 2: This is a public service announcement.
Philip Blumel: Is there an autocratic wave sweeping across the globe? Julia Leininger and Daniel Nowack of the German Development Institute in Bonn believe so, and they’re seeking ways to bolster democracy. One bulwark against autocratic rule is presidential term limits, an institution under attack in Russia, China and parts of Africa and South America. The duo author to briefing paper in favor of the use of presidential term limits to keep executive power in check. To read it, go to the English version of the German Development Institute website and type “term limits” in the search box. Daniel Nowack floated a YouTube video last week promoting their research.
Daniel Nowack: In recent years and throughout the world, we see that autocratization is surging. We see that more and more countries are autocratizing, and this is why democracy support and democracy promotion has an important play to role. Its important role is to protect democracy and democratic achievements throughout the world, and we were especially interested in one aspect of autocratization, and this was the circumvention and abolishment of presidential term limits from the constitution of countries.
Daniel Nowack: Presidential term limits define how long and how often someone can be a President in a country, and we see that throughout the world one part of autocratization is that presidential term limits are scrapped from the constitution and democracy support can play an important role here.
Daniel Nowack: In a quantitive analysis, we found that democracy support reduces substantially and significantly the risk for the circumvention of presidential term limits.
Daniel Nowack: In two accompanying case studies, we also found that it is particularly important to use both, ad hoc measurements, like diplomatic interventions, with the support of civil society actors and the long-term protection of the civic space.
Philip Blumel: In 1998, the Cato Institute in Washington, DC published a study called “Term Limits and the Republican Congress: The Case Strengthens”. The author of the study predicted that term limits would improve representation and restrain the growth of government spending. Now, think about that. Aaron Steelman was his name. He posited that term limited representatives would stay truer to their professed beliefs, which presumably got them elected, and that this would lead to slowing down of the growth of government. Now, term limits opponents did not buy this. On the contrary, many argued at the time that term limits would lead to legislatures full of newbies, who couldn’t even find the restroom, and would be led around by their nose by lobbyists and special interests.
Philip Blumel: Now, of course, the primary job of lobbyists is to direct government largesse to their clients. So a weakened legislature by term limits would be more profligate than a legislature of seasoned professionals who would make wiser and more discerning decisions. We still hear this argument today, but Steelman didn’t think so, and he had some good data to suggest that he might be right. He looked at the new Republican Congress that retook the US House after a generation out of power. Now these Republicans ran on a platform of lower taxes and less government. Did they mean it? Would they walk their talk? Or would they fall in line after a few three-martinis lunches with lobbyists? More importantly, would they support more spending or less?
Philip Blumel: In Steelman’s words, here’s what he did, “This study examines the voting behavior of members of Congress on 31 of the most significant budget tax and regulatory issues to arise since 1995. In 27 of the 31 votes analyzed, junior Republicans who had served six years or less in the House and 12 years or less in the Senate, voted for fiscal restraint in greater proportions than senior Republicans who had served more than six years in the House and 12 years in the Senate. These findings suggests that if the public wants Congress to reduce the size and scope of government, that term limits may be imperative.” Now, this was predictive. I mean, there were no term limits in Congress in 1998, and there still isn’t. He was just looking at the spending habits of junior versus senior legislatures who had claimed that they were for less government and found that juniors spent less and regulated less. They also, for a while, at least, stayed sort of true to their campaign promises, at least in comparison with the long-term incumbents. Logically, a regime dominated by politicians of less tenure would likely to be better representative than and less inclined to slavishly serve lobbyists in order to stay in office forever.
Philip Blumel: That wasn’t even an option. That was Steelman’s thinking. Well, that was back in 1998. At that time, over 20 years ago, legislative term limits were a novelty. Now, they have a track record. How did Steelman’s predictions pan out?
Scott Tillman: Hello, this is Scott Tillman, the National Field Director with US Term Limits. We’re over a year out from elections, but candidates have already begun 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’s gonna be several thousand people running, and we’ve already had 20 new Congressional candidates sign the pledge for term limits amendment in the last two weeks. We’re also working state by state to pass resolutions for a term limits amendment convention, and there are over 7000 state legislative seats in the 50 states. Over 6000 of these will be up for election in November 2022. We need your help to get candidates to sign 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.
Scott Tillman: There will be over 10,000 candidates in these races, and we need your help to get them to sign this pledge. Follow us on Facebook to see new signers and to get other term limits news and contact me, Scott Tillman at firstname.lastname@example.org to help with pledges in your state. Act today to help us term limit Congress.
Philip Blumel: Now, fast forward to 2019. Randall Holcombe of FSU, Florida State University, is an economist known for, among other things, his contribution to public choice theory. Public choice theory is basically the use of economic tools and reasoning applied to politics. It looks at participants in politics and government as self-interested agents, just as economists look at participants in financial markets. With Robert J. Minor, he authored the first study looking at historical data from the term limits era. He looked at how the imposition of term limits affected state revenues and expenditures by comparing the actual results, in term-limited and non-term-limited states before and after term limits went to effect, something that of course was not possible back in 1998. So did the lobbyists successfully shake down the defenseless term-limited legislatures? Did the special interests come away with more loot, or less as the Cato Institute had predicted? Well, let’s hear it from Holcombe and Minor.
Philip Blumel: From 1992 to 2000, 15 states enacted voter-approved term limits for their state legislatures. In most of those states, the term limits became effective from the late 1990s into the early 2000s, so the dataset has roughly the same number of observations prior to term limits becoming effective as after, in those states that adopted term limits. An empirical examination of the effects of legislative term limits on state budget shows that state government budgets grew significantly more slowly after the term limits took effect. Prior to term limits taking effect, state government expenditures and revenues grew at about the same rate in states that enacted term limits and in those that did not.
Philip Blumel: Different regression models looking at both expenditures and revenues estimate that after term limits took effect, state government expenditure and revenue growth was between 16% and 46% lower in term limits states than in states that did not enact legislative term limits. Got that? [chuckle] Lower between 16% and 46% in the various states. He concludes that these empirical results are both statistically and economically significant. The slower growth of state budgets in term limits states means that in a 11-year period after term limits took effect, states with term limits would have budgets 5% to 10% lower than in comparable non-term limited states. Well, there it is. Term limits supporters back in the day made bold promises, and when term limits were imposed, they delivered. So with this evidence in hand, let’s go out and finish the job.
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/take action. 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: Contact your state lawmakers before they vote on term limits for Congress, go to termlimits.com/takeaction.
Speaker 2: USTL.