Philip Blumel: Michael Madigan indicted. Hi, I’m Philip Blumel. Welcome to No Uncertain Terms, the official podcast of the Term Limits Movement for the week of March 21st, 2022.
Stacey Selleck: Your sanctuary from partisan politics.
Philip Blumel: The longest-serving State House speaker in US history supplies additional evidence of the power, hubris and corruption that so often come with long tenure. What lessons can we glean from the fall of Illinois’s most powerful politician? Let’s ask Nick Tomboulides, Executive Director of US Term Limits. Hey, Nick.
Nick Tomboulides: Hello. Hail to the King. King Madigan.
Philip Blumel: [chuckle] Oh, yes indeed.
Nick Tomboulides: Well, not so much anymore.
Philip Blumel: No. After 25 terms in office in the House of Representatives of the state of Illinois, it looks like his next term is going to be spent in prison. You’ve heard the news.
Nick Tomboulides: That’s right, yeah, he is joining the orange jumpsuit Caucus along with many of his career politician peers.
Philip Blumel: It was long in coming.
Nick Tomboulides: I can’t believe it only took 50 years to figure out that Michael Madigan, the speaker of the Illinois House, the guy who serves the great city of Chicago, it only took 50 years to figure out that he was corrupt. Can’t believe that.
Philip Blumel: Well, he might not have been corrupt the whole 50 years. Usually you don’t go to office being corrupt, it takes a while, you have to get ingrained, you have to see the opportunity, you have to get filled with arrogance and hubris. At some point over that 50-year period, probably within the first decade, [chuckle] he reached that point, and he spent 36 years as speaker, where he had the opportunity to push people around, and of course this is what they’re… What he’s going to jail for. Well, he pled not guilty, but…
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah, it’s a 106-page, 22-count federal indictment. It includes bribery, racketeering, the whole nine. And what the prosecutors say is… This actually covers the last 10 years of Madigan’s career, they say he was using his office to lead a criminal enterprise for political benefit, using his elected position to further the goals of the criminal enterprise. That’s just the last 10 years, we don’t even know what he was doing in the 40 years before that. [chuckle] There could have been all kinds of criminal activity the FBI didn’t know about. But yeah, this investigation, this indictment, focuses on just the last 10 years.
Philip Blumel: Right. Well, his regime has been characterized by using the power of his office to steer work to his firm and to get cronies of his hired, and not all of these things might have been illegal, but even outside of the illegal counts, there’s no question that this has been an old-fashioned political machine of the type that you don’t see anymore in this precise fashion. But somehow Chicago never grew out of it, until now.
Nick Tomboulides: Well, I watched the press conference that the US Attorney had about this, and the US Attorney was very clear that this alleged scheme, Madigan could not have pulled it off if not for the power that he had accrued over many decades in office. It was essential that he was a 50-year state representative, it was essential that he was the speaker of the House for 36 years, and it was also mentioned that he’s been the long-time chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party. That was a huge part of it too. Madigan controlled everything.
Philip Blumel: Illinois. I know.
Nick Tomboulides: He was the puppet master who was using his position basically as a license to print money for his law firm. He would get people elected and appointed to all sorts of different positions across the state of Illinois. Some of those were property appraisers, and if you wanted to do a property tax appeal, if you had a skyscraper or something and you wanted to reduce your tax liability, you would have to hire Madigan and his firm to handle that appeal for you if you wanted to be successful. It was just so corrupt, and he was putting these people in positions and he was bending the rules to confer benefits on them.
Nick Tomboulides: One thing that was in here that was very interesting, Madigan had his loyalists in all these different positions, and he had these big donors who wanted favors from him, and he was actually getting the children of these people internships with the state utility companies, even though they didn’t meet the requirements. They had terrible GPAs, these kids were failing out of school, but Madigan had the connections and he was pulling the strings to help get these kids internships that they didn’t deserve. So it was just the most corrupt incestuous scheme that you’ve seen, and Madigan was the centerpiece of all of it.
Philip Blumel: Yeah. I take away three main lessons from the story of Michael Madigan. One of them, is it just reiterates the fact that there is no industry that is more corrupt than being a legislator in the United States. This is…
Nick Tomboulides: I think you’re being generous by calling it an industry. [chuckle] It’s more like a monopoly.
Philip Blumel: Yeah, it is. Well, the court, these prosecutors are calling it a criminal enterprise, but I guess not all legislators take it to that extreme. But the point is that we talk about these corruption cases on this podcast all the time, we follow them, and there’s no industry like this where every week there’s someone new going to prison or being indicted or being caught bribing and embezzling and using undue influence illegally.
Philip Blumel: It’s an industry that is so rife with this kind of corruption that there has to be special protections for the public against this type of power. Two, that tenure is no guarantee of success in legislating and in government, that tenure often has its own very negative characteristics to it, and that we’re seeing that manifestly here, that there’s benefits to the experience and there are, in politics, absolute negatives to experience. This guy’s had all the experience in the world, and he’s run this state in the ground, and he’s used his power as a criminal enterprise. And then third, that people in this type of position, that use power in this way, are always and everywhere opponents of term limits. Which is a reform that is aimed directly at them.
Nick Tomboulides: I like to refer to Illinois as the great experiment. Okay? Illinois is a great scientific experiment, political science experiment, in what happens when you allow entrenched career politicians to rule over you, unfettered, unrestrained for a very, very long time, the result you get is, it’s a dumpster fire. They are billions of dollars in debt, they are engulfed by corruption, they have had their bond rating downgraded to the lowest rating in the history of any state in America.
Nick Tomboulides: Those are the results of career politicians who have only looked out for themselves, who have only looked out for their power and getting re-elected as opposed to serving the people and doing what’s in the best interests of the state. So I always laugh when people who oppose term limits say, “Oh, you know, we need all this institutional knowledge, we need politicians who have experience.” I say, “Look at Illinois, how’s that working out for you? How is all that political experience working out for you?” It’s a testament to what Ronald Reagan said, the only experience you get in politics is how to be political, and it seemed like in the Illinois State House for a very long time, the only experience you got was how to be corrupt under the tree of Michael Madigan.
Philip Blumel: And compare that to the State of Florida where we have more term limits than any other state, including on the legislature, Governor, Cabinet, all the major counties including Pinellas, and compare it to how the outcomes of the state differ from Illinois, despite the relative lack of tenure of our officials in this state, it’s night and day, night and day.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah. And the lobbyist class will chirp in Florida and say, “Well, legislators, they don’t have experience.” Well, maybe they don’t have political experience, they don’t have the experience of backroom deals and sausage making with lobbyists and special interests, but they have more real world experience because they are citizen politicians, and what that’s produced in Florida, the eight-year term limit standard has been, it’s been a renaissance of citizen-led government, competitive elections, and freedom. Florida is one of the most top ranked states in terms of fiscal health in the country as a result of having term limits.
Philip Blumel: Yeah. Well, that’s a good segue into another story we had come up this last month, is that Florida passed more term limits.
Nick Tomboulides: That’s right, but they’re not very strong term limits.
Philip Blumel: No, they’re not. I’ll tell you what, I was mixed feelings about this, I mean, I cheered and then I…
Nick Tomboulides: I booed.
Philip Blumel: And then I booed. Yeah. It’s definitely a mix, but I tell you what, it’s definitely important term limits news, we’ve been working on for years trying to get term limits on the school boards, across the state of Florida. School board elections have changed over the last generation, they used to be sleepy things, lots of moms running, no more. Now, we have school boards in Florida with billion dollar budgets, billions with a B, and they’d have huge contracts for developers and what not, and there’s all kinds of bribery and influence peddling and everything like you find in any other legislature where they have this kind of power over the purse.
Philip Blumel: And so we’ve been trying to get eight-year term limits on it for years, and each year we get close, we almost had a referendum, we almost had the…
Nick Tomboulides: Well, one year we were actually successful back in 2018, we got eight-year school board term limits on the ballot in Florida, but it was thrown off the ballot by a very bad Florida Supreme Court that was abusing its power and acting extra-judicially, unfortunately. And so, once that happened, once the court did that, the activist court, we had to go back to the drawing board and get it through the legislature, and that’s where it stood until just this past week, the legislature passed the statute.
Philip Blumel: Yeah. Now it was a statute, it doesn’t have to go to the ballot, it’s a statute, it was for eight years on all of the school boards, but at the last minute, we had an appeal or amendment approved and added to the bill that changed the amount of years to 12, that’s why we’re sort of disappointed with it. And so, that’s not an effective term limit really, and I guess it’s better than nothing?
Nick Tomboulides: Yes, what happened was this bill for eight-year term limits on all 358 Florida school board members had passed the Florida House, it went over to the Senate, and Joe Gruters of all people, he’s a senator from Sarasota, State Senator, also happens to be the chairman of the Florida Republican Party, added an amendment to make it 12 years, the Senate adopted the bill with 12, sent it back to the House, and the House adopted the bill with 12. So now 12-year term limits are heading to Governor DeSantis’ desk.
Philip Blumel: Right. Now, Governor DeSantis, we’ve talked about in this podcast many times is a term limit hero, no doubt about it, both as a member of the Congress and now as the Governor of the State, and he was supporting the eight-year term limits bill, and the legislators gave him a 12-year term limits bill and he’s going to sign it. He said… He announced he would, he hasn’t yet, but in his press conference recently, he pointed out that he sees the same defect that we see in it. Let’s roll the tape on that.
Gov. Ron DeSantis: I’m a big believer in term limits. I think it should be eight years, two terms, they did three terms, which you know, that’s fine, and I’m not gonna… I wouldn’t veto the bill just over that, but if it were a standalone measure, I would have insisted on just two terms for school board members, because I think that that’s enough time for you to go, serve, get stuff done. Honestly, you mentioned losing some of these legislators, I’m a huge believer in term limits, I think what term limits does is it tells these legislators, your time is limited, you come in, leave a legacy. Instead, in Washington where they don’t have term limits, what is the incentive to do? The incentive for them is to get elected and stay there as long as they can, and to stay there for decades, create these little fiefdoms, and it’s all about just going back in. And I think someone like Chris Sprowls knew he was gonna be Speaker for two years, he built up a legislative portfolio leading into that, and he knew he had to get the big things he wanted to accomplish done, he wasn’t gonna be able to be Speaker for 10 years or 15 years.
Gov. Ron DeSantis: I think that’s good, because what it does is it puts more of a focus on substantive achievements rather than posturing for the next election. So I’m a big believer in term limits, I think the eight years in the House is good, the eight years in the Senate in Florida is good, I would like to have seen that in school board as well. Look, is the 12 the worst thing in the world? Maybe it could be good, ’cause we do have some in the state that have been really entrenched for a long time, I think you go in, achieve some things and then go, and so that’s really the model that I’d like to do. And I can tell you, people will sometimes ask me like, Florida’s run so much better than DC, what could DC do? And one of the things I said, that if I could wave a magic wand, there’s a number of things I would do, but one of them is term limits for members of Congress.
Gov. Ron DeSantis: If we could term limit members of Congress, you would be able to bring in new blood, you’d be able to bring in new ideas, people would have an incentive to go in and say, “Hey, I may only have three terms in the US House, I wanna get something done,” instead of kind of doing what they’ve really gone into a big morass in just in terms of how they do business. And so that provision is something that I think would have been better at eight. I know, I think Chris wanted it at eight. I think the Senate wanted… So they had to compromise.
Philip Blumel: Yeah, same critique we have. It’s great we have term limits, but 12 years, that’s a bit much.
Nick Tomboulides: This wouldn’t be a bill in Tallahassee if it didn’t get log rolled, and they’d combine other things that have nothing to do with term limits into this bill. And so there are other provisions of the bill which have to do with parents and local districts having oversight of library books, that’s something that the governor is supporting. So he can’t veto the bill, ’cause he’s for term limits and he’s for that, but he is making clear that he would have preferred eight years.
Philip Blumel: Yeah.
Nick Tomboulides: And to his credit also, the House sponsor of the bill, State Rep Sam Garrison, who had fought for eight years all along, in his closing floor speech on this, he expressed his disappointment that the end result had to be 12. And what you’re going to see is the Florida legislature is still pretty polarized. There’s redistricting, there’s new maps coming in next year; that’s gonna have a huge impact on how many votes are available next year to possibly remedy this situation and enact eight-year limits for school boards as opposed to 12.
Philip Blumel: Right. This is only a statute, so it’s a lot easier to change than it would be if it were actually a constitutional amendment, which a referendum would have created. So this is something, this is I still think a work in progress. So, all right.
Nick Tomboulides: Definitely a work in progress. Just on Governor DeSantis though, he’s fighting the good fight, he’s been an ally of our movement since he was in Congress, he continues to do good things. It’s no surprise that DeSantis has very high approval ratings, because he actually listens to the public on an issue like term limits, instead of listening to the Tallahassee insiders who would love for him to go the other way.
Philip Blumel: Yeah, that’s for sure. I wanna follow up a bit on a story that we covered a couple weeks ago on the podcast, that is the scheme in Michigan to overturn their popular term limits law on the legislature. How’s that going? We know they’re collecting signatures, they have a lot of money behind it, and they basically want to push a fraudulent bill, using scammy language in order to try to con voters into overturning the term limits law. But there’s starting to be some pushback from the public.
Nick Tomboulides: There is. What you’ve seen is the cabal of these powerful politicians and lobbyists has submitted their language, and I believe the state ballot board is going to be reviewing that language on the 23rd and determining whether that is sufficient to go forward with the petition. So I don’t know if they’re collecting signatures yet or not, but there is pushback right now. There’s pushback from the citizens, there’s pushback from US term limits, there’s pushback from the Michiganders who founded the term limits effort in Michigan back in 1992. For example, Patrick Anderson; he was the guy who actually authored the Michigan term limits amendment of six years for the House, eight years for the Senate.
Nick Tomboulides: He has gone on TV recently, he’s gone on a few talk shows, and he’s defended the original limits, and he’s called out this group and said that they need to be honest with the people about what they’re trying to do. It’s one thing if you wanna have an honest debate about what term limits should be; tell the public that you, the lobbyists and politicians, want longer term limits, tell the public that you want to enlarge your power and stay in office, but don’t try to… Don’t try to trick the public. Don’t use underhanded tactics and deception to try to trick the public, trick the voters into thinking term limits are being reduced when in actually you’re doubling the length of term limits and you’re locking in career politicians for much longer.
Philip Blumel: That’s the proposal on the table is to double the length of term limits… Double the amount of time that a legislator can spend in the House or the Senate. It’s terrible. Okay, I know that the pig is out on the trailer and traveling around the state.
Nick Tomboulides: The horse actually.
Philip Blumel: A horse?
Nick Tomboulides: It’s the horse, it’s not the pig. It’s the ten-foot-tall trojan horse is out on the beat.
Philip Blumel: Oh, I’m sorry. Okay, so the horse is out on the beat. Alright, great. And so, is that Jeff Tillman?
Nick Tomboulides: Yes, Jeff Tillman. Jeff Tillman is the Paul Revere of Michigan. He is…
Philip Blumel: Yes he is.
Nick Tomboulides: Taking the pro-term limits horse, the Trojan horse, out around the state, trying to raise awareness about this scam ballot initiative that these insiders are scheming to accomplish.
Philip Blumel: Well, in every town he goes to he attracts interest, he gets in the local paper, he gets citizens signed up and lets them know what’s happening. So, once again, if these Michigan legislators are gonna try to overturn the term limits they’re gonna have a fight on their hands, and every other time so far they’ve lost, and I expect a similar result, but not if we don’t take action.
Nick Tomboulides: Correct. We can never out-spend these guys, they’ve got money from every well-heeled, deep-pocketed interest in the state of Michigan. They might as well have $10 million plus for this scam. But that doesn’t mean we can’t outsmart them, and that doesn’t mean that our side can’t leverage the enormous popularity of term limits in the state of Michigan. You have to remember the original term limits, the three terms in the House, two terms in the Senate, passed in a landslide back in 1992, passed by a 17-point margin of victory.
Nick Tomboulides: The polls that I’ve seen show that term limits have only gotten more popular in Michigan since that happened. Support for term limits is in the mid-70s, approaching 80% for these original term limits. So winning depends on getting the message out there, raising awareness about the fact that these people are trying to trick the voters. If Jeff Tillman, the horse, the founders, these grassroots activists, everyone in Michigan who supports term limits can spread the word successfully, then this ballot measure is gonna go down in flames and the original term limits will be protected.
Philip Blumel: Right on.
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.
Philip Blumel: 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: The revolution isn’t being televised. Fortunately, you have the No Uncertain Terms podcast.