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Philip Blumel: Term limits are back on the ballot in North Dakota. Hi, I’m Philip Blumel. Welcome to No Uncertain Terms, the official podcast for the Term Limits Movement for the week of September 12th, 2022.
Stacey Selleck: Your sanctuary from partisan politics.
Phllip Blumel: In a previous podcast, we reported on the successful placement of a citizen-led term limits initiative on the November statewide ballot that was thwarted by the North Dakota Secretary of State. He justified the move by claiming the voter signatures were invalid. But last Wednesday, the Supreme Court came to the rescue of voters, rebuking the Secretary of State and ruling the voters would have their say in November as is their legal right.
Philip Blumel: Well, it all started out as a picture perfect example of grassroots democracy, right? We have a 42-member committee led by a guy named Jared Hendrix, and this committee included current and former members of legislature even. They called it the Term Limits for North Dakota Committee. And there was polling done in 2020 that showed 82% support for this. And typical of term limits polling, that is a super majority of Democrats, Republicans and independents and just about any other demographic you can think of. And so this group went out and collected over 46,000 signatures. They only needed 31,164 signatures to put on the ballot, but of course, anyone that has run a petition campaign knows that you’re gonna have petitions that are no good. There’s gonna be people that from out of the district, there’s gonna people that use the wrong address. There’s gonna be people that are… There’s gonna be petition circulators that just forward signatures. There’s all kinds of little problems that can come up, and you know that they’re not all going to be valid, so you have to collect a lot more than the number that you need.
Philip Blumel: So this committee went out and collected 46,000 signatures, which is more signatures that have been collected in that state for any initiative ever in its history. And this measure was basically the standard eight-year term limits law that has basically been time-tested in numerous states and localities around the country. That’s eight years on the House, eight years in the Senate and eight years in the governor. And that this is cumulative, not consecutive. And it would go into effect eight years hence, that is to say it’s not retroactive. This is the recipe for a successful term limits measure everywhere. And so everything looked like it was going just right.
Philip Blumel: But then in March, Secretary of State Al Jaeger of North Dakota rejected the measure, saying that, get this, 29,000 of the signatures were invalid, 29,000, due to handwriting irregularities and whatever. Now, this is very important to realize. Jaeger’s office did not attempt to verify these 29,000 signatures that they invalidated. Okay? It isn’t like they found 29,000 that they had concerns with. No, they found some they had concerns with and they decided that all the petitions that were signed off by a notary, that’s required in that state, would be invalid, because some of the petitions were invalid. Alright.
Philip Blumel: I’ve mentioned in a previous podcast, I’ve done a lot of petitioning. I’ve helped run petition campaigns. And there is no question that you get irregularities and we all know it. And that’s why, like I said, that’s why we collect so many more than the number you actually need. Now of course, the state authorities should be trying to figure out what percentage of them are correct and invalidate ones that are no good, and that’s absolutely within their rights. But that’s not what occurred here. Secretary of State Al Jaeger was simply seeking a way to invalidate the measure. Naturally, the Term Limits Committee sued and the case went quickly to the Supreme Court after stopping briefly at the desk of a lower court judge who rubber stamped the Secretary of State’s decision.
Philip Blumel: Anyway, then on September 7th, [chuckle] in a unanimous five to zero decision, the Supreme Court of the State of North Dakota declared that the Secretary of State “misapplied the law and that the initiative must be placed on the November ballot as the citizens requested.” The court found that 15,740 of the invalidated signatures should have been certified, therefore the initiative should have been certified for the ballot.
Philip Blumel: Now the decision from the court is short, but includes some interesting tidbits. One is that the idea that the Secretary of State would throw out all the signatures notarized by one individual because some of the signatures showed irregularities, is truly novel. In fact, the decision brought up the fact that this has never been done before in North Dakota, and indeed the Secretary of State could not demonstrate precedent for this procedure from any jurisdiction anywhere at any time.
Philip Blumel: On the contrary, the court noted that “in passing on the sufficiency of a petition, there is a presumption that each signature in the petition is genuine.” According to North Dakota law, the Secretary of State shall conduct a representative random sampling of the signatures to determine the validity of the signatures, that is, you assume they’re valid, but you verify by random sampling, which of course, depending on what you find out might lead to closer inspection of more petitions, but you can’t find some irregularities and then invalidate them all. There will never be a petition drive without irregularities. The Secretary of State’s process that he used, if it was permitted, would simply grant the state veto power over all initiatives. And of course, that was the goal. Secretary of State Al Jaeger was simply protecting the state government establishment of which he is a part. Sorry, Al.
Philip Blumel: So, what next? The referendum will appear on the November ballot in North Dakota and if the 2020 polling holds, it’ll likely pass, probably by a lot. And that’s why it was so important for the politicians to keep it off the ballot. There surely will be some backlash against the Secretary of State. Now, I haven’t heard any rumblings of any legal action, but certainly that’s possible. Certainly there’ll be some political backlash against him now that he has been rebuked by a unanimous Supreme Court. Incidents like this merely solidify in voters’ minds why term limits are so necessary. If this initiative passes in November, North Dakota will be the 16th state to term limit its legislature and the 36th to term limit its governor. North Dakota voters will benefit from more competitive elections and also more representative government. Ironically, one of the reasons that the Term Limits for North Dakota committee launched this initiative effort is due to lack of responsiveness on the issue of term limits.
Philip Blumel: Even as the vast majority of Democrats, Republicans and independents, and like I said every other demographic group you can think of, were telling pollsters that they want to impose term limits on the us Congress, the North Dakota legislature refused to pass an application for the congressional term limits convention. I suppose the North Dakota legislators didn’t want the issue of term limits to come up since they themselves are not a term limited legislature, but by closing their ears to the voices of the people, they got term limited anyway, or at least they presumably will. There is no doubt that this incident has breathed new life into the term limits movement in North Dakota. Is pushing for the term limits convention application the next logical step? Well, one would think so. But first things first. Let’s put the eight-year term limits initiative before the voters in November. If they respond like I think they will, then all the momentum will be on the side of voters. And we know voters want to impose term limits on the politicians in Washington. Stay tuned.
Speaker 3: This is a public service announcement.
Philip Blumel: Citizens everywhere embrace term limits and incumbent politicians everywhere try to use every machination and technicality available to hold onto power. We see this in the now discredited attempt of North Dakota politicians to keep a citizen-led term limits initiative off the ballot November, and also in Michigan where politicians are using a deceptive legislature referred referendum to weaken the popular term limits law there. This phenomenon is universal. In August, Thailand’s prime minister, Prayut Chan-o-cha who took power in a 2014 coup, has reached his eight years in tenure. He’s claiming the new constitution’s eight-year term limit an important article that added credibility to the military’s expressed commitment to restoring democracy doesn’t apply to him. Thanks to Al Jazeera for this report.
Tony Chang: If a week is a long time in politics, then eight years is a lifetime. As journalists gathered outside, that was the verdict of Thailand’s constitutional court on Wednesday as it suspended prime Prayut Chan-o-cha pending a review of his term. General Prayut came to power after leading a military coup in 2014.
S5: The peace and order maintenance command, which includes the Royal Thai Army, Royal Thai Air Forces, Royal Thai Navy and national police hereby announces that it is necessary to take control of the governing of the country.
Tony Chang: He’s been in charge ever since. A new constitution promoted by the army and passed in 2017 limits prime ministerial terms to eight years, a period that expired at midnight on Tuesday. Supporters, however, argue Prayut’s term only began after general elections in 2019. The Constitutional Court is expected to make a final decision within a month. The interim prime minister is Prawit Wongsuwan who’d previously been second in command. He’s also a former general and is considered by many to have been one of the main architects of the 2014 coup. General Prayut remains in the cabinet because he holds another position, minister of defense. The suspension will relieve concerns that Bangkok could once again be disrupted by anti-government protests.
Tony Chang: Since the decision was handed down, the situation at Government House has calmed considerably. An hour ago, these riot police were wearing full body armor and carrying shotguns. Now, they’re just in soft caps. But no one is stepping down. The protesters may have won this battle, but they haven’t won the war.
Tony Chang: The court only suspended general Prayut, but he has to get out. It’s the same with the deputy prime minister in charge. They’re all the same.
S6: I’m not okay with the verdict because I want Prayut to leave the politics all together. I don’t want him to come back to office.
Tony Chang: With an election scheduled to take place within the next 12 months, the opposition has drawn first blood, but in taking on a government led by generals, it faces a formidable foe. Tony Cheng, Al Jazeera, Bangkok.
Philip Blumel: Thanks for joining us for another episode of No Uncertain Terms. The terms 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 are watching. That’s termlimits.com/takeaction. 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.
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