Philip Blumel: North Dakota is now the 16th state with legislative term limits. Hi, I’m Philip Blumel. Welcome to No Uncertain Terms, the official podcast of the Term Limits Movement for the week of November 14th, 2022.
Stacey Selleck: Your sanctuary from partisan politics.
Philip Blumel: Elections were held last Tuesday and neither political party can claim a decisive victory. But from our initial review of the results, we see two big winners, incumbents and term limits. Nick Tomboulides, executive director of US Term Limits, joins us to take a closer look. Hey, Nick.
Nick Tomboulides: Hey, Phil. I’m so happy I don’t have to see those yard signs anymore.
Philip Blumel: Oh, are you kidding me? I’m so glad this election is over. Anyways, but to tell you what, it was an interesting one. And we have some big news on the term limits front. North Dakota is the 16th state to adopt term limits for the legislature, eight-year term limits, and on the governor. Big news.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah, that’s right. It passed 63%-36%. That’s a 27 point landslide. And under normal circumstances, this would have passed with 80% of the vote, right? But what we’ve seen is the ruling elites in North Dakota, they declared war on it six months ago.
Philip Blumel: They sure did.
Nick Tomboulides: The crooked Secretary of State out there. He came up with this frivolous legal challenge and he got smacked down by the State Supreme Court. They kept it on the ballot. Then he wrote a ballot title that omitted the words ‘term limits’ to try to mislead the public. The opponents, they accused us of being an out of state group, even though members of US Term Limits who live in North Dakota were basically running this entire show, including Jared Hendrix, the chairman. And despite all of that, the voters, the people of North Dakota, they saw right through it, they saw right through the charade, they saw right through the con job, and they passed term limits with 63% of the vote. And it’s now in the state constitution. The politicians can’t do anything about it.
Philip Blumel: Nope. And Jared Hendrix did a great job, even though there was a united front against it by most of the special interests and leadership from both parties and everything. I think it’s worth noting that the governor, Doug Burgum, did come out in support of it. That was probably helpful. And frankly, the people did know it was a term limits measure, even though they omitted the words from the title because of all the work that the politicians did to try to derail it and keep it off the ballot, and then when they came out against it, so they basically hurt themselves by coming out and saying, “Hey, vote against this term limits measure,” because everyone said, “Oh, wait, I’m for term limits. I’m going to vote for that.” [chuckle]
Nick Tomboulides: It’s right. They ran, in at least the final weeks, they ran unreported illegal ads. They were not telling anyone where the money was coming from. They were not telling anyone what they were spending it on with all kinds of smears and propaganda. They brought together this motley crew of the lobbyists, the politicians, the capitol insiders, the media, in this fancy room in the capitol to announce how the sky would fall if term limits passed. And the voters didn’t care. The love and commitment to term limits among the voters is so strong that none of that mattered, and it passed in a landslide.
Philip Blumel: Yeah. Congratulations, North Dakota. North Dakota is the first state to adopt term limits on the legislature for almost… Actually, I guess, about 20 years. Now, this is mainly because there’s only so many states that have a workable initiative process because basically that’s how you get term limits is when people rise up and people collect the signatures and people make these things happen because it’s not initiated by politicians. But nonetheless, North Dakota has had battles over this issue before and the people finally pulled through and got the job done. So congrats.
Nick Tomboulides: And here’s something super unique about this measure as well, because historically what we’ve seen is, yes, it’s always the people who pass term limits in the first place, and then it’s always the grasping, greedy politicians who try to repeal or alter or weaken those term limits later on. But in North Dakota, there’s a unique provision in this measure, Measure 1, which just passed that actually prevents the legislature from referring any measure to the ballot to alter or repeal the term limits that the citizens just enacted. It’s a conflict of interest provision. It acknowledges that politicians have such a grave conflict of interest on this issue that they have no place discussing it or making laws regarding term limits in the first place for their own seats, that it should be reserved to the people alone. That is now enshrined in the North Dakota Constitution. Only the citizens through the citizen petition process have the power to make changes to the term limits law.
Philip Blumel: It’s quite an innovation. That’s something I’d love to see repeated around the country, because the people put it in place and the politicians that absolutely do have a conflict of interest, why should they be able to undo it? If the people are unhappy with it, the people can undo it again. Absolutely.
Nick Tomboulides: And what we’ve seen in other states like Michigan is they can undo it using crafty and misleading ballot language to trick the voters. And if this provision hadn’t been in the North Dakota measure, that certainly would have been on the table. So three cheers to the folks out in North Dakota for doing it the right way.
Philip Blumel: Absolutely. Well, you brought it up, so let’s talk about Michigan. This was, I guess, the big loss of this cycle, right?
Nick Tomboulides: Oh, boy.
Philip Blumel: Yeah. We saw it coming, and we’ve talked about this on the podcast for a long time. They had a referendum there, was of course put on by the state government, not by people collecting petitions. And what the measure…
Nick Tomboulides: Well, they tried, but nobody would sign their petition.
Philip Blumel: Oh, right. They failed in trying to do it that way, right. They tried to make it look like it was citizen effort, but that completely failed…
Nick Tomboulides: It flopped.
Philip Blumel: Because it wasn’t, right. Well, once they came out and admitted that it was the politicians, they had to get clever. And what they did was they wrote a very long and complicated measure that included a lot of other side issues, which is what they ran with, because they didn’t want to really put on the front burner that this actually weakens term limits. But they also made it sound like, in the term limits language, that it was going to somehow improve the term limits when really it was weakening them. So they went all out with hiding the term limits in a larger package that had lots of nice sounding stuff in it. And then even then, the term limits provision was written in order to make it sound like it strengthened term limits when really it weakened them. It was a scam from top to bottom. It’s the only way they can win.
Nick Tomboulides: Complete scam. One of the biggest scams, biggest con jobs we’ve ever seen, very cunning and no other issue would be able to get away with this. So for example, imagine if the state of Michigan were really counting every vote cast for the Republican for governor would count toward the Democrat for governor or imagine they asked, “Would you like to cut taxes by 10% the next day you wake up and taxes go up by 10%?” I mean, that would be in the Supreme Court, and it would get struck down. But because it’s term limits and because the language was so crafty, they were actually… And because the Michigan courts are not very good right now, they were able to get away with this. It did pass with two-thirds of the vote because people believed they were voting to reduce term limits. People believed they were voting to keep politicians in office for less time based on all of the marketing materials, based on all the summaries that were submitted by the business establishment, the unions, the lobbyists, the Chamber of Commerce. It was a full court press to deceive the public. And unfortunately, in this case, they got away with it.
Philip Blumel: Yeah. Let’s remind the listeners what the trick was, because when it works in one place, politicians are going to try to use it in another. So be aware of this. In Michigan, had a great term limit set up where you had six years in the House maximum and eight years in the Senate maximum. Well, in some ways, theoretically, that’s a 14-year limit, right? Six in the House, eight in the Senate. So they decided that they were going to make it 12 years in either House. Well, 12 is less than 14, right? So they could go out and say, “Hey, we’re reducing the term limit from 14 to 12.” Well, that’s a lie. It’s not true. Because first of all, what you’re really doing, if you look at the way politics really works and about the power of incumbency, is what you’re really doing is that in the House where you were once limited to six, you’re now limited to 12. It doubled the term limit in the House. And you know, the incumbents win 90-something percent of the time. This is true in term limits and non term limit states. It’s true everywhere. So what you’re really doing is saying that people in the House can just take a free ride for 12 years instead of being term limited out at six. It is a lie that it tightened the term limits.
Nick Tomboulides: It is. And it comes down to the Michigan Director of Elections not understanding basic math because the Michigan state legislature is set up with 38 state senators and 110 state representatives. So the state house is virtually 2.5 times the size of the state Senate. That meant under the old term limits, when you hit your six year cap, where could you go? 110 people terming out after six years couldn’t fit into a 38 member Senate. It’s just not mathematically possible. So, roughly a third of them might be able to do that, the other two-thirds would have to go home and get a real job. Now, all of those state reps get to squat in their House seats for 12 years. That was the essence of the deception here.
Philip Blumel: That’s right.
Speaker 4: This is a public service announcement.
Philip Blumel: Larry Lessig is a law professor at Harvard and amongst the nation’s top authorities on Article V of the US Constitution. He recently appeared on the podcast, Opening Arguments, making the case for states to use this provision to reform Congress. To hear the entire interview, go to openargs.com and search for episode 268. That’s openargs, O-P-E-N-A-R-G-S.com.
Larry Lessig: I don’t want a constitutional convention, I want an Article V convention. Those are really different things. A constitutional convention, the sort of thing that gave us our Constitution or that happens around the world periodically in moments of revolution or fundamental transformation, is a body that has the power of, we call it constituent power, the power of the people. It can do whatever the hell it wants. What I’m talking about is a convention under Article V of our constitution, which only has one power, and that’s the power to propose amendments, which Article V says are only valid if they are ratified by three-fourths of the states. And so I think that’s a really fundamental difference, big distinction, because I think many people get very anxious when they think about the idea of a constitutional convention, and I would be anxious about that too.
Larry Lessig: I don’t think we as a nation are ready for something like… On September 15, 1787, two days before the constitution was to be proposed, George Mason stood up on the floor of the convention and he noticed that the mode of amending the constitution was exclusively Congress’. Only Congress could propose an amendment to the constitution. And Mason said, “What if Congress is the problem?” There would be no amendments if Congress is the problem, no way to get around a corrupt Congress or a failed Congress. And so that’s why they created the Article V convention procedure, to give us a way around a corrupted Congress. And I think the practical reality of where we are in American history right now is exactly what George Mason was talking about. We have a corrupted, failed, broken institution at the core of our government. And the only way we can imagine fixing that is by using the device the framers gave us for going around Congress.
Philip Blumel: What else do we got? Oh, let’s talk about the US Congress, Nick. You probably have more information about this one.
Nick Tomboulides: So, the red wave did not materialize, what people were expecting, nor was there a blue wave, but there was an incumbent wave, right?
Philip Blumel: There sure was. Oh, yes.
Nick Tomboulides: Because the results are pretty staggering here. Is it 100% of US Senate incumbents were re-elected and 95% of US House incumbents?
Philip Blumel: That is right. Now, there’s still a few races that aren’t decided. There’s still the open race for the US Senate in, say, Georgia.
Nick Tomboulides: And Nevada.
Philip Blumel: Yeah. And as of right now. Though, of the races that have been called, yeah, 94.5% of House and 100% the Senate. That is to say, incumbents running for their own seat in the general election. That is incredible. And it just shows the need for term limits, because that is the number one primary reason why term limits are so important, it’s because incumbents have so much advantage that they cruise back into office without having real approval by the voters.
Nick Tomboulides: Regardless of whether their ideals and policies fit with the direction in which the nation is moving, right?
Philip Blumel: Sure.
Nick Tomboulides: So you can have a red wave and you have tons of Democratic incumbents who keep power just by virtue of being incumbents or vice versa. Very interesting, I saw some social media posts by some incumbent members of Congress, and it was just amazing, the irony of like, “I’d like to thank my campaign team and my husband and everyone did such a great job on this reelection,” and I’m just thinking, “What are you talking about? You’re an incumbent. You win automatically. You don’t have to try. Why are you putting on this little dog and pony show here for us?” But going back to some of the races we covered last week among the Senate pledge signers, Dr. Oz lost in Pennsylvania, Blake Masters lost in Arizona, Adam Laxalt in Nevada is losing, pledge signer, and then Hershel Walker is a pledge signer and he is now in a runoff in Georgia. But here’s the silver lining. There were some retirements from Congress, but at the end of the day, because there was a huge number of open seats, maybe because Democrats thought they would be losing more, at the end of the day, we have a historically high number of pledge signers, Phil. We’ve got 114 US pledge signers in the House, 20 US term limits pledge signers in the Senate. It’s a 32% increase over the percentage we had in the last Congress.
Philip Blumel: Wow! That is fantastic. So term limit signers did a lot better than either of the parties. That is great. And you know, just before the election, we were sending around emails and everything bragging how we hit 100 signers in the US Congress, hitting this new record. Well, post-election, what did you just say? 131?
Nick Tomboulides: 134.
Philip Blumel: 134. 134 signers in Congress.
Nick Tomboulides: And potentially more because you’ve got still races that are uncalled. Like we said, Hershel Walker, that could be another one. Juan Ciscomani in Arizona, Adam Frisch, who’s a Democrat taking on Lauren Boebert, and Neil Parrott, who is a Republican facing David Trone. All of those pledge signers are still competitive with a couple percentage points left to count. So that number may very well be going up, but it’s a historic year. We’ve never had this many pledge signers elected to Congress at one time.
Philip Blumel: No. It’s interesting because the support for term limits, which is always high, is hitting all time highs. And you can see that these signers are doing very well in getting into Congress. And yet, at the same time, we have almost 100% return of incumbents that are running for their own seat. All the action in this election, just like most elections, but this one even more…
Nick Tomboulides: Open seats.
Philip Blumel: It happens in open seats. It’s because someone retires, someone dies, someone goes to jail. And so there’s an open seat, and that’s when both parties put forth their best person, serious candidates running, and the voters weigh in on them and make a decision on who’s going to represent them in that seat. It’s not automatic. And so, term limits create that open seat situation in every single district, every eight years or whatever the term limit is. And that is the power of term limits, and that’s why it’s so important. And with these numbers, 100% in the Senate, 95% in the House, how can anyone deny the need for term limits in this country?
Nick Tomboulides: Don’t get me wrong. I love when politicians go to jail. I root for that, and I’m very happy when it happens.[laughter]
Nick Tomboulides: But unfortunately, we can’t wait for that to happen in all 535 seats. So term limits is the only way to guarantee these open seat opportunities at regular intervals. And look, talking about these pledge signers, they’re going to have an important voice over on Capitol Hill. There are now so many of them, they will be difficult to dismiss. They will be difficult to marginalize when it comes to leadership. For example, Kevin McCarthy, he’s going to be coming up for a speakership vote. It’s looking like Republicans won the House. Some people, especially in the term limits caucus, are not particularly fond of McCarthy. And a big part of that is him holding back things like term limits that the people would really love to see. So when you’re talking about such a narrow majority, and that’s what this will be, the term limit signers can have a huge impact. It’s going to be strength in numbers.
Philip Blumel: That’s great. So basically, term limits did very well in the Congress, even if both parties moved very little. Good, a lot of more races that we’d love to talk about, but this information is still coming in and some of it is hard to collect. For instance, there’s no one else in the country that collects all this information about term limits except for US Term Limits, right? So we are still collecting and finding all the different races, term limits races around the country. There’s a couple I’d like to throw out there, though, that they’re exciting. Youngstown, Ohio, they had a vote there on election day for putting eight-year term limits on their city council, and 82% of the voters said yes. Surprise. Baltimore City, Question K, would put eight years term limits on their mayor, their comptroller, their city council president, their city council members, passed 72%. This of course, as usual, goes on across the country where term limits wins most of the time. And so one polity after another adopt term limits as this reform continues to sweep the nation.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah. And what I was asking myself the other day was, it’s looking like it’s a very muddled situation in Washington, DC, right now. Both parties are going to have pretty tenuous control over their respective chambers. And I was wondering what would have happened if six months ago, either the leaders in the Democratic Party or the leaders in the Republican Party had come out and said, “We are running this campaign on term limits for Congress. That is the identity of our party. That is our core message. We want to clean up Washington, DC We want to reduce corruption and we want new faces and ideas to get elected.” Is there any doubt with term limits being an 82% issue that that party would be sitting on huge majorities in both chambers right now had they taken that step and gotten everyone behind term limits? That’s such a missed opportunity. This issue is just political dynamite and there are just too few leaders willing to capitalize on it.
Philip Blumel: Okay. So next week we’ll probably have more information. I think on the state level, we also have a pledge that we distribute and we’re still trying to count all of the victories on the state level and hopefully we’ll have a new record there to report. Anything else, Nick?
Nick Tomboulides: Nope. Like we said, lots of races still uncalled, particularly out West. I don’t know why counting is so difficult for the State of Arizona. They might need to watch some more Sesame Street episodes to figure out how that works. But yeah, we’ll have more info next week, particularly in some of those Western battlegrounds.
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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/take action. 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’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.
Speaker 6: USTL.