Nick Tomboulides: Hi, I’m Nick Tomboulides, and this is the No Uncertain Terms podcast for the week of December 12, 2022.
Scott Tillman: Your sanctuary from partisan politics.
Nick Tomboulides: This week with the reelection of US Senator Raphael Warnock, it’s official. Not a single US Senate incumbent will lose their seat in the year 2022. That’s right, incumbents have a 100% reelection rate in the Senate. It’s been bad before, but it’s never been this bad. I’m joined by USTL’s own Scott Tillman to discuss why that’s the case. Also we’re covering a story from Baltimore where a power-hungry city council member is already trying to repeal the term limits that citizens enacted just a month ago. Let’s dig in.
Nick Tomboulides: Scott, welcome back to the program. How are you?
Scott Tillman: Great, Nick. Thanks for having me on. It’s been a while.
Nick Tomboulides: We just got some election results this week, and with the victory of Warnock over Hershel Walker in the Georgia Senate runoff, we can now report, not project, that Senate incumbents in 2022 had a 100% reelection rate. Not a single sitting senator was defeated. And of course the reelection rate in the House was 95%, not too shabby. But Scott, I’ve gone back, I’ve looked at the data. You’ve got 60 years of data for congressional elections, and not one time in the last 60 years has the Senate had a 100% reelection rate. This is a historic first in the modern era. Prior high was 96.2, and that happened in 2004. Scott, why do you believe senators are getting reelected at an all-time high?
Scott Tillman: Well, I work with term limits, Nick, and I tell you, I’m kind of surprised that this is the first time we’ve had the 100%. Like you said, I was expecting you to tell me that it happens every other cycle. But why do they? Because there’s a huge incumbent advantage. We talk to legislators and they say, oh, but term limits are elections, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But then you say, well, what about incumbent advantage? Well, let’s not talk about the fact that I get all the money and that nobody wants to donate to my opponent because that’s going to make their name mud with me. Nobody wants to talk about all these incumbent advantages. The fact that Fox News and ABC call me up and have me on TV on a regular basis. They basically run your campaign for you. The major networks will run your campaign for you, essentially.
Scott Tillman: This shows incumbent advantage, it’s almost insurmountable. I mean, this cycle, it was insurmountable. It was…
Nick Tomboulides: It was, not almost. Yeah, it was. But I’m asking you, why do you think it’s higher than ever? Why do you think it’s worse? It’s getting worse every election cycle. We know it’s always been bad, but why are incumbents… Why are they now behind this impenetrable fortress where they just, in the Senate at least, they cannot lose?
Scott Tillman: They have a stranglehold on essentially the word that gets out. They are always represented. Name recognition counts for a lot. And no matter what, the incumbent is going to get talked about. And some of that is all press is good press. So I mean, when you’re talking about a Senate, you actually have less gerrymandering and at the same time more gerrymandering than you have for other things. The Senate is always a statewide district. So if it’s a hardcore red state or a hardcore blue state, it’s going to be that way. But then you look at states that have traditionally been red, like Georgia, and elect a red slate statewide except for the incumbent. I mean, all the incumbents, Republicans statewide in Georgia won, and so did the incumbent Democrat senator statewide in Georgia. There is a huge, huge incumbent advantage. And that’s, you know, they’re in the media, they’re getting covered in all the local press and all the local papers and anybody coming in has to overcome that. And it costs a lot of money to overcome that. It’s not just you’re overcoming what the incumbent is putting up this cycle. No, that incumbent has been putting up, I’m the great guy for at least six years in the Senate, maybe 12 years in the Senate, maybe 13 years.
Scott Tillman: They started a campaign before and ran a long campaign. In some cases, 20, 18, 20, 24 years, they have been running this campaign telling people why they’re great and they have had that name recognition. They’ve been in the news for all of that time while they’re incumbent. They’ve raised money and spent money telling people to vote for them over and over and over and over again. That gives them a huge advantage, a huge advantage.
Nick Tomboulides: You just made a great point because, I mean, for one, both chambers of Congress suck. Everyone knows that, they’re less popular than the hemorrhoids. We’ve been through it over and over again. But historically, the Senate incumbents have been less popular, less powerful than the House incumbents because there’s no gerrymandering. So when you run for Senate, like you said, you have to cope with the state boundaries. You can’t just design a goofy looking district to avoid the urban parts or avoid the rural parts. You have to deal with all the voters. And that has made the Senate more competitive than the House for years and years and years. But this year, it’s less competitive than the House. And for those people, because we often get people who will come to us and they’ll say, well, term limits and incumbency is not the real problem. What you really need to do is fix gerrymandering. You need nonpartisan redistricting. No one’s against that. But what we just proved is that, sure, gerrymandering is a problem. But even when you have no gerrymandering, the incumbents are bulletproof. If you could create the fairest district possible, the fairest of them all, snow white districts, we would still have this plague of these prehistoric incumbent people getting reelected over and over and over again.
Scott Tillman: Yeah, a lot of this is how long people hold power. I mean, once you get elected, there is a huge incumbent advantage, even just from one term. The people who do lose as incumbents tend to be people who are like one term in. And that’s because they build that advantage over time. And there’s really nothing for that except for rotation in office and having term limits. Otherwise, the elections aren’t fair. When you have that kind of incumbent advantage, the elections are not fair. And I don’t know about you, but I think you’re going to have a democracy or a republic that is governed by democratically elected representatives. You got to have term limits because you need to have fair elections. And without that, you won’t have fair elections. It’s a fact that the bigger the district, the more people live in it, the more money it costs to run a campaign. It costs more money to run a campaign for Los Angeles Council than it does for US Congress, because there are more people in a seat than there are in a congressional seat. When it comes to fair elections, you really need… You have to have the rotation in office because it’s the only thing that will counter incumbent advantage.
Scott Tillman: You also need to take care of the party stacking the deck in their favor, which is the gerrymandering. And you also need to take care of the money and politics issue, which comes down to district size. I mean, bigger districts require more money. If you’re going to have fair elections, all three of those things are needed. But term limits play kind of an outsized role in that because no matter what, it’s very difficult to quantify incumbent advantage over time.
Nick Tomboulides: We have a lot of these so-called experts on TV and they have these super complex explanations of the elections. Why four years ago did the blue wave not materialize in the Senate? Why was the red wave more of a red puddle this year? They got all these explanations, Trump, Schumer, conspiracy theories. I think we’re just dealing with Occam’s razor here. The simplest explanation is usually the right one. Incumbents win because they are incumbents. Simple as that.
Scott Tillman: They certainly do. And a lot less coverage and discussion gets made over, how did incumbents do this year rather than how did red do or how did blue do. And we really need to have the discussion of why are incumbents doing so well. And you and I are having that discussion right now, which is good. And hopefully it gets covered more. But it’s a very important thing for us to talk about because when representatives get there, they change and they change seriously over time. So one thing that I’ve looked at is where does money come from? And the first time somebody normally runs for election, they put in a ton of their own money and they get a lot of local in-district dollars. You know what happens the second time somebody runs? They don’t put any of their own money in. They don’t.
Nick Tomboulides: It’s smart money.
Scott Tillman: Because they don’t have to. They still, you know, their mom still writes them a check and their colleagues from the Kiwanis still write them checks and things like that. But most of that money is coming from DC or in the case of the state legislature is coming from the Capital Beltway in whatever given state.
Scott Tillman: As time goes by, the amount of money that’s coming from those special interests that aren’t district special interests, but are either national or state special interests becomes a bigger portion of the pie that they’re getting.
Speaker 4: Corruption. Former Tennessee State House Speaker Glenn Casada has spent the last 20 years in the Tennessee legislature. After his arrest and indictment on 20 federal corruption charges in August, he now faces 20 years at least in prison, plus millions in fines. This career politician and opponent of term limits started his career as a Williamson County Commissioner in 1994 and was the first elected to the state house in 1991. Casada climbed the political ladder to become House Speaker in 2019, a job he only held for eight months before his political boat started taking on water. Casada lost his speakership after a texting scandal involving his aide and political sidekick Cade Cothran, who admitted to drug use in state offices and also soliciting sex from legislative interns and making other inappropriate sexual advances to female lobbyists and staff. Casada defended his friend Cothran and in doing so a series of racist texts were uncovered between Casada and Cothran. Casada announced that he would discuss stepping down after he turned from a scheduled European vacation, which would allow him conveniently to continue in the meantime to collect his speaker salary, which is about three times that of the rank-and-file House members.
Speaker 4: When he finally stepped down as Speaker, he held on to his seat getting re-elected in 2020 as an incumbent. However, shortly thereafter it was revealed that both Casada and Cothran were under investigation for far more serious charges. In August of this year, Casada and Cothran were arrested and charged with eight counts of money laundering, six counts of wire fraud, and two counts of bribery and kickbacks. Casada and Cothran had a third partner, former Representative Robin Smith, who is cooperating with authorities, and allegedly created a political consulting firm called Phoenix Solutions. The trio hid their ownership of the company in order to get approved as a state vendor. Get this, prosecutors say they created a fake person named Matthew Phoenix to serve as the face of the company, but this turned out to be an alias for a Cothran. This company was used to funnel state money directly to the conspirators. Casada, by the way, is currently in office. He announced he does not intend to run again when his term ends at the end of this year. Appearing in handcuffs before a federal judge at the end of August, Casada and Cothran pleaded not guilty to all of these charges.
Speaker 4: The highest charge carries potential penalties of 20 years in prison and fines of $500,000. If convicted on all the charges, the pair could face 100 years in prison and fines up to $2.5 million. But wait, there’s more. As speaker, Casada refused to permit a vote on the Turn Limits Convention bill. This is the resolution applying for an amendment writing convention limited to the subject of congressional turn limits. Under Article 5 of the US Constitution, if two-thirds of the states apply for such a convention, it must be called to consider the issue and possibly submit an amendment proposal to the states. After Casada lost his position of leadership, however, the resolution finally reached the floor for a vote in the spring of this year where it passed, 53 to 34. Casada voted no to the turn limits resolution.
Speaker 4: Casada was undone by his hubris, his arrogance, his dishonesty, and until the end clung to his sole real conviction that a politician once elected is entitled to lie in his pockets until the end of time.
Nick Tomboulides: Speaking of politicians misbehaving, let’s switch over to a story coming out of Baltimore right now because I think we’re ready to announce a new world record on the program, Scott. Are you ready for this?
Nick Tomboulides: So back on November 8th, the people of Baltimore passed term limits on the city council, eight-year limits passed with 72% of the vote, long overdue there because it’s a city that’s just been engulfed by corruption. Now one month later, Baltimore City Council member named Ryan Dorsey has introduced a bill to repeal the term limit, to repeal the term limit the people just enacted, and I’m calling it a world record because I think that’s the fastest time any politician has ever tried to repeal a term limit after the voters enacted it, 30 days. He didn’t even let it marinate for 30 days, Scott. How egregious is that?
Scott Tillman: That’s pretty bad. They actually go into effect at the end of the year, so it probably hasn’t even gone into effect technically yet.
Nick Tomboulides: He’s calling it anti-democratic as he’s attempting to undermine the democratic choice of 71% of the voters. I can’t think of anything that’s more hypocritical. I’ve never lived in Baltimore. I know a ton of people from there, and I did a little bit of research on this. I wanted to see what motivated the people of Baltimore to vote for term limits in such huge numbers. Here are some stats that might explain why so many people voted for it. This is a study from the University of Chicago, one of the most respected research universities out there. According to this study, federal public corruption convictions, Baltimore has become the second most corrupt city in the country with a staggering 352 guilty pleas or verdicts over the past decade. 352 federal public corruption convictions, and this is a quote from the author of the report, Professor Dick Simpson. This guy is a former Chicago alderman, so this guy knows corruption very, very well. He said, the number of convictions, 352 in Baltimore for corruption, that’s misleading. We estimate, and it’s not based on data, just our feeling from the research we do, that for every person who’s convicted of corruption, there are 10 more who are complicit in one way or another, but not prosecuted. Where does that put the real number of people involved in corruption in Baltimore?
Scott Tillman: That’s I guess probably close to the reelection rate for the US Senate, probably close to 100%. Ridiculous numbers.
Nick Tomboulides: They might as well just convert the city hall into a jail. This is unreal, and the councilman has no clue why people wanted term limits?
Scott Tillman: This is one of those situations where people know what people want. If they felt well represented and they felt that the elections were fair and they felt that the city was going great, they wouldn’t have voted 80% for a policy change like this. They want change, and why do they want change? Because they know that they don’t really get a chance to vote people out, that by the time it gets to them on the ballot that the deck has been stacked, the Republican or Democrat who’s in there and has the established incumbency has the advantage. They don’t want that, and they want a significant structural change, so they’ve gone through and put term limits on the ballot and now they want it. You would think an elected representative would at least try to appear like he wants to respect the will of the voters, but this guy, apparently not.
Nick Tomboulides: In Baltimore, in adopting term limits, this election cycle is more the rule than the exception when it comes to cities, because when you look at large cities, nine of the 10 largest cities in the country term limit their mayor or city council or both. Cities with a population over 250,000, a majority of those have term limits, and so Baltimore has been an outlier for a very long time in refusing to pass this.
Nick Tomboulides: They finally caught up to where the citizens are and where the other cities around the country are, and so it’s a very positive development, but the problem is sometimes these councils have outsized power and they can strong arm a repeal or a lengthening onto the ballot. They might put it on in a special election when people are not watching, not voting, or otherwise asleep, and they might try to sneak it by the people and get it in. So we’re going to have to monitor this situation to make sure that the councilman doesn’t get term limits repealed or lengthened. By the way, at the time of this article on Baltimore, there were 35 investigations underway and 48 pending corruption probes in the Baltimore Inspector General’s office, and then councilman wonders why people voted for term limits. We’ll keep our eye on that story. Scott, anything you’d like to add before we go?
Scott Tillman: Well, we do have the revolving door, which is a similar, when we talk about corruption, we have the situation where people, it’s called the revolving door and it’s a real thing, where people work in congressman’s offices and then they rotate out of those offices into either departments where they’re writing executive rules and things, and then they’ll rotate over onto K Street, and they come back, write the legislation, they rotate between these places, so they’re essentially able to go over to K Street and cash out on their relationships, and anybody else would look at it and say, well, that’s corruption. This person is monetizing the relationships that they have to get government to do things. I mean, we hear about omnibus spending bills and trillions of dollars that get spent. A lot of this money ends up in the pockets of people who have simply rotated out of the congressman’s office, and what can we do about that? What’s something that easily that we could do that would really thwart that? Term limits, where you’re bringing in new people on a regular basis and they’re bringing in new staff on a regular basis, and that would seriously upend that essentially legalized corruption.
Nick Tomboulides: Term limits now.
Scott Tillman: Absolutely. It’s time.
Stacey Selleck: Like the show? You can help by subscribing and leaving a five-star review on both Apple and Spotify. It’s free.
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 turnlimits.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 turnlimits.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 turnlimits.com/donate. Turnlimits.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.