In this week’s 20-min podcast:
– The phones are ringing at US Term Limits as the battle between two senior candidates ramps up
– John Tamny of Real Clear Politics releases an excellent editorial on the term limits movement
– USTL’s Nick Tomboulides speaks with Rand Paul and Beto O’Rourke
– Presidential candidate Nikki Haley raises term limits awareness after the GOP debates
– Political Science Research & Methods releases a new report on legislators and lobbyists
Philip Blumel: Term limits. Take a ride on the news cycle. Hi, I’m Philip Blumel. Welcome to No Uncertain Terms, the official podcast of the Term Limits Movement. This is episode 220, posted on August 28th, 2023.
Stacey Selleck: Your sanctuary from partisan politics.
Philip Blumel: With the recent senior moments by US Senators, Mitch McConnell and Diane Feinstein, and the upcoming presidential election between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. There’s a bipartisan uproar over the Gerontocracy, the Rule of the Aged. As a result, there is a new media and academic interest in the issue of term limits, which means that our phones have been ringing. The best article I’ve seen, recently appeared on August 17th on the realclearpolitics.com site, was written by the RealClearMarkets editor, John Tamny.
Philip Blumel: The article’s worth reading in its entirety, so here we go. “The Term Limits Movement is alive and politically potent, by John Tamny. The power of incumbency and politics used to be near absolute at the congressional level. Once elected, the job was, in a sense, yours for life. That was true until 1994. It was then that house speaker Tom Foley was put out to the political pasture.
Philip Blumel: This was earthshaking news at the time. Realistically, the first of its kind since the Civil War. If incumbency brought with it a near lifetime cynic here, surely the Speaker of the House was thoroughly bulletproof. Thankfully, a then nascent organization by the name of US Term Limits didn’t agree. Rather than accept the status quo, US Term Limits made Foley a target. They zeroed in on Foley’s disdain for term limits and ran ads in Foley’s district that vivified his contempt. Foley’s loss was once again a major shock. More importantly, it was a sign that the term limits movement had arrived and that it would be a force to be reckoned with.
Philip Blumel: Indeed 20 years later, term limit pledge signing challenger Dave Brat pulled off yet another earth-shaking upset, this time, of house minority leader Eric Cantor. Cantor, like Foley, similarly turned his nose up to the term limits pledge. Well, what was true in 1994 and 2014 promises to reveal itself as true once again in 2024. Put it another way, any rumors of the death of the term limits movement are and were very much exaggerated. What failed powerful political figures back in the 1990s continues to carry with it impressive and well-funded political weight in the 2020s.
Philip Blumel: Consider what happened in Iowa’s third district in 2022. At the time, the Super PAC Term Limits Action, TLA, ran television ads against incumbent Democrat, Cindy Axne for refusing to sign a term limits pledge favoring a constitutional amendment. Unfortunately, for Axne, her opponent, Zach Nunn did sign. Axne subsequently lost to Nunn in the general election. This past summer, TLA once again threw its weight around armed with ads saying, “Politicians and diapers must be changed often.”
Philip Blumel: And for the same reason, the PAC ran multiple weeks of ads against representative Claudia Tenney, New York District 24, representative Young Kim, California District 40, and representative Derek Van Orden Wisconsin District 3. Notable about term limits action is that it’s not limiting its spending to districts populated by Republicans more favorable to limiting time in Washington. In 2022 term limits action showered representative Henry Cuellar’s District with a substantial amount of television ads as payback for his own failure to sign a term limits pledge.
Philip Blumel: All of which brings us back to the future with US Term Limits. It too continues to make its presence known. This year US Term Limits has put up billboards in over 12 districts that have called out candidates for the refusal to connect their signatures to the constitutional pledge. The actions of TLA and US Term Limits aren’t just crucial. They’re also highly relevant to the moment we’re in. Think about it with Hunter Biden in mind.
Philip Blumel: For more than a few voters are troubled by the revelations about President’s Biden’s son, but it’s worth stressing that their concern is over symptoms Hunter Biden as opposed to the real problem. The simple truth is that Hunter Biden is a logical consequence of politicians serving without endpoint As Joe Biden has. Translated, so long as politicians make it a career, so will their friends and family members make a career out of savvy with the ways of Washington.
Philip Blumel: That is why the term limits movement’s vitality isn’t just important, it’s also the only way to limit more scandals of the Hunter Biden variety, in which case, we should be glad that Term Limits Action and US Term Limits aren’t just still around, but around with copious funding. Readers will feel this in 2024 and beyond. Woo, love it. Well, we at US Term Limits don’t actually chase media attention. Believe it or not. We think and strategize about this a lot and we don’t think it furthers our goals. I mean, after all, the voters of all parties already support term limits.
Philip Blumel: So we don’t focus on that. We focus on trying to get things done, not just talking about it, but still it feels good to have the media recognize our efforts. But I admit we were disappointed and even surprised that none of the candidates in the first Republican presidential primary debate last week even mentioned term limits. It’d be very helpful to have a president actively on our side, but of course there will be more debates, so they need to hear from us. So if you go to termlimits.com/takeaction, the very first action item will assist you in sending a Pro Term Limits message to all of the Republican candidates and President Biden as well. That’s termlimits.com/takeaction.
This is a public service announcement.
Philip Blumel: In December, 2017, a bipartisan panel discussion was held at the US Capitol with two of the most vocal congressional term limits supporters in Washington, Senator Rand Paul, and former US representative Beto O’Rourke. After discussing the benefits of term limits, the Republican senator and Democratic representative agreed that advancing the term limits convention via the states would put a fire under Congress to act. You might recognize the voice of the moderator here. Our own executive director, Nick Tomboulides.
Nick Tomboulides: Ken, you mentioned the Article V Convention. For those of you who are unaware, Article V of the Constitution actually gives us two ways to obtain a constitutional amendment for congressional term limits. The first is it can be proposed by two-thirds vote in Congress, which, I think, Congressman Blum referred to as the turkeys voting for Thanksgiving. [laughter] And the second approach is getting two-thirds of state legislatures to call for term limits on Congress, which would allow the states to effectively bypass the swamp here in Washington, DC. Senator Paul, what do you think of that approach?
Senator Rand Paul: You know, I’m for it. I’ve had a lot of supporters through the years that were worried about it, and they said, “Well, what if it comes together, they’ll rewrite the constitution and we’ll no longer have a constitution.” And my response is, we haven’t had a constitution in at least 70 years that anybody obeys in any kind of form. The courts pretty much quit obeying a strict construction of the constitution years and years, decades ago. But what I would say is what would probably happen is we would gather legislature after legislature when we’re this close to having a convention, Congress would wake up and that would be the day that we’d pass term limits. Same way with balanced budget. Congress probably wouldn’t let a convention happen. So I’ve become more in favor of letting it go because we need some kind of push.
Senator Rand Paul: And I also do believe those who argue for it, that you can limit people. You know, there’s no reason. So state legislature appoints Ken to go to be, and they tell you, “You can only vote for a balanced budget amendment or term limits.” Ken comes home and says, “Hey, we rewrote it and we got the French constitution, the legislature now’s gonna say, Ken, you’re fired and we don’t accept your vote.” So there’s two bites at the apple on this. And so I’ve been less frightened of a convention, one; because I don’t think we obey the constitution now anyway, but two; because I think that we need some kind of push forward. And it’s never coming from up here.
Nick Tomboulides: Right. Congressman O’Rourke what do you think of that? Would the threat of a potential convention coming from the states light a fire under Congress to act on term limits?
Congressman Beto O’Rourke: Yeah, I think that because of some of the things that we talked about right now about how focused members of Congress are on their re-elections and maintaining their purchase on power that if they were to sense that in their states this has become the driving priority they’re going to act on that to ensure that they’re able to stay in power and maybe that constitutional amendment only applies going forward. And current members grandfathered, if that were the price to do it, I would gladly sign up. Though I am term-limited myself, I told my constituents, because I believe in them, I would serve no more than four terms in the house. Eight years. I’m in the middle of my third term, and I’m not seeking re-election.
Congressman Beto O’Rourke: Running for the Senate right now, and if elected, I’ve told my constituents I would serve no more than two terms 12 years, regardless of whether or not other members are held to the same standard. I feel like you gotta be able to walk the walk if you’re really gonna be able to lead on this. So however we get there and you’d hope that you’d have some public pressure that would drive this here. I think it’s important enough that we support it wherever it takes place.
Philip Blumel: Okay, next, let’s get a little bit wonky. Along with the media attention, political scientists are revisiting the issue of term limits as well. Our favorite study of late comes from the journal called Political Science Research and Methods, and the study was done by James N. Strickland at Arizona State and Jesse M. Crosson at Purdue University. It is titled “K Street on Main: Legislative Turnover and Multi-Client Lobbying” and was published in 2022. This duo reviewed an original set of data regarding lobbyist contracts and state legislative turnover, in general, and then in the specific case of term-limited states. The key thing they were looking for was how turnover affects the development of state level K Streets full of professional multi-client lobbyists. K Street, as you probably are aware, is the center of the lobbying industry in Washington, DC you won’t find many term limits supporters there.
Philip Blumel: By professional multi-client lobbyists, What they mean is the big money lobbyists that represent well-heeled special interest that trade on their access and act as a defacto gatekeeper to their legislative allies. The bottom line is when you hear reformers railing against the lobbyists, these are the folks that they’re talking about, professional multi-client lobbyists. So the point of the study is to answer the question, does rapid turnover and term limits in particular, encourage or discourage the growth of big lobbyist firms? And do they assist or hinder their efforts to influence lawmakers? So here is their key findings. First, increases in turnover disrupt lobbying activity and discourage the growth of these multi-client lobbying firms. It’s an inverse ratio. The more turnover, the less lobbying power, the less turnover, the more big dominant lobbying firms you get. Next, turnover disturbs the revolving door of the legislator turn lobbyist phenomenon. That is, there are fewer former legislators serving as lobbyists in states with term limits and high turnover. This also applies, by the way, to staffers turned lobbyists. Another common phenomenon.
Philip Blumel: Next, lobbyists trade primarily on access to politicians, so when legislators serve in office for short periods of time, lobbyists have reduced abilities to build relationships and attract clients by offering access. According to the study, “In the states, veteran lobbyists in term-limited states expressed frustration over having to maintain relationships with and educate new lawmakers continuously. These challenges are compounded by the fact that freshman legislators are often hesitant to meet with lobbyists because they view them as corrupt”.
Philip Blumel: Next, legislative term limits are specifically singled out as a source of the turnover that causes these effects. This isn’t just inferred, the study actually included a second set of analysis that focused on term-limited states specifically. And lastly, in states with low turnover, lobbying firms are larger and fees are higher, and the system naturally puts poorer interests at a disadvantage, reducing access. And this is partly how these big lobbyist firms sort of act as a gatekeeper to get to the politicians for less moneyed interests.
Philip Blumel: In Washington, DC, former Congress members and their staffers are amongst the best paid and most popular lobbyists because such long relationships are possible in Washington DC.
Philip Blumel: I mean, over decades, 30, 40, 50 years. Well, term limits would alter that. As I read this study’s conclusions, we could expect that congressional term limits would reduce the power, influence, and paychecks of these lobbyists.
Philip Blumel: It’s no wonder K Street dwellers hate term limits so much and why we need them so badly. By the way, we post all new academic research that we find and polling too at termlimits.com/research. You can also find a link to the research page at termlimits.com under the ‘FACTS’, F-A-C-T-S, pull down menu on the site.
Philip Blumel: Last, let’s finish up with the latest pro-term limits salvo from former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. No, she didn’t squeeze the issue into the presidential primary debate in Milwaukee last week as we hoped, but she didn’t leave that city before again making the case for term limits to ABC News.
Nikki Haley: We need someone who’s gonna take America to a better place. And it’s time that we had term limits in DC. It’s time that we quit talking about the past and it’s time that we start talking about what the new solutions are for us going forward.
Stacey Selleck: Like the show? You could 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 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/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: Find us on most social media at US Term Limits. Like us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and now LinkedIn.