Philip Blumel: Why are so many members of Congress retiring?
Philip Blumel: Hi, I’m Philip Blumel. Welcome to No Uncertain Terms, the official podcast of the Term Limits Movement. This is episode 228, published on December 18th, 2023.
Philip Blumel: The media is excited about the wave of resignations announced by members of the House and Senate. Thus far, 37 house members and seven senators have announced they’re leaving. Those departing include two recent house speakers, although only for a few weeks. Representative Patrick McHenry of North Carolina and Kevin McCarthy of California, Representative George Santos of New York, who Ron Paul recently referred to as the most honest man in Congress, is one of those departing too. Sure, with a leadership chaos and polarization, with all the dysfunction and dishonesty and lack of progress in solving nation’s problems, why would anyone want to stay in DC? Now, that rationale makes sense to us out here as an explanation for the departures, but as usual, with anything political, sense has nothing to do with it. The first thing is, the number of resignations so far is actually normal. There’s not a mass resignation by great statesmen going on.
Philip Blumel: The number of house retirements this cycle, that’s people who will finish their term but won’t run for reelection is on par with 2020 and 2022 according to Ballotpedia. Think about it. Congress members don’t run from political dysfunction. They’re attracted to it and they cause it, because the incentives that politicians face are so perverse. The reasons for leaving are different for every politician, obviously in every election cycle. But they include things like simple retirement, sometimes frustrated ambition, sometimes ethical or legal scandals, sometimes running for higher office. You know, no one ran for Congress thinking that Congress was a civil deliberative body where they would work with others to solve problems and then they’re shocked to find out they miscalculated, and then they leave to preserve their honor and pursue a more productive occupation. Now, the incentives for candidates and office holders both are perverse due to automatic reelection and the potential of enriching oneself via multi-decade tenure.
Philip Blumel: Because it takes a decade or two to get to the levers of power, congressional candidates are necessarily signing up for a career in politics. This is not attractive to people who are used to getting things done in the private sector. People who don’t wanna be professional politicians don’t run for jobs that require being professional politicians to be successful. People don’t like snow, don’t seek jobs as ski instructors. The real story here, the real scandal here is that this is where so much of congressional turnover comes from. Resignations, of course, with the usual number of deaths and criminal convictions, I’ll remind you that the turnover caused by competitive elections is close to zero. In fact, in the US Senate in 2022, it was exactly zero. No politicians running for their own seat lost in 2022. We need term limits to fix the incentives in Congress. This will make Congress more attractive to successful goal-oriented people who do not wish to surrender their careers to politics.
Philip Blumel: It will also make elections for those seats competitive. So the voters, once again are the real decision makers. Right now, it is too often only the politicians themselves that are deciding when it’s time to leave office. Next, on a brighter note, let’s talk Tennessee. The volunteer state looks to be in the lead to be the seventh state to approve the term limits convention resolution Bill, the resolution HJR-5 there has already passed the Tennessee House in March of last year, and it gets its next hearing in the Senate in January. Leading the charge is Knoxville County Mayor Glenn Jacobs and US Term Limits’ own Aaron Dukette, but the people as well and other political leaders and opinion makers are right there beside them. Crucially, state Senator Richard Briggs, chairman of the Senate State and Local Government Affairs Committee has agreed to pick up the House joint Resolution 5 as the lead sponsor in the Senate. And he is the chair of the first committee where the bill will be heard. Activists are going door to door in key districts in Tennessee, alerting voters about the January opportunity. Aaron Dukette, the central regional coordinator at US Term Limits met with supporters last week.
Aaron Dukette: Alright, we’re here in Knoxville, Tennessee at an O’Charley’s restaurant and getting together with some grassroots to write letters to our state senators in support of House joint resolution five in Tennessee, and have with us someone from the Knoxville area. You want to state your name and your town where you’re from?
James West: Yes, sir. My name is James West. I live in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Aaron Dukette: And why do you support term limits for Congress?
James West: I support congressional term limits because without them, complacency is inevitable. And complacency is a primary ingredient in the recipe for failure.
Aaron Dukette: Excellent.
Philip Blumel: Now the Tennessee media is paying attention to all this. The Tennessean reprinted our US Term Limits state chairman in Knoxville County, Mayor Glenn Jacobs’ op-ed on why Tennessee should pass the Term Limits Resolution recently. Additionally, op-eds advocating for the state Senate to pass the Term Limits Resolution have been appearing throughout the state. This includes one by Aaron Dukette, with the headline, Congressional Elections are Like a Bad Game of Monopoly. The Tennessee Star Newspaper says that the resolution is expected to pass. Recall that if 32 states officially apply for the term limits convention, there will be, according to Article five of the US Constitution, an amendment writing convention limited to the subject of congressional term limits. Or as history suggests, when Congress sees the writing on the wall, they will pass an amendment first and the convention won’t even be necessary. Next, a new book on congressional term limits is about to hit the shelves. The title is Unshackling Democracy. The author is Gerrick Wilkins, a congressional candidate for Alabama’s 6th Congressional District. Wilkins appeared on Holly Robichaud Breaking News on Term Limits program last week.
Holly Robichaud: Hey, I’m so excited today, my first time I’ve interviewed an author and a congressional candidate. Gerrick Wilkins is joining us, and he has just written the book Unshackling Democracy. So excited about this book, loved every page of it. It was really excellent. But can you tell us about the book and what your motivation was for writing the book?
Gerrick Wilkins: Absolutely. I am so excited that this book’s coming out in just a few short weeks, Unshackling Democracy, Embracing Term Limits, and Empowering Citizens. And I’ll tell you that this all started for me many, many years ago. Term Limits has always been at the forefront. I think it’s one of the most critical things we can do to reform our government. And then it just happens that back in March, our current congressman who has been a proponent of term limits, at least in word, came and said, “I know I promised I’d only run five terms, but I’m just doing too much good. So I’m gonna break my promise and run again.” And that rubbed me the wrong way. And then come to find out, he’d signed the term limits pledge and didn’t even wanna support the term limits bill a few years back.
Gerrick Wilkins: And US Term Limits had to pressure him into keeping his word there. So at that point, I got to work on this book, and it’s been a lot of fun. I’ll tell you, I’ve been in the auto industry for 24 years as a businessman, so I’ve used some great examples from the auto industry. I’ve done a great historical background of what our founding fathers truly intended. We’ve looked through the aspects of the presidential term limits amendment, and we’ve really made it not just a strong case for term limits, but very readable, very fun, and hopefully can help us engage with the American people so we can finally get term limits passed in the United States. So I’m really excited to be here talking about it. It’s a fun book especially on a subject like term limits. Who would’ve thought that we could make term limits engaging? But I think we’ve done just that in this book.
Holly Robichaud: Oh, it’s great. I love some of the comparisons you do to the auto industry about rotating tires and changing the oil. Can you give us a couple examples of those?
Gerrick Wilkins: Yeah, absolutely. And you’ve touched on some of those, but one of my favorites is how we talk about upgrading models. I mean, every few years, these auto manufacturers have a new model come out because the current one is outdated. And when you think about the fact that we’ve got career politicians who I’ve said on the campaign trail have driven us into the ditch, and we think that these same people are gonna be able to get us out. Well, anyone that’s ever been in that situation knows that when you’re in the ditch, you’ve gotta have a change of trajectory, a change of plans, and most importantly, a change of drivers. And that’s exactly what our country needs right now. We’ve got a massive debt of almost $34 trillion, and we’ve got the same ideas coming. And guess what? It’s the career politicians that have put us in this problem. And it’s time for us to change directions. It’s time for us to upgrade models. It’s time for us to get fresh blood in Congress, and it’s time for us to enact term limits.
Holly Robichaud: One of the parts of the books that I found most interesting is you going back and looking at the reasons why term limits wasn’t included originally with the founding fathers’ past for our constitution. Can you give us a couple, little tidbits on that?
Gerrick Wilkins: Yeah, absolutely. And what a lot of people fail to realize is we actually did have term limits in the Articles of Confederation. The original founding documents had what they called rotation of office in there. So we have some of those examples in there. And I can tell you that I don’t think our founding fathers ever anticipated having the influence of lobbyists, the amount of money that’s come into politics the way we do today. Or I can tell you they would’ve pushed to have this in there. And we see that many of our founding fathers talk about the importance of rotation at office, talk about the importance of citizen legislators. And it’s one of the reasons that I decided to run for office because we need people to say, Hey, we don’t want career politicians. We want citizen lawmakers. We want people to take a break from their careers and go to serve our country just for a few years.
Gerrick Wilkins: And it’s kind of funny ’cause when I talked to my wife about this she said, “Well, I don’t want to go to DC.” I said, “I don’t either. It’s a swamp.” That’s one of the probable, that’s one of the things we’re trying to clean up with term limits. And I said, “But I believe in term limits so much. That’s why not only have I signed the term limits pledge for my run, not only have I committed to supporting term limits, I’ve also agreed to only serving three terms.” And my wife said, she’ll hold me accountable to that. So I tell everyone I have wife imposed term limits and with 24 years of marriage, I can tell you that’s a real, real important aspect.
Holly Robichaud: I’m sure it is. Hey, I’m sure you saw the latest Gallup poll where it says that Congress only has like a 13% job performance approval. Do you think if we were to enact term limits that their job performance approval would increase? Do you think people would start to… That would restore people’s faith in Congress?
Gerrick Wilkins: Absolutely. I think what we need is options of the ballot box. We need fresh ideas. I mean, like I said, it’s these career politicians that have got us into these problems. And all they continue doing is fighting back and forth, not coming up with real solutions. And we’ve got real problems in this country. You look at what’s going on at the southern border right now, my goodness, there’s an invasion going on there, and these career politicians are doing nothing about it. But we get fresh ideas in there, we’ll definitely see a change. And it amazes me because you look at these congressional races and when there’s no incumbent running, just like we see in Alabama second congressional district, there’s 21 people running for that office.
Gerrick Wilkins: But guess what? When there’s an incumbent they’ve got such an unfair advantage with the funding they have, none of the PACS wanna support someone that’s not an incumbent. That there’s no opportunity for competition. And competition is what makes our country great. And that’s what we need. We need these fresh ideas to really come and clean out the swamp. ‘Cause I can tell you, I’ve spent some time in DC working on this book. I’ve been privileged to talk with some great members of our congressional delegation who have told me some of the stories about what’s going on and we need fresh faces in DC to fix our country’s problems.
Holly Robichaud: We sure do. We sure do. And I understand Congressman Ralph Norman wrote the forward, he’s our lead sponsor in the house on our how… Term Limits Resolution.
Gerrick Wilkins: Absolutely. Congressman Norman has become a good friend of mine over the course of this book. He has been a huge supporter in it. He gave me great insight into developing different key ideas in this book. He’s told me about some of the challenges and in fact has had me at breakfast with other members of Congress to talk through these issues. And I was very happy that he agreed to write the forward for this book. He is a staunch supporter of term limits and we need more leadership like Ralph in Congress. And that’s one one of the reasons I’m hoping to join him really soon.
Holly Robichaud: That’s great. So how do people get more information about your book and about you? ‘Cause I understand that you are running for Alabama’s 6th congressional district, so how do they get more information? Because we obviously love people that support wholeheartedly term limits.
Gerrick Wilkins: Absolutely. Well, if you want more information on the book, we have a website unshackling democracy, which will… You can log in to sign up for the pre-orders on that site. But I’d also encourage you to visit my campaign website, Wilkinsforal.com, Wilkinsforal.com. You can learn more about the campaign, you can learn more about our initiatives to really improve Congress through term limits. In fact, our slogan for the campaign is Driving Change and Limiting Terms. So Wilkinsforal.com is a great place to learn about the campaign and then sign up on our website for the book unshacklingdemocracy.com. That way, you can know when it’s out. You can pre-order one, you can find out about events that we’re gonna have related to it. And it’s just gonna be a great time for us to get this out. And hopefully, we can finally push to get term limits done. I mean, I was so disappointed to see that we had those 19 members that voted down even bringing the bill to the vote. I mean, it’s just ridiculous that these entrenched politicians are so opposed to it. And you talked about the number of people in favor of it. I think the only ones that aren’t all live in DC.
Holly Robichaud: That’s right. The rest of the country is in favor. So, hey Gerrick, I am so glad you joined us today. And I loved your book and I urge everybody go out and get your book Unshackling Democracy, fantastic book, and thank you for joining us today.
Gerrick Wilkins: Thank you so much, Holly. Appreciate it. Have a great one.
Holly Robichaud: You too.
Philip Blumel: To subscribe to Holly’s YouTube show, go to youtube.com/USTermLimits. Next, I have here on my desk a stack of brand new, entirely predictable polls from various congressional districts in Oregon and California. Let’s check out the headlines on a few of these. New Oregon five poll. That is, say Oregon District 5. Likely Democratic primary voters overwhelmingly support term limits on Congress. New California 47 poll. An overwhelming 89% of likely primary voters support term limits on Congress. New California 40 poll, an overwhelming 87% of likely primary voters support term limits on Congress. I could continue. Oh, I will. New California 13 poll, an overwhelming 92% of likely primary voters support term limits on Congress. You might think that is a waste of money to commission polls when the results are so obvious. But a couple things. One, I guarantee you the polls are actually eye popping for some tenured politicians who only ever speak to lobbyists, staffers, other politicians, party activists and political pundits, that is the small minority of people in this country actually opposed to term limits.
Philip Blumel: And maybe these polls are eye-opening for Republican partisans also. Yes, voters in California and Oregon overwhelmingly support term limits just like voters everywhere else. But perhaps the most intriguing results are those in which we investigate how impactful term limits are when injected into current congressional races in these districts. Here’s an example, “According to a new poll conducted by RMG Research, an overwhelming 92% of likely primary voters in California’s 13th congressional district, approve of an amendment to the US Constitution that will place term limits on US senators and US House representatives.” The poll, which conducted from November 14 to 19 also finds that John Duarte and Adam Gray are currently tied with 21% of the vote in that district. 47% of voters indicated they’re undecided. However, when voters were asked who they would support if they knew that John Duarte backed congressional term limits and the other candidates opposed, his support leaps from 21% to 41%, 21% to 41%.
Philip Blumel: If they’re informed, voters are more likely to select the term limits candidate. That’s powerful. So let’s make sure the voters know. You can help us get the word out by supporting US Term Limits at termlimits.com/donate. Also, let’s make sure that candidates know what a powerful message term limits are. If you know a candidate running for Congress, please share this information and provide them with a pledge. All the US Term Limits’ pledges can be found at termlimits.com/pledges. When a candidate comes to you for help with their campaign, say, here’s a pledge. This will help your campaign. Next, did you know the mascot of the Republican Party emerged as a result of a term limits controversy? That’s right. The symbol, the elephant has been used to represent the GOP since the 1800. Now, there weren’t codified term limits on the president back in the 1800, but there was a popular and recognized tradition of presidents running for only two terms.
Philip Blumel: The tradition started with George Washington and it was observed for well over a century until FDR’s unprecedented four terms in the 1930s and ’40s. But yes, there were politicians before that who sent up trial balloons to see if public resistance to three terms still remained strong. President Ulysses S. Grant found out that it was. On November 7th, 1874 in a Thomas Nast political cartoon in Harper’s Weekly. The elephant was first used as a stand-in for the Republican Party. In the cartoon, Nast lampooned, the political danger to the Republicans caused by Grant’s apparent campaigning for a third term as President in the midst of the midterm congressional elections. And that cartoon, the elephant panics and tumbles into a hidden pit. Indeed, the Democrats did win that midterm election and took the House majority for the first time since before the Civil War. As Jimmy Stamp writes for smithsonian.com, Nast was central to popularizing the associations with the two parties and the respective animals, the elephant and the donkey.
Philip Blumel: “It was a time when political cartoons weren’t just relegated to a sidebar in the editorial page, but really had the power to change minds and sway undecided voters by distilling complex ideas into more compressible representations. Cartoons had power.” Stamp continues. “The rationale behind the choice of the elephant is unclear, but Nast might have chosen it as the embodiment of a large and powerful creature, though one that tends to be dangerously careless when frightened.” Well, the lesson learned Grant and 1875 wrote a public letter formally renouncing any interest in a third term. The elephant remains today as a mascot of the Republican Party and the people still adamantly support a two term limit on presidential terms and all other politicians as well.
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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/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’s 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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