Philip Blumel: Let the wild rumpus start. All eyes are on Iowa today as the caucuses to nominate a democratic presidential candidate are underway. Could it be that Upstart Andrew Yang is making a last minute challenge to Tom Steyer’s towering lead in the standings?
Philip Blumel: Hi. I’m Philip Blumel. Welcome to No Uncertain Terms, the official podcast of the term limits movement for the week of February 3rd, 2020.
Stacey Selleck: Your sanctuary from partisan politics.
Philip Blumel: You might ask what standings I’m talking about. Here at No Uncertain Terms, we don’t judge the candidates solely by polls or crude vote counts. No. We track how often and how forcefully candidates inject congressional term limits into the public debate. And by this measure, tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang is rising fast. U.S. Term Limits executive director Nick Tomboulides is with us to discuss this and other news.
Philip Blumel: Hey, Nick. So Andrew Yang, what’s going on?
Nick Tomboulides: The Yang Gang. He’s the tech entrepreneur who is bringing a lot of creativity and fresh ideas to the presidential contest. Happy Iowa Hawkeye Cauc-eye, by the way. Today’s the day.
Nick Tomboulides: Andrew Yang has a very innovative proposal for congressional term limits. If you recall, what we’ve said on this broadcast is that chickens will not vote for Colonel Sanders. But let’s play the what if game for a second here. What if the good Colonel offered the chickens a deal? What if he promised that he would protect these chickens and only turn the next flock of chickens into a 10-piece bucket? Maybe, just maybe that could work.
Nick Tomboulides: And that’s what Andrew Yang is getting at here. He is saying you might be able to get Congress to pass term limits if you protect the current incumbents, if you grandfather them in so that they are never term limited. And then once a member either retires, dies, gets indicted, or in the one in a million chance they lose, then that office will have term limits forever. And he believes that would accelerate the passage of this reform. And I think he’s got a point.
Philip Blumel: I do too. It would definitely take away some of the resistance that they’d have towards doing it. And importantly, he’s using this as a key talking point. He sent out a tweet last week. He has added to his stump speech when he stops. He’s going on a bus tour right now around Iowa because he doesn’t have to be in the US Senate this week.
Philip Blumel: As a result of all this, pushing this idea came up in an interview that he did on television. Let’s hear that.
Andrew Yang: When we send people to Congress on our behalf, they should be there to do work and then come home. They should not go there and think, “Oh, if I can just turn this into a lifetime appointment, I can just squat here and never have to go back, because DC, so much money, the food is so good,” et cetera, et cetera. That’s the wrong attitude.
Andrew Yang: So I’m happy to say I have found the secret, the loophole, as to how we can pass term limits in Congress. Go to Congress, as your president, again, a year from now, I will say, “Hey, you know what would be a great idea? Term limits, because then legislatures would be more dynamic. You’d have different leaders coming in, be more responsive to the people. You wouldn’t have this entrenched culture that builds up. So here’s what we’re going to do: 12-year term limits for every member of Congress, but current law makers are exempt.”
Andrew Yang: Do you think they’ll pass that the next day? Oh yeah, they would. They’d be like, “We’d do this for the American people,” because they’d be grandfathered in. They’d be like, “Check this out. I could become one of the last people standing around here.” But then eventually, those people lose or age out. And then we ended up with a legislature that’s actually responsive to us.
Andrew Yang: This is, again, one of the ways we can actually change things in Washington. You have to make it so it’s in the zone of agreement where you’re not asking people to shoot themselves in the foot to that degree. So what these people are doing is setting restrictions on the people that will come after them. So that’s the plan, 12-year term limits. What do you all think?
Speaker 5: So there are some-
Andrew Yang: If you can’t get something done in 12 years, you should come home.
Speaker 5: So there are some states that have term limits in legislatures, states like Virginia. And what some people say end up happening is that you still have an entrenched culture, except it’s in the favor of lobbyists because lawmakers aren’t there forever, so they don’t know the system. But lobbyists can be there as long as they want, so lobbyists are able to manipulate the system more because legislatures don’t have the long history and the know-how. So how do you respond to that?
Andrew Yang: All you have to do is look at what’s happening in DC today. Do we really think that the lobbyists are losing because we have so much experience in the legislature that they’re outsmarting the lobbyists at every turn? Of course not.
Andrew Yang: We got rid of the Office of Technology Assessment in 1995, 25 years ago. So Congress has literally been getting zero guidance on technology issues for 25 years. You know who tells them about technology issues? The technology companies. So are you really telling me that, oh, if you keep Congress people around, they’ll actually be able to resist lobbying better? It’s not born out by our experience.
Philip Blumel: Not bad.
Nick Tomboulides: Fantastic. I love the point about lobbyists. The critics of term limits have been banging this drum for so long that, if you term limit Congress, all the experienced legislators will go away and the lobbyists are going to take advantage of all the newbies and the rookies. And of course, we know that’s not true. Of course, we know there are 12,000 lobbyists in Washington right now controlling everything, holding these senators up like marionettes. And it’s just the obvious truth to every American.
Nick Tomboulides: What I love about Yang in this clip was he hasn’t really needed to study term limits. He’s just shooting from the hip as an American citizen who watches Congress, sees how horribly dysfunctional and broken it is, and knows that this argument is just big steaming pile of doggy doo.
Philip Blumel: That’s right. So let’s get down to the horse race. How is Yang doing in the term limits caucus?
Nick Tomboulides: He’s moving up the rankings because, remember, when Tom Steyer got in the race, he grabbed the term limits lane without really realizing Yang was already in there. Yang had come out for this first, but I think he made a mistake because when Steyer emerged on the scene, Yang didn’t do nearly enough to remind people where he stood. So now he’s maybe realizing that mistake, he’s seeing Steyer surging in a few states, and wishing he could have those moments back, particularly in the debates and such.
Philip Blumel: Yep. So I’m excited about it. I said he’s rising fast and I think that’s true. He’s mentioning it more and more. It’d be very interesting to see both him and Steyer in a future debate talk about this subject.
Nick Tomboulides: We would also be a little bit remiss if we did not mention that Andrew Yang did not come up with this idea of grandfathering in the current incumbents. It was actually an innovation of current Florida governor Ron DeSantis back when he was in Congress. He had had this idea a four years ago. He had floated it. He had not really pushed the bill or done anything with it seriously, but it was his idea first because he thought, if you could protect this crop of incumbents, they would be more apt to vote for it.
Tom Fitzgerald: This is the On The Hill podcast coming to you from the studios of Fox 5 in Washington DC. I’m Tom Fitzgerald. Our guest this time is Neal Simon. He is a former independent candidate for the United States Senate in Maryland and he is currently the author of “Contract to Unite America: Ten Reforms to Reclaim our Republic.”
Tom Fitzgerald: Let’s go through a couple of these reforms, Neal, because I actually think they’re pretty interesting and worthy of discussion. And I want to start with the very first one. Why did you, first of all, decide there were going to be 10?
Neal Simon: So first, every one of the reforms in my book is supported by at least 60% of Americans, some as much as 83%.
Tom Fitzgerald: Number three is the term limits constitutional amendment. You want members of the US House of Representatives to be limited to three terms of two years. That would be six years. The members of the US Senate will be limited to two terms of six years.
Tom Fitzgerald: Now, we have a restriction on how long the president can serve. We’ve talked for a long time in this country about term limits for Congress. The problem is it’s Congress that would have to make this change. So how would we enact term limits onto politicians that don’t necessarily want term limits? They all seem to be in favor of it when they’re running for office, but once they get into office, not so much.
Neal Simon: So this reform is the most popular of all 10 of the reforms. Eighty-three percent of Americans support congressional term limits. And I tried to find out who’s against term limits, and I think my answer is pretty much it’s sitting politicians is that 17%. Because among the other people who are against it, if you ask them, “Well, does that mean you’re also against term limits for the president and for governorships? Thirty-six states have term limits on their governors,” they’ll say, “Oh no. I’m in favor of that. So maybe that’s okay for Congress too.”
Neal Simon: So it is hard to implement this one. So this is one of only two of the 10 reforms that requires a constitutional amendment. And there’s a group called the U.S. Term Limits that’s been organizing that process, and hopefully we’ll be able to get that done. It’s a hard one to get done.
Tom Fitzgerald: Why six years for the house, 12 years for the Senate?
Neal Simon: That’s the way they’ve laid out their amendment. I don’t feel passionately about those numbers. But when you poll on this, the shorter the limits are more popular, meaning the American public supports short terms as limits. And that’s what they support [crosstalk 00:09:52].
Tom Fitzgerald: What are the pushbacks you do hear? Politicians don’t like to run around and say how they’re against term limits.
Tom Fitzgerald: One of the push backs you do hear, though, from politicians that are in power is that, well, you lose institutional knowledge. You lose some ability to have your hands on the levers of government. Would any of that hold up in your view, if somebody only had six years up on the Hill and the House?
Neal Simon: So let me ask you, do you think Congress is this highly functional organization where, if we have term limits, we lose all these skilled representatives who are getting so much done for the country? I-
Tom Fitzgerald: Well, I think one of the dangers is, though, that then you put all that power into the institutionalized staff, and then you’re having unelected people really with the hands on those levers.
Neal Simon: Some people make that argument, but I will tell you the lobbyists who in your theory would benefit from not having term limits, they all advocate against term limits, meaning in your theory they’d benefit from that. They all are against term limits and they’ll spend money against term limits. So I don’t think it’s the case.
Neal Simon: I think what you see today is that our legislators, the skill that they’re developing with their experience and their tenure is their skill at playing partisan politics and at fighting partisan game.
Tom Fitzgerald: The book is called “Contract to Unite America: Ten Reforms to Reclaim our Republic, and the author Neal Simon has been kind enough to join us this time On The Hill. Neal, we thank you.
Neal Simon: Thank you, Tom.
Philip Blumel: Let’s go down to Florida now. You went back up to Tallahassee again the other day for the second hearing for the bill that would put on the ballot for this November eight year term limits on all the school boards throughout the state. What happened?
Nick Tomboulides: We had a great outcome after a hearing that at times got contentious, because Tallahassee is the home field of every lobbyist in Florida. So we were overwhelmed by the swamp creatures, but we won anyway. We passed the House oversight and transparency committee by a 10 to five vote. It was party line unlike the last one, but it was still an overwhelming margin.
Nick Tomboulides: And it was a fascinating debate that took place because, when I got up there, I really exposed the lobbyist for a major lie that they’ve been telling for years, which is that they claim people in Florida can put school board term limits on the ballot in their localities.
Philip Blumel: Oh, boy.
Nick Tomboulides: And that’s simply not the case.
Philip Blumel: Right.
Nick Tomboulides: You can’t do that in Florida. Has to be an amendment to the state constitution. And so that was the case I went up there and made.
Philip Blumel: Wow. But I understand that now that this bill is starting to move, it was at second committee, and now it won the second committee. At that hearing, you saw a big turnout of these lobbyists.
Nick Tomboulides: Yes.
Philip Blumel: Who are these lobbyists working for? Who are they representing? I know it’s not the voters.
Nick Tomboulides: Well, the most prominent one gets three clients. He’s got the Small Counties Coalition, he’s got the School Board Consortium of Florida, and then he’s got the Bay County Board of County Commissioners.
Nick Tomboulides: What does that mean exactly? It means that Florida taxpayers, 82% of whom want term limits for school boards, are inadvertently funding this lobbyist. They’re sending money to politicians via their taxes who are then spending it on a lobbyist to try to thwart the will of the voters. So voters are actually funding someone who is trying to undermine their will and their wishes in Tallahassee. That alone should be a scandal.
Philip Blumel: It should be. It’s really fraudulent because, of course, most voters don’t know this is going on.
Nick Tomboulides: No, people are totally in the dark on this. These hearings only show up on the Florida channel, which I think maybe only me and my grandmother watch ever. So yeah, it’s disheartening to know that the lobbyists are out there and that they are so adamantly opposed to this. Certainly not surprising.
Nick Tomboulides: But what is good is that the legislators up to this point have not been listening to those lobbyists. They have been listening to the people of Florida instead. So we really need to applaud the members of this committee for their vote.
Philip Blumel: Let’s listen to your full remarks.
Nick Tomboulides: Going into school board term limits, looking at some of the numbers on incumbency, the voluntary retirements have been discussed, but what hasn’t been discussed is the invincibility, the sheer invincibility of school board incumbents when they do run for reelection.
Nick Tomboulides: Between 2014 2016, they had an 82% reelection rate. And that went up in 2018. It became an 85% re-election rate. So school board incumbency is getting worse and worse. And unfortunately, we can’t dethrone these incumbents who do run for reelection because nearly half of them run unopposed, meaning if you’re a voter who’d like to throw out your incumbent, half the time you have about no choice to do so. We’ve got one school board member in Columbia County who’s been in office since 1976, 44 years ago. So we absolutely do have a big problem with school board incumbency.
Nick Tomboulides: Do any of you remember when you were back in school and you get to go on a field trip? I actually took one yesterday. I took a fun field trip to the supervisor of elections office in Marion County, Florida, because I’ve been listening to lobbyists in these hearings tell me that we don’t need to do school board term limits as a constitutional amendment, that we can just do it at the local level.
Nick Tomboulides: So I met a very kind and knowledgeable woman named Kim. I think she’s the operations director there. She’s so smart. She’s got the entire elections handbook memorized. So I said, “Kim, how do we do a local option for school board term limits? How can the people of Marion put it on the ballot?” Without missing a beat, she said, “You cannot. It’s not legal. Nobody can do it. There is no local option for school board term limits in Florida.” She said it could only be done at the state level, because school boards are not political subdivisions of counties. They’re political subdivisions of the state, which means that this building right here, this body right here is exactly the only way that it can be done.
Nick Tomboulides: The attorneys for the Constitutional Revision Commission actually said the same thing. So without this constitutional amendment, the 82% of Floridians who want school board term limits, who hail from all sorts of races, ages, ideologies, education levels, and parties, they are at the mercy of local politicians if you do not act here in this building.
Nick Tomboulides: And when you see a lobbyist come up here and say that there exists presently a local option for school board term limits in Florida, that is simply not true. It’s a fraud. It’s a hoax. It’s a scam. It’s a swindle. It’s as truthful as a Nigerian Prince offering you his inheritance.
Nick Tomboulides: We see the way term limits have worked here at the state level and we like it. It has revitalized our elections. It has increased our diversity, gotten more women and more African Americans elected, and it has made us a leader in fiscal health. We see the 85% of school board incumbents getting reelected, many with no opposition, and we want to change that.
Nick Tomboulides: Look, I realize one or two lobbyists don’t like this amendment. I realize that they are actually being contracted by local politicians to thwart the will of the voters. But the people of Florida love this amendment. That is who you work for, that is who you represent, and it is our voice that matters the most in this debate.
Philip Blumel: That was really great, Nick. You laid it on the line.
Nick Tomboulides: At the previous hearing, we were fortunate to have support from Tina Descovich, who is an elected school board member in Florida. She supports term limits for all school boards, but she’s also self term limiting after two terms. So she’s saying, “I won’t spend more than eight years in office. I want to be a citizen legislator.” She’s doing the right thing. And when she got up there on the lectern, she really made a powerful and compelling case for why we need term limits.
Philip Blumel: Oh, great. Let’s hear it.
Tina Descovich: Hi. I’m Tina Descovich. Just want to give you a little perspective as a current sitting school board member, my opinion on school board term limits. I support having term limits on school boards to two term limits. I’m in my first term right now. I am running for reelection, but I’ve committed, too, to only two terms to all my constituents.
Tina Descovich: I sit on many nonprofit boards or I have sat on many nonprofit boards, and all of those boards, in their bylaws, we usually have terms, even if you sit out for just one year. And we do that for many reasons, one of them being to bring in fresh ideas, new faces, people with new community connections.
Tina Descovich: The education community, as we most know, is a close-knit, closed community. We have our own acronyms. We have our own way of thinking about things. And I think it’s vital that the leadership in each of our communities comes in from parts of the community that aren’t ordinarily there. It brings so much more to education.
Tina Descovich: I was looking at the statistics. Eighty-five percent of school board members that we’re running in 2018 were reelected, and half of them didn’t even have an opposition in the seat. So I’m a proponent of local control. And he spoke to my heart, the gentleman that was speaking against school board term limits. But my power sitting on the school board is derived from the state of Florida, from the Florida constitution. And so it’s the Florida constitution, I believe, that should direct the term of my service. And I think eight years is plenty of time for that service.
Tina Descovich: In my first three years I obviously, when I was running, had a lot of campaign promises and agendas and things I wanted to change and push through in our district. And I will admit it’s a large bureaucracy at our district. And it’s taken some time to get some things changed, but we’ve seen a lot of progress. And if I can’t do in eight years what I promised to do when I was running for election, then I think I’ve got some issues.
Tina Descovich: I don’t want to take up much of your time, but I want to close just by saying, as a school board member, I definitely see the wisdom and insight to keeping my time to eight years. Thank you.
Philip Blumel: That’s great. What’s the next stop for this bill?
Nick Tomboulides: Next stop will be the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, and that vote is going to be taking place later this afternoon. The chairman of that committee Senator Dennis Baxley was the sponsor of school board term limits last year. So we know we’ve got at least one really strong champion on the committee. I believe there are others as well. So we’re definitely looking forward to it.
Philip Blumel: Okay. We’ll have the result of that vote next week.
Philip Blumel: Thank you for listening to another episode of No Uncertain Terms. After passing the West Virginia Senate two weeks ago, the Term Limits Convention bill, now SCR4, is headed to the House. The first stop is the judiciary committee. If you live in West Virginia, please contact the members of this committee and urge them to support the bill. We’ve made it easy for you. Just go to termlimits.com, and under the current actions tab at the top, you’ll find the West Virginia Action page. It will take you two minutes, and they need to hear from you. Thank you for your help. We’ll be back next week.
Stacey Selleck: The revolution isn’t being televised. Fortunately, you have the No Uncertain Terms podcast.
Speaker 9: USTL.
Philip Blumel: All right. Hey, by the way, there was like 30 students and three teachers in Palm Beach County that were put into quarantine yesterday for potential corona virus.
Nick Tomboulides: The Pabst Blue Ribbon virus is a much cheaper and more alcoholic version of the coronavirus. Yeah. And sometimes you can get it bundled with a hotdog for two dollars once in a while.
Philip Blumel: And it comes in bigger cans.