Philip Blumel: Looking back, it’s been a big year for the term limits movement. Hi, I’m Philip Blumel. Welcome to No Uncertain Terms, the official podcast of the term limits movement for the week of December 24th, 2018.
Philip Blumel: The US term limits crew hopes you’re enjoying the holidays as we are. In the final week of the year, it’s worth looking back at 2018, which has been a very successful you in our effort to impose term limits on US congress. Joining us is Nick Tomboulides, US Term Limits executive director. Hey, Nick.
Nicolas Tomboulides: Phil, how are you?
Philip Blumel: Looking back over the last year, I made a list of notable achievements of the term limits movement. I guess you did, too. What would top your list as the most important thing that occurred in 2018?
Nicolas Tomboulides: At the very top of my list is the progress we’ve made towards getting a term limits convention of the states to propose term limits for congress. In 2018, two additional state legislatures passed term limits convention language. That was the Alabama legislature and the Missouri general assembly.
Nicolas Tomboulides: Let me tell you. Getting those bills passed was not easy, but it was a significant accomplishment.
Philip Blumel: Absolutely.
Nicolas Tomboulides: We marshalled our resources in these states, got volunteers together, and made it happen. My grandfather used to say, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail,” but we made sure that we were prepared and focused. In both of these states, we identified solid sponsors before the session started.
Nicolas Tomboulides: We didn’t take these states for granted. Every time the bill came up in a committee, we flooded these places with office visits, emails, phone calls from constituents pleading with members to pass the resolution.
Nicolas Tomboulides: In my view, the trail has now been blazed. The term limits convention has proved itself to be a fully bipartisan effort. We had bipartisan votes in both of these states. Now we have the careerist class in congress running scared.
Philip Blumel: Yeah, that was really exciting, no doubt the number one achievement of the year. Now we have three states because Florida was the first one, and now with Alabama and Missouri, now we have three. Of course, we need 34 in order to officially call an amendment writing convention under Article V of the US Constitution, but we’ve proven that this can be done. These state politicians are not voting to pass term limits on themselves. They’re voting to call for a convention to write an amendment to pass term limits on federal legislatures.
Philip Blumel: I think it’s clear that this is working. We almost passed a couple more, too. We won half of a couple of assemblies across the country.
Nicolas Tomboulides: More, actually more. More than a couple. There were states where we passed a single chamber, Arizona, Georgia, Utah. In Maine we passed, actually, with a majority even though we need a two thirds majority.
Nicolas Tomboulides: In those states, we have redoubled our activist presence. We’ve put more boots on the ground. We’ve done a lot more voter education programs to let people know who supports term limits and who doesn’t. I think you’re going to see very promising results in most of those states in 2019.
Philip Blumel: Great. I look forward to our 2019 recap when I hope and expect that our top story is going to be a couple more states approving an application for a term limits convention.
Philip Blumel: Next on my list, I had our successful pledge program. As our listeners know, we have actually two pledge programs. We have a pledge that we hand out to all candidates for the US congress that says that if they win that position in the US congress that they pledge to cosponsor and voter for the US term limits amendment and then we have one at the state level where folks running for the state legislatures say that if they win the position, that they will cosponsor and vote for a call for a term limits convention.
Philip Blumel: On both of these programs, we really applied a lot of effort and collected signatures from an enormous number of candidates and a lot of them were elected to legislatures and to the US congress.
Nicolas Tomboulides: Yeah, that is absolutely right. At this point, we have a record number of congressional pledge signers, at least for the modern era. We have about 50 in the US house. That could be 51. There’s a disputed race in North Carolina where a pledge signer might have to …
Philip Blumel: Mark Harris.
Nicolas Tomboulides: Mark Harris might have to appear on the ballot again, so that could be 51. 14 more are in the senate. We’re doing very well in congress. We had an enormous number of pledge signers this cycle. We had 118 federal candidates sign this cycle and quite a few of them got elected.
Nicolas Tomboulides: Just to remind our listeners, there is really a synergy between the state convention strategy and having a federal amendment. There are two different ways to amend the Constitution under Article V to obtain a term limits amendment. Each of these methods actually helps increase the likelihood that the other will succeed because as the states are consistently putting pressure on congress, we are continually building, accumulating support for the amendment within congress and just raising the visibility of the issue, making it more likely that when the states draw near to an Article V convention, congress could preempt them and propose an amendment of its own.
Nicolas Tomboulides: We want to make sure that that amendment is very solid, which is why the pledge these candidates have signed is for three house terms, six years, and two senate terms, 12 years.
Philip Blumel: Taking every opportunity to put the case for the term limits convention in front of state legislators, Southeast Regional Director Ken Clark represented US Term Limits at the National Council of State Legislators’ Capitol Forum in Washington DC in early December. Clark spent some time with Tennessee state senator Mike Bell to talk about Bell discovered how the states can propose term limits on the US congress.
Ken Clark: First and foremost, we wanted to get your take on Article V and the power that the states have, so could if you explain your understanding of the process.
Mike Bell: Absolutely. It’s probably about 10 years ago that a mutual friend named Mike [Ferris 00:06:38] came to my office in Nashville and sat down with me and said, “Mike, there is a provision in the US Constitution that the states have never taken advantage of.” It literally was news to me. It was eye opening when he started showing me that there were two ways to amend our US Constitution, one through the way we’ve always done it led by the federal legislature or congress. They pass a resolution. Then it goes to the states for the states to amend it.
Mike Bell: The other way was where the states take the lead to amend the Constitution and pass a resolution, a like resolution. Then once they get two thirds of the states to pass a similar resolution or an identical resolution, they can have a convention and vote on it.
Mike Bell: I’m going, “Mike, how come I’ve never seen this? How come I never knew about this second way to amend the Constitution?”
Mike Bell: He said, “It’s just it’s not taught. It’s not taught or discussed.” Then when he gave me the history, that there had been 700, maybe depending on how you count them, more resolutions for a state led constitutional convention passed since the beginning of our country, it has been out there. We’ve just not focused enough on it.
Mike Bell: When he started talking to me telling me, “Congress is never going to take the lead on restraining themselves in spending. They’re never going to take the lead on reducing regulation because it empowers them to have more regulation. They’re never going to take the lead on having term limits because that would limit their own time to serve.”
Mike Bell: He said, “If these things are going to happen, it’s going to happen through the states taking the lead.”
Mike Bell: I said, “What can I do to help?”
Mike Bell: That’s when I first got involved. Oh, goodness, I’m trying to remember. I went to the first meeting that I knew of, the one that was held at Mount Vernon, a number of years ago and have been to just about every meeting I think, except one, that have been held by any Article V group in the last six or seven years. I’ve been very involved in it.
Mike Bell: I think it’s a way the states can truly take back the power we’ve lost through a number of ways, congress not recognizing the 10th Amendment anymore, the 17th Amendment that took the power away from the states to choose the senator. Now it’s chosen popularly by the people of the state instead of the states. We don’t have anybody speaking for us anymore. This is a way the states can speak together and it’s a way we can change the Constitution, and it was intended by our founders.
Mike Bell: George Mason insisted that this be in our Constitution so the states could have a way to take the lead on changing the Constitution.
Ken Clark: Senator, Tennessee has always been a state that is a front runner when it comes to maintaining their own sovereignty, Tennessee, Texas. There are several other southern states. When you go around to conferences like this one, what do you see as the biggest reason why states are reluctant to use their own power to fight back against the behemoth that is our federal government?
Mike Bell: I still think that even though we’re much more knowledgeable about this Article V process than we were seven or eight years ago, there’s still a lack of knowledge out there among many state legislators that this can really be done and you still have the push back from these other groups. I’m not going to name them, but the other groups who are organized more so in some states than others who think this is going to open up a can of worms. “We don’t need to do this. The founders didn’t intend this.” They’re wrong. They’re wrong.
Mike Bell: This process can work, whether it’s term limits, whether it’s BBA, whether it’s regulation freedom, whether it’s the COS, we need the process to work. I think it’ll scare the pants off of congress if we can ever get this successfully done.
Stacey Selleck: As 2018 comes to a close, I’d like to acknowledge you and send a heartfelt thanks for the vital work you do to support term limits. We’ve been through a lot together this year. Behind all the hard work, calls to action, capitol days, petition gatherings, sign waving, and yes, some legal battles, there have been many victories that you’ve made possible with your support. Here are some of our favorite moments from 2018.
Stacey Selleck: Both Alabama and Missouri passed our term limits convention resolution. Georgia and Arizona closed the session passing our resolution in at least one chamber. We’ve laid the foundation in several other states to help usher our initiative through this upcoming legislative session.
Stacey Selleck: Among other successes, there will be nearly 70 pledge signers in the incoming 116th Congress and more than 120 state legislators who have pledged to support our Article V measure to add a congressional term limits amendment to the Constitution. We brought on three new staff members and eight volunteer state directors.
Stacey Selleck: Aside from passing our resolution through more states, we’re preparing to launch a Term Limits Hall of Fame and to celebrate the first ever National Term Limits Day on February 27th. We also have 20 episodes of this podcast under our belts to help keep you better informed of our progress.
Stacey Selleck: Along with many term limit successes and some near misses, we hope you have taken a moment to tell your democratic representative to support term limits on committee chairs in the US house. You can do that easily by going to termlimits.com/savehousetermlimits.
Stacey Selleck: When you say goodbye to 2018 and look back on all the work we’ve done together, remember these victories and why we fight for a citizen legislature. Thanks for staying in this fight. Here’s to 2019.
Philip Blumel: What’s next on your list, Nick?
Nicolas Tomboulides: Term limits won big across the country at the local level and there were some real key campaigns involved in that. New York City, for example, citizens passed term limits on the community boards. It was 72% of the vote. That will go a long way towards revitalizing those boards and allowing for new faces to serve.
Nicolas Tomboulides: In the two biggest cities in Tennessee, Memphis and Nashville, citizens defeated politician driven scams to gut term limits. In both of these cases, the politicians tried to use dirty, underhanded language to trick the voters into thinking that a vote against term limits would really be a pro=term limits vote.
Philip Blumel: Oh, that’s so typical.
Nicolas Tomboulides: In both of these cases, citizens proved to be smarter than the politicians. No surprise there. They saw through the schemes and they voted them down. There’s a lot of encouraging action throughout the country. It’s creating momentum for the issue. When you see it work at the local level, it really just has an energizing effect and makes you want to fight harder and make it a reality for congress.
Philip Blumel: Right. I like the fact that these politicians at all these levels are seeing that when term limits pass, they tend to pass with large majorities, too. You mentioned that one with over 70%. 70% is really about the average for winning term limits measures around the country.
Nicolas Tomboulides: I mean federal politicians, members of congress, put their head on the pillow every night. They thank God that there is no national initiative process by which all the voters in America in all 50 states could simply go into the ballot box and choose to term limit congress because if that existed, this would have been done yesterday.
Philip Blumel: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Nicolas Tomboulides: It’s a lot more difficult of a process to try to get an amendment through, but just the sheer levels of support that we see for this issue all throughout the country are extraordinary, 70, 80, in some areas 90% like Utah, for example. Support for term limits is about 90%. There’s no issue like that anywhere else in the country. There’s no issue that unifies people like that.
Philip Blumel: It’s also a bipartisan issue. It unifies even democrats and republicans. One of the things I had on my list is this internal debate that the Democratic caucus is having in congress right now. This has been the subject of our last two podcasts, but the junior democrats in the congress are calling for term limits on the leadership, term limits on the committee chairs. They want to see more turnover, have new faces and names in those positions of power, and they don’t want to be locked out of the system for 10 or 20 years before they can have any influence.
Philip Blumel: That debate is a really serious one within the Democratic caucus. I think that is resonating with the group of larger Democratic voters across the country.
Nicolas Tomboulides: I think the catalyst for that debate was Barack Obama, actually. It was Barack Obama who said that there are 25 and 35 year olds with a lot of fresh ideas who are really champing at the bit to go into public office and make an impact, but they can’t do it because they’re blocked by the lifetime politicians. Obviously every industry throughout our country at some point has been transformed, has been modernized for the current era, but it seems like politics is still stuck in this bygone era of the past.
Nicolas Tomboulides: We have members who are trying to regulate social media, regulate the internet, who don’t know how to turn on a computer, for instance. We have a lot of members who seem out of step, who seem out of touch, who seem disconnected.
Nicolas Tomboulides: We’ve focused on this podcast before how Alzheimer’s drugs are actually getting shipped to Capitol Hill on a regular basis, which is quite alarming. Yeah, I think the argument for committee chair term limits and leadership term limits is very strong. Let’s pass the torch. Whether republican or democrat, let’s pass the torch to a new generation of leaders who can actually come up with some creative ideas.
Speaker 6: This is a public service announcement.
Philip Blumel: Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi says she has the votes to take back her role as speaker of the house after striking a deal with the centrists within the Democratic caucus, agreeing to term limits on the caucus leadership, including on herself. Massachusetts congressman Seth Moulton was among those leading the charge on term limits until this compromise was reached. Congressman Moulton spoke with host Jim Broad on the public affairs program Greater Boston last week.
Seth Moulton: Because this has never been about one person. This is about generational change for our party. When this incredibly diverse of lawmakers won the majority back for Democrats, and we want to give this new generation a chance to lead, this new generation a chance to have their ideas heard. This new agreement that limits the top three positions to term limits, three terms retroactive so this is their final term unless they get a two thirds vote of the caucus to extend one more term, is unprecedented in a wonderful way that’s going to be good for the party.
Jim Broad: Yeah, but while Nancy Pelosi says she’ll honor it even if it’s not voted on in February in the caucus, the other two guys who are a mere 79 and 78, and I know you don’t talk about age but I do, they say they’re not bound by it. Steny Hoyer, 79, says he has no desire to go anywhere.
Seth Moulton: Well, they will be bound by the deal when the caucus votes for it.
Jim Broad: If the caucus votes for it.
Seth Moulton: Right. We delayed the vote until January so that all these new freshmen can be a part of that. I’m confident the caucus will pass it because this is exactly the kind of reform that we need. The fact that we got term limits passed for the first time, this is really significant and it shows that we can have this tough debate as a party. We’re strong enough.
Philip Blumel: As the Arizona director for US Term Limits, it is the position of Suzette Meyers to help shepherd a term limits convention resolution through the Arizona legislature in 2019. The term limits convention resolution is an official application from the state of Arizona for an amendment proposing convention under Article V of the US Constitution limited to the subject of congressional term limits.
Philip Blumel: To assist in passing the resolution, she’s networking with legislators and making sure they hear from Arizonians on this issue. There was some big news coming out of Arizona this week so we went to Suzette for the story.
Philip Blumel: Hello, Suzette.
Suzette Meyers: How are you, Phil?
Philip Blumel: I’m doing all right. The reason why I’m calling you today is because I heard the news about how Governor Doug Ducey said that he was going to appoint Representative Martha McSally to fill John McCain’s senate seat.
Suzette Meyers: That is correct.
Philip Blumel: I wanted to ask you is that good or bad for the term limits movement and trying to get a constitutional amendment passed in the congress?
Suzette Meyers: Well, what we have currently out in Arizona is we have senators for life. They do not get elected. Unfortunately with congress, that’s the position that happens. With Martha McSally, they have a fresh member and someone who is a fundamental believer in this. She is representing the core values of 82% of Arizonans who want the open seat elections for congress.
Philip Blumel: Excellent. Martha is a pledge signer. She signed the pledge that said if she is elected, she is going to cosponsor and vote for the US Term Limits Amendment.
Suzette Meyers: That is correct. I saw her on several instances, and she was getting excited about it. She’s a firm believer in it, and she knows that the people want it.
Philip Blumel: What about disappointments? Not everything went our way in 2018.
Nicolas Tomboulides: Well, it seems like the state of Arkansas has been totally engulfed by political corruption. The consequence of that is that they state Supreme Court threw our term limits amendment off the ballot just before the election.
Philip Blumel: This was even more egregious because this was clear and it was a simple remedy that gave the voters in plain language an opportunity to reestablish meaningful term limits in that state because through a pretty illegitimate process that we’ve covered in previous podcasts, the politicians used a deceptive measure to weaken the term limits that Arkansas voters had imposed.
Philip Blumel: In remedy to that situation, there was a very clear measure. Supreme Court shot it down and wouldn’t let it in front of the voters. We know why, because voters would have approved it overwhelmingly. There’s no question about it.
Nicolas Tomboulides: Yeah, and the court actually took issue with things that I would describe as fairly meaningless, like whether the person who collected signatures to get it on the ballot had moved in between the process of collecting one signature and collecting the next signature and whether they had properly updated their address in the database. It doesn’t really matter.
Nicolas Tomboulides: Point is, over 100,000 Arkansans signed a petition stating they wanted term limits on the ballot. Those were not fraudulent signatures. It is just an absolute travesty that the corporatist business lobbying community could come in and file a lawsuit to strike that down because, quite honestly, they just wanted to preserve their cozy relationships with the politicians. That’s all this was.
Nicolas Tomboulides: If you really believe term limits are a bad idea, then you should have no fear of having the voters decide. Really it’s not term limits they fear. It’s the voters and the people themselves. They fear they will lose control. The voters will reclaim control if term limits were to pass again.
Philip Blumel: We had some studies that excited us this year. One of them was a study that showed that term limits are correlated to increased turnout in elections, that term limits advance female representation by giving them more opportunities to run and breaking up the good ol’ boy network that preceded them, and also that term limits are correlated with reduced public spending. That was one study I’m particularly excited about in which Randy Holcombe at Florida State University looked at states that had term limits and states that didn’t and found that term limits help create an environment of discipline where legislators spend less money.
Nicolas Tomboulides: Yeah, all the predictions of the sky falling as a result of term limits have to materialized. There have also been three papers released in 2018 showing that states with term limits have stronger economies on average than states without term limits and that states with term limits are freer, on average, than those without term limits.
Nicolas Tomboulides: The evidence is in. Term limits have really been a great reform across the country.
Philip Blumel: All right, well 2018 was a great year. There was some disappointments but mostly I think it was a big advance. I think 2019 will be even better. I want to give a shout out to Jim Coxworth in Illinois. If you remember, he did a walk to popularize term limits in that state. He walked from Chicago to the capital and so that was something that happened this year of note. You said you might mention something about Bob Berry.
Nicolas Tomboulides: Yes, I’ll do that. Just wanted to say our hearts go out to the family of Bob Berry who is our western regional director. Bob’s son, Will Berry, who’s a special forces first sergeant was actually injured overseas in an IED attack in Afghanistan and he is currently at Walter Reid Hospital in Washington recovering. It looks like the recovery efforts are very strong right now. We just request prayers for Will, for Bob, for the entire Berry family as they deal with this.
Philip Blumel: Next week’s podcast will be our first for 2019. There’s no more looking back. In 2019, our number one goal will be to pass term limits convention bills in more states. The last two years have proven we can get these bills passed. We must keep the momentum going. Please be attentive to our missives asking you to take specific actions as we cannot succeed without applying citizen pressure on key state legislators at the key times. I look forward to the end of the 2019 podcast and boasting about what we’ve achieved together over the course of the year.
Philip Blumel: We wish you a healthy and prosperous New Year.
Stacey Selleck: If you like what you’re hearing, please subscribe and leave a review. The No Uncertain Terms podcast can be found on iTunes, Stitcher, and now Google Play.
Philip Blumel: Absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely.