Philip Blumel: It’s going to be a landslide on Tuesday. Hi. I’m Philip Blumel, President of US Term Limits. Welcome to the No Uncertain Terms Podcast for the week of November 5th, 2018. You heard it here first. It’s going to be a wave election on Tuesday, with incumbents winning almost every time. Sure, it’s possible that party control of one or maybe both Houses might change, but if that occurs, you can bet it’ll be the result of a handful of competitive, open seat elections. Open seat elections are pretty much the only way new faces and ideas can sneak into the US Congress.
Philip Blumel: I’m here with Nick Tomboulides, Executive Director of US Term Limits, who knows a thing or two about elections. Hey, Nick. So, which party’s going to win big on Tuesday?
Nick T: Well, I’m betting my chips on the incumbent party.
Philip Blumel: Oh. Again?
Nick T: Yeah, because that’s the same party that has basically won every election in this country since 1970.
Philip Blumel: Right. Since I was born. Since, well, before I was born the incumbent party has been winning overwhelmingly. Yes.
Nick T: Yeah, about a 98% clip, the incumbents running for their own seats get reelected to Congress. And yeah, from time to time the control might switch over from Republican to Democrat or vice versa, but it’s kind of like a football game. Just because possession of the ball has changed, it doesn’t mean you don’t still have the same players on the field. And these really are the same players. They’re familiar faces we’ve seen for the last several decades. If the Democrats take control, the favorite to get the speakership is Nancy Pelosi. She was elected 1986. That’s 32 years ago. She’s not exactly anyone’s definition of a fresh face. If the Republicans keep control of the house, which is about I think 35% chance right now, it would be Kevin McCarthy who was elected in 2006, 12 years ago, and doesn’t really seem intent on retiring anytime soon.
Nick T: It’s not like we’re really seeing turnover in Congress. There’s this illusion of change, but it’s really just incumbents dominating year in, year out.
Philip Blumel: Right. You can’t really call that change if you have Pelosi in charge of the House again. It’s just switching back. Now, in order for that to happen, there’s going to have to be new Democrats elected. But these newbies are going to be quite far away from any position of power, because the chairs, the leaders of both houses, are going to be the old tenured veterans in both parties. So when the party switches, there is a change, there’s no question about that, but the change is not that deep. You have the ossified strata of a new party, still fighting last generation’s battles, back at the helm.
Nick T: Yeah, and activists are getting frustrated with this, too. Whether you’re a progressive activist on the left or a conservative activist on the right, you don’t like the fact that the insiders in Washington are controlling your party. You’d rather see the debate be more about issues rather than who can sell out to the highest bidder. I mean no one would confuse these leadership members for ideological officials. They’re not driven by ideology. They’re driven by ambition. They’re driven by the need to acquire power and to keep that power in Washington.
Nick T: The way they do that is by building these relationships with special interests. What we see is special interests give about 95%, special interest PACs give about 95% of their money to incumbents, which keeps these people in office. And they’re not doing it out of the kindness of their heart. They’re doing it because they expect a return on investment. They know that people like Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell are a good bet to give them favorable treatment. Whatever they need, they need a policy that’s going to harm one of their competitors, like a tariff, or whether they need a subsidy, they know they can rely on these congressmen to deliver that because they’re totally bought and paid for.
Philip Blumel: Indeed, and you know the statistic we toss around about more than 90 or 95% of PAC money goes to incumbents is true. When you dig into those numbers, I find it interesting also that if you take out ideological organizations, and if you take out unions, if you only look at corporate giving, almost 100%, almost all of it goes to incumbents. Corporations almost never take a chance on a challenger. So I would bring this to the attention to people that are concerned about corporate dominance of the US government, that the incumbent party is the party of corporate America.
Nick T: Indeed, and they’re only getting stronger. We used to see the reelection rate for incumbents about 10 years ago was sort of in the low 90th percentile. Now it’s up toward 97, 98%, so the incumbents are getting more invulnerable. They’re really dominating these elections. Sometimes they’re so strong that nobody runs against them. There are 43 elections this year that have already been decided for Congress, meaning the incumbent officeholder has no competition in the general election. If you live in one of those districts, you’re going to go into the ballot box and there’s only going to be one name on the ballot.
Nick T: Again, remember critics are always saying that term limits takes away people’s right to vote. Look what incumbency is doing. Incumbency has created a system where our elections are so meaningless that there is either just one choice on the ballot and no alternative whatsoever, or one choice plus a candidate who’s not running a serious campaign. So millions of people are disenfranchised by the power of incumbency. If we had term limits, there’d be more competitive elections. There’d be more open seats. We’d have an opportunity to go into the ballot box and feel like our vote really means something.
Scott Tillman: Hello. This is Scott Tillman, the National Field Director with US Term Limits. Each election cycle, we ask candidates to sign a pledge to help us term limit Congress. When it comes to congressional candidates, we ask them to sign the following pledge. “I pledge that as a member of Congress I will cosponsor and vote for the US Term Limits Amendment of three House terms and two Senate terms, and no longer limit.”
Scott Tillman: This election cycle, we’ve had 379 candidates sign the US Term Limits Pledge. Of those 379, 136 are going to be appearing on ballots next Tuesday, November 6th. We also ask state House and state Senate candidates to sign a pledge to help us get term limits on Congress. That pledge reads, “I pledge that as a member of the state legislature, I will support and vote for the resolution applying for an Article V Convention for the limited purpose of enacting term limits on Congress.”
Scott Tillman: This cycle, we’ve had over 357 state legislative candidates, that’s for state House and state Senate, sign this pledge. Over 240 of those still remain in their races and will appear on the ballot on Tuesday, November 6th.
Philip Blumel: The disconnect between what’s going on in Congress versus what’s going on in the rest of America is really startling.
Nick T: You have to be able to adapt. But in Congress, we have a problem of people who don’t know how to adapt. We are asking them to regulate things like the Internet, and they don’t even know how to turn on a computer. It’s a glaring problem, and I think the only way you’re ever going to fix it is by getting younger, fresher faces in there who really understand modern problems.
Philip Blumel: True, but now even when younger, fresher faces get through the process, usually because they win an open seat election, even so they’re going to be so far away from the levers of power. It might take a decade or two decades for them to get to a position where they are running a chair … chairing a committee where they have actual power to move legislation to the floor to really make things happen. I mean, that’s an awful long time to wait to get to have that position of power that you presumably ran for on day one. That’s a lot of time for someone just to become a cog in the machine. And by the time they get to that position, they’re done. They are already part of the problem and no longer what the people originally elected them for.
Nick T: Yeah. They have to make all sorts of compromises as they’re climbing that ladder. They have to consistently make deals with other members of Congress. “I’ll support your bill if you support mine.” Over time their integrity, their conscience, their allegiance to their constituents just gets eroded by that backroom corruption and sausage-making in Washington DC. So if someone’s been in Washington for 30 years, they don’t even resemble the person they were at the beginning of their tenure, because of what you just described.
Nick T: It also dramatically affects who runs for these seats, because there are a lot of people who like what they’re doing in life. They might be running a business or they might be a teacher, or something like that. Why would they ever decide to run for Congress if they know they have to spend 30 years away from their vocation, away from whatever they love, in order to get even a modicum of influence? They’re just not going to run. So the people who actually run for Congress are people who envision themselves spending 50 years in Washington, and people like that are not mentally stable. They’re the last ones we want deciding the laws.
Philip Blumel: That’s right. They’re not. It requires a level of narcissism that most people don’t possess.
Nick T: Yeah. I think political careerism might be a mental illness, really.
Philip Blumel: Well, think about this Nick. You are and I are very attentive to statistics about how difficult it is to beat the incumbent, how long it takes to make an impact, etc. You personally, Nick, would you ever run against an incumbent for really any political position?
Nick T: No, because I think it’s as hard to beat an incumbent as it is to pull a sword from a stone. It’s a waste of time.
Philip Blumel: Right. I wouldn’t either. I wouldn’t consider it.
Nick T: It’s a total waste of time and money because you need $2.5 million just to have a shot at beating an incumbent, and even then you’re going to be a tremendous underdog because they have every freaking advantage under the sun. What they do, I mean they’re little tricksters, too. They’re manipulative. What they will do is they’ll spend taxpayer money to send a mailer. Let’s say you live in Florida, like I do. They send me a mail, my congressman does, and says, “Hurricane update from this congressman. These are all the great things he’s doing, one, two, three to help prepare for the hurricane.” And he says that’s official business. We know that’s bullshit. It is a campaign mailer, and he’s using taxpayer money to push that message out there. That’s how he gets an advantage over his opponent. That’s how he deters people from running for his seat. It’s a game. They know how to play it. We don’t, and the only way we’re ever going to catch up is with term limits.
Scott Tillman: Paul Jacob is a Term Limits hero. As the director of US Term Limits in the early 1990s, Jacob helped citizens in 23 states place limits on their congressional delegations, prompting columnist Robert Novak to call him the most hated man in Washington. He was also at the helm of US Term Limits as those successful citizens’ initiatives were shot down five to four by the Supreme Court in the case US Term Limits v Thornton. Today, Paul Jacob is President of Liberty Initiative Fund, and a board member of US Term Limits. You can read his daily common sense commentaries at thisiscommonsense.com. This column, entitled UFO Over Chicago, was originally published at townhall.com
Paul Jacob: Last week I became so distracted watching the flocks of pigs soaring through the clouds overhead that I nearly missed the Chicago Tribune report headlined, “Bill Daly,” whose brother and father ran Chicago for 43 years, “Backs a Term Limit for Mayor.” It is no surprise that this latest Daley launched his bid for the next mayoral election, which will be held in February. What is surprising is the term limits biz. “I think eight years is enough for a chief executive,” he told the Tribune. “Whether you’re doing a good job or bad job, I just think it’s a good thing to do. And Chicago is one of the rare exceptions of major cities that doesn’t have a term limit. And I think those cities have done well, and I think our politics will do well by that, quite frankly.”
Paul Jacob: But what about the long tenures of his father, Richard J Daley, who died in office after 21 consecutive years, and his brother, Richard M Daley, who served even longer? “For me, in 2019,” Bill Daly demurred, “I believe there ought to be term limits for mayor of Chicago.” In addition to term limits, Mr. Daley unveiled a pretty comprehensive ethics platform banning family members from lobbying or doing business with the city as well as prohibiting campaign contributions from city lobbyists. He pledged not to do any fundraising for himself during his first three years in office, and to establish an independent commission to draw new ward boundaries after the 2020 census instead of letting powerful alderman control the process, as they do now.
Paul Jacob: “These needed steps,” Daley argued, “can help rebuild trust with the public and reassure people that the practices of the past will no longer be tolerated.” Speaking of the past, when Bill’s father was mayor and accused of awarding city contracts to benefit his sons, his father famously questioned, “If a man can’t put his arm around his sons, then what kind of world are we living in?” How about a less corrupt world?
Paul Jacob: Unfortunately, Chicago is the recognized capital of corruption. No matter how much voters there want reform, politicians squelch it. After former Democratic governor, Pat Quinn organized a petition drive to place term limits on the ballot for citizens to decide, the crooked city council placed three nonbinding issues on their ballot and declared there was no room left for Quinn’s term limits measure.
Paul Jacob: People in power are often quite iffy about checks on power. This can be seen worldwide. Term limits play a critical role in preventing dictatorship in Third World countries struggling with and against democracy. That’s why none other than former President Barack Obama often inveighed against crooked African politicians breaking established limits. “Nobody should be president for life,” Obama proclaimed before the African Union in 2015. “Your country is better off if you have new blood and new ideas.”
Paul Jacob: Even China’s communist party recognized the importance of term limits, enacting limits after the epic of one-man rule under Chairman Mao Zedong. When just last year those term limits were abandoned for President Xi Jinping, throughout the world folks worried it signaled further hits to personal freedom for nearly 1.4 billion people. On social media, one Chinese citizen responded, “Argh. We’re going to become North Korea.” Of course, his comment was soon removed by government censors.
Paul Jacob: There would be term limits for every city, county, and state, and the Congress of the United States, if only the people were permitted to vote on the matter. But resistance by insiders remains strong and is often quite effective. We see the resistance in the current Chicago mayoral race. It turns out that Bill Daley also supports term limits for Chicago alderman, not coincidentally 14th ward alderman Edward Burke, the powerful chairman of the city’s Finance Committee, and no less than a 50-year incumbent, suggests that someone else would make a better-qualified mayor.
Paul Jacob: Describing the 50 year stint in office as a little ridiculous, Daley dared to express some common sense incredulity. “I’m just saying 50 years, half a century. Really?” American voters everywhere, including in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles, as well as in rural states like Wyoming and Montana fervently want term limits. This includes a clear majority of every race, both sexes, all age groups, all parties, all political persuasions except perhaps the most boutique demographic group, such as most politicians.
Paul Jacob: Worldwide, the general reaction to legislators’ and presidents’ self-serving opposition to term limits echoes Daley’s reaction. Really? (singing)
Stacey Selleck: Hi. This is Stacey Selleck here with your Term Limits Day letters. Last week, I asked you your thoughts on having a National Term Limits Day and wanted to know how you would like to participate, as well as what date you thought would be best. We posted a survey at termlimits.com/termlimitsday and promoted the idea on social media and through email. We received hundreds of comments on Facebook. Thousands of people hit our webpage, and hundreds sent emails and completed our survey. I’d like to share those results with you.
Stacey Selleck: Overwhelmingly, our supporters think a National Term Limits Day is a great idea, and you were not shy about letting us know all the reasons why. Although many of you think everyday should be Term Limits Day, and we don’t blame you for that, we want to associate a single day with National Term Limits Day. The dates our supporters cited most often are February 27th, the dates that presidential term limits were enacted, the first Monday in November right before elections, September 17th, Constitution Date, and close runners-up are inauguration day, to remind Congress that they are beholden to the people, and July 4th since that is the date of national independence from a tyrannical government.
Stacey Selleck: Many of you shared your thoughts on why term limits should be placed on politicians, like Eugene S from Michigan. He shared a sentiment that supporters everywhere can agree on. He wrote, “Yes. We sorely need term limits, and there should be a National Term Limits Day until we get it part of all government legislatures. We are sick and tired of career politicians getting rich at the cost of the tax payer. The laws of the land should apply to all politicians with no exclusions, along with the same retirements we all live with. Get it done.”
Stacey Selleck: Thanks, Eugene. As far as suggestions for what we should do to celebrate the occasion, the top ideas are contact my legislators, get five friends to sign the term limits petition, attend a Term Limits event, followed closely by help Term Limits Day trend on social media and write a letter to the editor. Another suggestion is to have everyone wear Term Limits shirts and display yard signs. Jeff M from New Jersey wrote, “Great idea. Have you discussed having merchandise such as T-shirts, caps, stickers, etc. with the US Term Limits logo? Having hundreds of such items out and about could really get the concept out there. They could be sold or given away in a variety of ways, online, special promotion, festivals, etc.”
Stacey Selleck: We love that idea, Jeff. Thank you so much for that suggestion. We appreciate everyone who wrote in. I assure you, I read through every single email. We now have enough information to put together a plan, and I can’t wait to share it with you when it’s ready. (singing)
Scott Tillman: Should we amend the U.S. Constitution to impose term limits on Congress? That was the question posed at a symposium at the national Constitution Center in downtown Philadelphia in February 2017. Speaking in the affirmative was former Democratic governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania, and Representative Ron DeSantis of Florida.
Speaker 6: Ed Rendell.
Ed Rendell: [inaudible 00:20:38] service of committee chairs in the house is 27 years. That means that they started when Lyndon Johnson was president.
Speaker 8: Wow. Say more about that, because Governor, the congressman says Democrats should favor term limits because it’ll give them chairmanships more quickly. What is the politics of term limits among Democrats? How much bipartisan support does this have?
Ed Rendell: It’s usually viewed as more of a Republican issue. It emanated from the Contract for America. Democrats, we don’t have, and I heard the congressman speaking about the term limits for chairs that the Republicans put in. It’s a good idea. We don’t have it, and as a result our chairs are really old. I guess I shouldn’t be talking about really old, but they’re really old, and there isn’t the movement that the congressman said, which is I think an important thing. You go to any business and say to young people going in, “You have to wait 20 years before you’re going to have a decision-making role in the business.” They’re gone. They’re gone.
Ed Rendell: So I think Democrats have been more reluctant to get on this issue than Republicans have. But I think you’ll find, interestingly, Democrats who served in executive positions in state government will be more in favor of term limits because they’ve seen what happens in Harrisburg, in Springfield, in Sacramento.
Speaker 6: Ron DeSantis.
Ron DeSantis: You often hear people say against term limits, “Hey, vote them out. You have the choice. Every election’s a term limit.” In theory, that’s 100% correct. In practice, it’s not true at all. And the reason is, in order to run for office right now, you have to do it in the context of a system that’s been designed by incumbents to benefit incumbents. Take, for me for example, I ran for Congress in 2012. I had never run for office in my life. I was not, I don’t have a famous name or anything like that. I’m not wealthy enough to fund my campaign. So guys like me, in my freshman class, there were like a handful of us who went from just a private citizen to Congress without having been elected to anything before, have the family name, famous name, or have your own money that you can spend.
Ron DeSantis: The reason is, is because it’s very difficult, when districts have 700,000 people, to get known by the voters. It costs money to do it. It takes a lot of time and effort to do it. Maybe in Congress you can do a lot of grassroots, I did, where you knock on the doors in a primary. But even that is not going to get you. So you have to be able to raise enough money, to get your name out there so that people know who you are, and then obviously know who you stand for. When you’re in a country where, regardless of how you even draw the districts, most of the districts are going to go one party or the other, your only hope is to do that, to defeat an incumbent, in a party primary.
Ron DeSantis: Well, guess what? All the donors who typically give to candidates, they usually are never going to go against an incumbent. Certainly none of the people in the influence industry, but even people back in the district. Some business guy that just, not that they want anything, but maybe if they have an issue with an agency they can kind of call a congressman or something, they’re not going to want to give again. So the barriers to entry are very high the way we’re doing it. It’s difficult to get known, if you’re not already known. I think in my freshman class, I don’t know, we had 30 members who came in new in 2012.
Ron DeSantis: I would say the overwhelming, overwhelming majority were either people who had held elective office and developed kind of a network, people who had famous names, legacies. I think we had, I think Joe Kennedy was in my class, or people that just funded their own campaign and didn’t have to worry about it. And I’m not saying that those folks have done a bad job. Many of them have done a good job, but that, if you limit it to those people, that is a very, very small segment of American society that really has a functional opportunity to run for something like the United States Congress.
Philip Blumel: Speaking of corruption, there’s a couple of corrupt politicians on the ballot, surprise, surprise, again this year.
Nick T: Just a couple?
Philip Blumel: Well, we don’t know all … We don’t know-
Nick T: That we know of.
Philip Blumel: We can’t identify all of them just yet, but there’s a couple of ones who’ve already been exposed, that are on the ballot tomorrow. One of them that strikes me as incredible is in New Jersey, Senator Bob Menendez, who, boy, who was originally be under investigation back in 2012 for paying underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic. He was investigated and there was not enough information uncovered to charge him for that, but when federal investigators started digging into him they started realizing how corrupt he was, and of course started tailing him. And it was discovered that he was accepting tens of thousands of dollars in contributions, and gifts, and free trips, and everything else from his buddy, a doctor and a donor named Salomon Melgen for personal things.
Philip Blumel: For instance, Menendez lobbied the State Department to approve a contract with the Dominican Republic that would benefit from Melgen’s businesses, and he also worked to secure visas for three of Melgen’s girlfriends, presumably of age. Melgen, by the way, is found guilty of defrauding Medicare to the tune of 73 million bucks. He’s no longer in the picture, but Bob Menendez is. He’s on the ballot. And guess what? He’s leading in the polls right now. This is speaking on Monday, the day before the November 6th election. He’s leading in the polls. Incredible.
Nick T: And Menendez helped his friend, by the way, in that Medicare fraud case. He provided him with assistance. He’s been in Washington for 25 years. He’s never denied anything. He hasn’t denied taking the lavish trips around the world on this guy, the top donor’s private jet. He never denied that the guy paid for his luxury golf memberships, Dominican vacations. And by the way, on the planes he had this famously never-ending supply of evian water, I think it was, and fine foods and beverages. Whatever the Senator wanted, he got from this donor. So Menendez does not dispute that he received any of those gifts. What he disputes is that any of that was corruption. He just says it was a great friendship based on-
Philip Blumel: It is hard to prove that.
Nick T: It is. He glosses over that.
Philip Blumel: We all know it’s corruption. In fact, nobody’s really fooled by it, but it is hard to prove.
Nick T: Oh, it’s absolutely very difficult to prove. If you talk to experts on corruption, they’ll tell you that it is very sophisticated these days. It occurs legally and out in the open. If you’ve read the book Republic Lost by Lawrence Lessig, he calls this dependence corruption. It’s the idea that donors and elected officials, they rely on each other through these reciprocal gifts back and forth, but neither one ever makes a promise to the other in one direction. It’s the way that you can provide financial support to a politician to entice them to give you special treatment, and support specific policies. It’s the very-
Philip Blumel: The court had trouble with it.
Nick T: Yeah.
Philip Blumel: I know Menendez was, of course he was indicted for this, and after months of deliberations the jury was hung and it was inconclusive. Although the Senate Ethics Committee, which knows the story, severely admonished him. But because he was not convicted in court, he was not thrown out of the Senate, and he’s running again.
Philip Blumel: It’s interesting that everyone knows that he is guilty and corrupt, and even in New Jersey, which is of course a very blue state, the Star-Ledger in Newark, the chief paper there, in trying to get people to vote for Menendez, this is their endorsement of Menendez, said that, “It is a miracle that Menendez escaped criminal conviction, and an act of profound narcissism that he stayed in the race despite this baggage, putting a Democratic seat at risk while Donald Trump sits in the White House. It’s a disgrace that Democratic leaders like Senator Cory Booker and Governor Phil Murphy rallied to support Menendez early on when a stronger candidate could have beaten him in a primary.” But, here’s the punchline, “It’s our hope that voters remember that Trump is on the ballot, and that they choke down their reluctance and vote for Menendez. He’s no gem, but he’s better than the challenger.”
Nick T: Reminds me of Louisiana back in the early 1990s. They had a corrupt governor, Edwin Edwards. I think he served three or four times, and his bumper sticker was, “Vote for the crook.” That was actually it, and he won, not surprisingly.
Philip Blumel: Well you said, sometimes it’s right out in the open.
Philip Blumel: Did I happen to mention that Paul Jacobs is a Term Limits hero? Just as we’re putting this week’s podcast to bed, it comes to our attention that Paul has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Saturday. In it, he chastises the political scoundrels on the Nashville Metropolitan Council who, by a vote of 37 to two, have put another anti-term limits measure on the ballot for the seventh time since voters overwhelmingly approved eight year council term limits in 1994. Every time Nashville voters say no, but the politicians keep asking.
Philip Blumel: Of course, each time the politicians try a new gimmick. This time, the watering down of term limits is tied to a question that also adopts gender-neutral terms to describe the members of the council. That is, they’ll be called councilmember versus councilmen. Get it? That way, if you vote against the anti-term limits measure, you must be a sexist. Says Paul, “Since the politicians of the Nashville Davidson Metro Council seem determined to ask voters the same question over and over until they get the answer they want, perhaps it’s time to restrict councilmembers’ power to propose new ballot initiatives related to term limits. Let changes, instead, come only from citizen-initiated ballot measures.” Hear hear.
Philip Blumel: Well, you can check out his article at WSJ.com. And while you’re at your phone or computer doing that, you should also subscribe to the No Uncertain Terms Podcast, if you haven’t already. You can use the podcast app on your iPhone, or download Stitcher or Google Play for your Android device, or go to iTunes, and while you’re there, please rate and review us. Tuesday, November 6, is election day. So, vote, and next week hopefully we’ll have some good news to report. Until then. (singing)
Philip Blumel: This podcast is made possible by the support of you, the American people, and your voluntary financial contributions, which can be made through our website at termlimits.com. Thank you.
Philip Blumel: Melgen, by the way, is found guilty of defrauding Medicare to the tune of 73 million bucks, so he’s no longer in the picture, but Bob Menendez is. He’s on the ballot, and guess what? He’s leading in the polls. He’s leading in the polls.
Speaker 10: Corruption.