Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The emerging 16-year term limit scam

Since the first state term limits were approved by voters in 1990, professional and wannabe professional politicians have tried to overturn them. This opposition has come in progressively devious waves.

The first and most successful counterattacks were legal and several referenda were shot down in courts or in a few cases by legislative action. Examples include Oregon, Washington, Massachusetts,Wyoming and Illinois. The biggest legal victory of the anti-term limits forces was the U.S. Supreme Court's split (5-4) U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton decision in 1995 which nullified the Congressional term limits laws passed by 21 states.

But the remaining 15 state term limits laws are now cast in stone having passed their legal tests. In these states, politicians have to ask voters -- not courts or legislatures -- to abolish or weaken the popular limits at the ballot box. This has proved much more difficult than finding friendly judges.

The first reactionary response was for simple abolition of the limits. As the limits starting taking effect, there was a wave of legislation launched in the term limits states to repeal them. This went nowhere, as voters learned to love term limits more over time, not less.

Next there was a wave of tricky referenda by politicians who "support" term limits but would like to see them "improved" by making them weaker, usually 12 years. Typically, these were written in a way to suggest that the referenda were establishing limits, as if for the first time, to trick a margin of voters into believing the referenda were pro-term limits! This too went nowhere, but it required mobilization by term limits activists to make sure the voters weren't being fooled. Examples include Arkansas, Montana, Maine and California.

This year, politicians in Arkansas, Missouri and Montana are launching the most deceitful strategy yet to free themselves from voter-approved term limits.


Professional politics is an industry. Like other industries, the participants -- parties, politicians, special interests -- compete, often fiercely. But as members of the same industry, they also have common incentives and interests. In the oil industry, for example, the companies compete in the marketplace, surely, but they still have common interests which unite them. Hence they have industry organizations with lobbyists to press their common demands and interests.

Politicians are no different. They compete at the ballot box. But when the dust settles, they talk, they share ideas, they plot, they scheme, they connive... You know.

Hence a new wave of anti-term limits bills are appearing in several states simultaneously with the most outrageous strategy yet. In states with 8-year term limits, politicians are suggesting that 8 years in each house is really a 16-year limit. So, it would be just a small tweak make the 16-year limit official, with the small alteration that politicians could 'spend' their 16 years in either house.

Of course, what this really means is a comfy 16-year stint in one house, as all politicians know the great majority of  reps cannot successfully make the jump to the other. Getting re-elected to one's own seat, on the other hand, is nearly automatic.

This is a scam. A version of it made it to the ballot in Arkansas and passed at least one house in Missouri and Montana last year. In Arkansas, they added additional cover, as they hid this teeny-weeny tweak inside an ethics bill of mild, pleasant-sounding restrictions on lobbyist gifts and contributions. Don't be surprised to see copycats pick up the 'ethics bill' gimmick as well.

So 2014 is the year of the 16-year term limits scam.

Nationwide, polls show the voters' support for term limits has not dimmed over time. The politicians can only succeed though obfuscation and deceit. That places a new burden on us as citizens to get the word out, but we have one big advantage: the simple power of the truth.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

OKC RISING: Citizens on march to impose 8-year term limits



Oklahoma was one of the earliest bastions of term limits – boasting the first successful statewide initiative to limit state legislators’ terms – and in light of experience term limits have only grown more popular there.

Since that 1990 initiative there have been others, notably a 2010 vote to limit the governor to a lifetime 8-year limit. This legislatively-referred referendum also imposed an 8-year limit on the lieutenant governor, attorney general, auditor and inspector, state treasurer, labor commissioner, insurance commissioner and state schools superintendent. It won by 70%.

But Oklahoma citizens aren’t done yet. A new effort, launched by activist Bob Dani, would limit the terms of the mayor and city council of Oklahoma’s largest city to eight years in office.

The effort needs 6,000 signatures of Oklahoma City voters to place the idea on the March 4 citywide ballot. Signature collection is under way and Dani reports the campaign is on schedule in spite the winter weather. The effort is a mix of volunteer and professional signature collectors, so supporters are encouraged to either get out on the streets with their clipboards or make a financial contribution to the campaign. The end result will be the same.

The voters will do the rest. If Oklahoma’s history, current polling and the experience of other municipalities across the country are any indication, victory is nearly certain if the will exists to get the proposal to the ballot. Please help.

Oklahoma City would be joining a growing club of term limited cities across the country. Today, only about 9% of America’s municipalities are term limited, according to my latest copy the League of Cities Municipal Handbook. But among larger cities, where the need for term limits is greatest, the reform has been adopted at a much faster rate. Nine of the largest 10 cities in the United States are term limited, along with about 51 percent of cities with a 250,000+ population.
Bob Dani


Oklahoma City fits the bill. With a population of 600,000, the government of Oklahoma City wields considerable power and resources and the influence of special interests in Oklahoma’s capitol city are intense.

“Just like the Mayor says, Oklahoma City is always striving to be a ‘Big League City’,” says Dani, the moderator of the weekly political forum known as the High Noon Club. “These limits will put a stop to career politicians. All citizens will benefit from more choices, new faces, new ideas, new perspectives, and new solutions to old problems."

He is right – and there is no question it can be done. But the clock is ticking. To sign the petition and help collect signatures from others, please contact OKC Term Limits Now! Chairman Bob Dani at (405) 990-1900 or rndani@gmail.com. To make a donation in support of our effort, go here. Follow the effort on Facebook.

Go OKC!


Friday, November 29, 2013

Regnat Populus strikes Devil's Bargain with corporate interests

The anti-term limits amendment apparently headed to the November 2014 statewide ballot in Arkansas might not have started out as a scam. But as it made its way through Little Rock, a Devil's Bargain was made with aspiring career politicians and corporate interests that sunk an effort to promote 'ethics' in Arkansas government.

The "ethics bill," as it was originally called, came out of proposals offered by a citizens group called Regnat Populus which had emerged from the deflating Occupy Little Rock phenomenon in 2011. The ostensible idea was to reduce corporate influence on legislators decisions with some mild reforms regulating lobbyist gifts and direct corporate contributions.

Ordinarily, the plan would have had to qualify for the ballot via petition. But helpful legislators offered to refer it to the ballot for them sans signatures -- for a price. That price was a plank to gut Arkansas popular voter-approved term limits law. The provision, buried on page 16 of the final bill and not included in the ballot title (!!!), would change the House term limit from 6 to 16 years and the Senate limit from 8 to 16 years.

It is likely that Regnat Populus and their legislative accomplices expect more than a free limo ride to the 2014 ballot. Nixing the Arkansas term limits law has long been a priority for corporate special interests and they have proven themselves willing to open their wallets to preserve the relationships they have cultivated in Little Rock.

The last time legislators referred an anti-term limits amendment to the ballot was 2004. Citizens hated it (it lost by 70%!), but corporate special interests loved it. In fact, according to FollowTheMoney.org, nearly all the money spent to promote the anti-term limits amendment came from them.


CORPORATE SPECIAL INTERESTS VS. TERM LIMITS 2004


ARKANSAS FARM BUREAU$105,84125.91%Agriculture
ARKANSAS OUTDOOR ADVERTISING ASSOCIATION$30,0007.34%General Business
ARKANSAS STATE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE$26,7106.54%General Business
ENTERGY$25,0006.12%Energy & Natural Resources
ARKANSAS REALTORS ASSOCIATION$25,0006.12%Finance, Insurance & Real Estate
STEPHENS GROUP$15,0003.67%Finance, Insurance & Real Estate
ARKANSAS EDUCATION ASSOCIATION$12,5003.06%Labor 
NATIONAL EDUCATION ASSOCIATION$12,5003.06%Labor 
ALLTEL CORP$10,0002.45%Communications & Electronics 
ARKANSAS HOSPITAL ASSOCIATION$10,0002.45%Health 
TYSON FOODS$10,0002.45%Agriculture 
UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS FOUNDATION$10,0002.45%Government Agencies/Education/Other 
ARKANSAS TELECOMMUNICATIONS ASSOCIATION$10,0002.45%Communications & Electronics 
ARKANSAS BAR ASSOCIATION$7,5001.84%Lawyers & Lobbyists 
ARKANSAS HEALTH CARE ASSOCIATION$5,0001.22%Health 
ARKANSAS STATE EMPLOYEES ASSOCIATION$5,0001.22%Labor 
WHOLESALE BEER DISTRIBUTORS OF ARKANSAS$5,0001.22%General Business 
ARKANSAS HOSPITALITY ASSOCIATION$5,0001.22%General Business 
MCMATH WOODS$5,0001.22%Lawyers & Lobbyists 
AMERICAN ELECTRIC POWER$5,0001.22%Energy & Natural Resources 

Naturally, special interests can't stand competitive elections and rotation in office, as they raise the cost and reduce the value of the mutually beneficial relationships they must create to succeed in achieving their legislative goals. None of the puny 'ethics' planks in the original bill packs the wallop that term limits do in reducing special interest influence.

But the politicians and interests have also learned the hard way that a frontal assault on term limits is doomed at the ballot box. Hence they have devised a referendum so deceptive that they have hoodwinked and co-opted Regnat Populus along the way. We'll see if voters will be as easily taken for a ride.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Opposition to anti-term limits amendment pushes Arkansas Senate candidate over finish line

Tuesday was the first time voters had a chance to weigh in on the Arkansas legislature's sneaky passage of an anti-term limits amendment unscrupulous politicians are calling an "ethics" bill. It appears the voting public is not so easily fooled.

It was a special election called to fill a vacant seat due to the resignation of Sen. Paul Bookout in August after he was busted and fined $8,000 for spending campaign money on personal items. In Tuesday's run-off, John Cooper bested Dan Sullivan by a slim margin. Not surprisingly, ethics played a key role.

Cooper and Sullivan were running neck and neck, sparring particularly on a so-called 'private option' under the Affordable Care Act. They were virtually tied in the first primary election and appeared to be so going into the runoff.

At the end, with controversy growing about the deceptive anti-term limits amendment referred to the November 2014 ballot, Conduit For Action launched two post card mailers pointing out Sullivan's clearly stated support for the anti-term limit amendment. Cooper, on the other hand, signed a U.S. Term Limits pledge that he would take no actions as a Senator to weaken Arkansas state term limits.

Given the slim margin of victory (it appears the final count will be less than 100 votes), it is suggested Cooper's embrace of the popular voter-approved (twice!) term limits law put him over the top.

"Cooper and Sullivan differed over whether a proposed constitutional amendment that weakens term limits was a good one or a bad one," said Dan Greenberg, president of the Advance Arkansas Institute, a nonprofit public policy research organization. "Cooper thought it was a bad idea and the final tally suggests the voters agreed with him."

Ironically, it was this deceitful "ethics" bill that may have sunk Sullivan's candidacy, in a seat where unethical behavior led to the special election in the first place.

Cooper will face Democrat Steve Rockwell in the special election, which takes place on January 14, 2014. As of now, it is unknown what Rockwell's position is on the anti-term limits amendment.

Monday, November 11, 2013

USTL opens new digs in South Florida

With term limits polling at historic highs and Congress at historic lows, U.S. Term Limits is ramping up operations in preparation for the coming national battle over Congressional term limits.

The single issue advocacy organization, long headquartered in Fairfax, VA, has opened a new branch office in Palm Beach with a new full-time activist focused on lighting term limits fires across the country. Nick Tomboulides, formerly part of the Ford Motor Company social media team, started on Oct. 8. Tomboulides was a successful college activist at the University of Connecticut and an alumnus of the Washington DC-based Leadership Institute's acclaimed training program.

The reason for the Florida location is for Tomboulides to work more closely with USTL President Philip Blumel and USTL Treasurer Rick Shepherd who live in the Palm Beach area.  The office is located at 2875 South Ocean Boulevard #200 in Palm Beach, just north of Lake Worth Beach.

But Tomboulides' focus will be national. 

The time is right. Today there are genuine term limits bills introduced -- with cosponsors! -- in both Houses of Congress and last year the state of Florida voted to officially ask its Congressional delegation to support a Congressional term limits amendment. Dozens of sitting Congress members have signed the USTL pledge in which they committed to cosponsor and vote for such an amendment and USTL plans on expanding the successful pledge program for the 2014 and 2016 elections cycles. The clamor from the people for Congressional term limits is growing louder and the USTL board believes that the time has come to renew the emphasis on Congressional limits.

At the same time there is action in the states, with the petition drive to term limit the Illinois legislature and the deceptive attack on voter-approved term limits in Arkansas. There are many local campaigns springing up as well.

For U.S. Term Limits to sustain its reputation as the nation's oldest, largest and most successful term limits advocacy organization, it must seize the day. And it is.

Please help take advantage of the historic opportunity we have right now by making a contribution to U.S. Term Limits.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Voters betrayed by the Arkansas gang of four

Here is the Oct. 16 press release from U.S. Term Limits about four state legislators in Arkansas that signed a pro-term limits pledge during the 2012 campaign, but violated it immediately after they won the election.
 
U.S. Term Limits President Philip Blumel called on four members of the Arkansas General Assembly today to honor their term limits pledge by renouncing support for the anti-term limits amendment, and helping to remove it from the Nov. 2014 ballot.

"These legislators signed a pledge to the people, stating that they would never take any action to lengthen Arkansas' voter-approved term limits of six years in the House and eight in the Senate," Blumel said. "By voting to give themselves 16 years in their seat, they have joined the laundry list of politicians who say one thing and do another. Now is the time for them to restore trust with the people of Arkansas by taking it off the ballot."

In the Arkansas House, Bob Ballinger (R-97) and Randy Alexander (R-88) signed and violated the term limits pledge. In the State Senate, the two offenders were David Sanders (R-15) and Gary Stubblefield (R-6). State Senator Alan Clark (R-13) signed the pledge but did not vote at all on the anti-term limits amendment. All five were first elected to their current offices in 2012.

In 1992, 60% of Arkansas voters placed term limits of three two-year terms on the State House and two four-year terms on the State Senate. The people returned to the polls in 2004 to defend these limits, voting down an extension amendment by a margin of 70%-30%.

Now, politicians are trying again to weaken the popular state law by putting the The
Arkansas Elected Officials Ethics, Transparency, and Financial Reform Amendment of 2014 on the ballot. If approved in the fall of next year, it would double the term limit in the Senate and more than double it in the House.

"The name is not at all what it implies, and the politicians know that." Blumel cautioned. "This sort of sleazy political maneuvering is the reason term limits are so popular in the first place."

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Nevada Supremes take on Reno cheater case

Typically, term limits win at the ballot box with 60-70 percent of the vote. The best refuge for self-interested scoundrels seeking to evade them has been the courts. The latest episode in this long-running story is unfolding in Nevada.

Weak 12-year term limits were inserted in the state constitution by voters in 1994 and 1996 (it takes two votes in Nevada) with 70 percent of the vote. The term limits apply to all local governing bodies in the state including the Reno City Council. But two 12-year veterans of the council, current incumbent Dwight Dortch and former councilwoman Jessica Sferrazza, are running for mayor anyway. Their argument is the mayor is not a member of the council.

Mayoral candidate George "Eddie" Lorton begs to differ. His copy of the Reno City Charter clearly states that the mayor is a member of the council:

"The mayor shall serve as a member of the city council and preside over its meetings." (Section 1.014, Reno City Charter)

And his copy of the state constitution says, "No person may be elected to any state or local governing body who has served in that office, or at the expiration of his current term if he is so serving will have served, 12 years or more." (Nevada Constitution, Article 15, Section 3)

That's pretty explicit. How can one get around that?

Not by tackling it honestly. Instead, the term limit cheats in this case are simply ignoring it and charging ahead with their mayoral campaigns and, when challenged, are using a schoolyard defense: Other politicians are doing it!

It is true. In Henderson during the term limit era, Mayor Andy Hafen served 12 years on the Henderson City Council and then ran for mayor in 2009. He is still there.

Defenders of the cheaters also point to a 2008 opinion in their favor by the state attorney general who claimed the mayor's position could be construed as separate from the council and hence years as a council member do not count against a mayoral term limit. The trouble with that opinion is that Lorton has a newer, contrary one from the Legislative Counsel Bureau, the legal team for the state legislature. Most importantly, the 2008 opinion predates the very explicit language quoted above that states the mayor is indeed a member of the council.

In a petition to the Supreme Court he filed earlier this month, Lorton also points out the logical absurdity of the cheaters position. The official description of the amendment passed by voters states the reasons for the term limits are to "stop career politicians since no one will be able to hold office for several terms ... local governing body members would have the opportunity to focus on the issues instead of reelection." Does a term limit with such a goal really permit someone to serve on the council for six terms and 24 years?

Chief Justice Kris Pickering announced that the issues raised by Lorton have "arguable merit." You bet they do. He ordered an answer within 30 days from the two term limit cheaters, the city clerk and the voter registrar. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: The politicians' far-fetched claim that the mayor wasn't a member of the council was shot down by the Nevada Supreme Court on Feb. 21. The citizens won this one. While voters had approved 12-year term limits, these politicians were trying to stretch them to 24. Thanks to Eddie Lorton and others who took the initiative to put a stop to this.