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, nearly all the money spent to promote the anti-term limits amendment came from them.


ARKANSAS FARM BUREAU$105,84125.91%Agriculture
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
ALLTEL CORP$10,0002.45%Communications & Electronics 
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 
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.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

NEWS FLASH: Montana pols don't like to be term limited

As if it were news, the Washington Post reported this week that Montana "legislators in both parties expressed frustration" with state term limits and are considering taking another stab at gutting them.

Hold the presses! Incumbent politicians don't like term limits!

The fact is, of course, that Montana politicians have opposed the limits since voters first imposed them in 1992 with 67 percent of the vote.

Citizens feel differently. Last time we heard from them on this issue they voted down with 70 percent a 2004 referendum that would have repealed the limits. No poll since has suggested voters have changed their minds.

And why would they? In spite of the politicians' stories of limit-inspired calamity, Montana is in decent shape. In a 2013 ranking of states, Montana is #9 in terms of state GDP, employment and net migration -- all things highly influenced by government policy.

While every legislature like every marriage is dysfunctional in its own way, some are clearly better than others. And Montana, along with most of the other 14 term limits states, are typically crowded in the upper half of such rankings.

The Montana term limits are not strict ones. In fact, they are as loose as a limit can be while still retaining the beneficial aspects of term limits. Montana legislators are limited to eight years in the House and eight years in the Senate. A good portion of the Senate is made up of former House reps. They are also not lifetime limits. A Montana politician can sit out a term and then run again in the future as a challenger.

In the Post article, the politicians comically cite their own inexperience as an argument against the limits, although this alleged lack of experience doesn't appear to hinder the governor of Montana or even the president of the United States, both of which face eight-year limits. Of course, legislators -- like governors, presidents and CEOs -- generally do have considerable experience before being elected. They are not infants, after all, but instead successful citizens who their fellows have entrusted with public functions.

So what is the politicians' real objection to term limits? Here it is: They do not want to face electoral competition. According to a 2012 report by Ballotpedia, the Montana legislature is ranked #10 nationwide in terms of the competitiveness of its state elections.

There are lots of primary contests and regular rotation in office in Montana. The legislature stays fresh, with new faces and ideas and lots of opportunities for citizens to successfully run for office. This means too that there are a lot of ex-legislators running around, which makes for a better educated polity and greater transparency. These are all things that aspiring career politicians everywhere find burdensome.

In other words, term limits are working in Montana and politicians there want to nix them precisely for this reason. Don't let them.

Monday, October 21, 2013

OBIT: Ex-Speaker Thomas Foley's term expires

by Paul Jacob via Town Hall

We never met. Even if we had met, we wouldn’t have been friends: we wouldn’t have traded holiday cards, certainly wouldn’t have shared a drink or played tennis or joked together at a party. (I wonder if he played tennis.)

Former Speaker of the House Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) passed away on Friday at age 84. We were political antagonists, twenty years ago, when the issue of term limits placed us at loggerheads.

It wasn’t personal. Foley was just another congressperson to me, though his 30 years in Congress and his leadership position obviously made him more answerable for the then-high levels of congressional arrogance and dysfunction — which seem so much less toxic now, in retrospect, because of the passage of time and the fresh memories of current congressional malevolence.

In those days, I served as executive director of U.S. Term Limits, and was campaigning to place limits on the number of terms any person could spend in Congress. The idea was to disable politicians from holding power for decades without ever having to return home to live under the laws they had passed.

Back then Congress exempted itself from many of the laws it enacted. That practice has noticeably changed, as sometimes now the president must also be called in to exempt Congress from the laws it passes, as with Obamacare.

In 1992, working with citizen leaders in 14 states, we petitioned to place term limits initiatives on the ballot — the most states to ever vote on a single issue in the same election cycle. Voters in all 14 states approved term limits, including in Speaker Foley’s home state of Washington.

Washington’s Initiative 573 lost narrowly in Foley’s congressional district, but won statewide. The voters had spoken and, though the Speaker was returned to office for the next term, he was also now limited to no more than three additional terms, six years.

So, Speaker of the House Tom Foley sued in federal court to overturn the vote cast by the people of his state imposing term limits on him. It was neither the first nor the last time a politician sued his voters, but few campaign managers recommend it. Being a plaintiff in the lawsuit against term limits proved Speaker Foley’s undoing, a misstep from which he could not recover.

Foley and his spokespeople often cited the fact that folks in his district had sided against the term limits measure. True, but even among that very slim majority, his lawsuit to overturn the people’s vote felt like a slap in the face and was seen as an unmistakable sign Mr. Foley had “gone Washington.”

The other Washington.

As the 1994 election approached, congressional Republicans were embracing term limits in their Contract with America, and so was a young lawyer from Spokane named George Nethercutt, who was challenging Speaker Foley. Nethercutt not only claimed to favor term limits, he pledged to serve just three terms, as Washingtonians had voted, and he promised never to sue his constituents as Foley was doing. The term limits movement spent more than $300,000 on TV and radio spots and mailings reminding eastern Washington voters of all that Foley had done to deny their vote and block his own term limits.

On that election night some nineteen years ago, Tom Foley’s opposition to term limits made him the first Speaker of the House since the Civil War to be defeated for re-election. Historically, sitting speakers have been rarely defeated. In modern times, with the power of incumbency, it had never happened.

Galusha Aaron Grow, a Radical Republican from Pennsylvania, was the last speaker so turned out back in 1862, after a dozen years in Congress . . . but just a single term as House speaker. Ironically, Grow had replaced William Pennington, a New Jersey Republican who was defeated for re-election in 1860 after serving his only congressional term — the last portion of which he was installed as a compromise speaker.

Not much has been made of George Nethercutt’s amazing victory in 1994, because Nethercutt broke his word, refusing to step down from office after three terms.

Much is made of Foley’s historic defeat, however. In recognizing the passing of the former Speaker, Reuters reported that, “a conservative mood shift made him one of the few speakers ever defeated for re-election.” Time noted that, “Foley wasn’t the victim of scandal or charges of gross incompetence.”

Well, yes and no. Not “scandal” in a criminal way — or the X-rated sense that politicians are so fond of providing to a mass audience these days. But for the voters of eastern Washington, suing to overturn their vote for term limits was politically scandalous, indeed. (Personally, I like their standards.) As the Seattle Times explained in remembering the man, “Few things unleashed the ire of Mr. Foley’s constituents as much as his dogged campaign against term limits.”

Though he was wrong about term limits and I was right, let me say after 20 more years of experience that I like Mr. Foley’s style. He seemed a happy warrior, never inspiring personal animosity. Hey, in politics, that’s saying something.

Memories of Speaker Foley spark in me a remembrance of what the people of eastern Washington did at the polls some twenty years ago. Those voters certainly did not want to let a nice man like Tom Foley go. But neither could they countenance his lawsuit. They were not swayed in the least by the lavish gifts a Speaker of the House could bestow on their area, and instead, they voted, heroically, to fix the broken Congress.

May Speaker Foley rest in peace. And may none of the rest of us rest until we again have a Congress that truly represents the American people.
Paul Jacob is president of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge and former executive director of U.S. Term Limits. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail. This piece originally ran on the Town Hall website on Oct. 20, 2013.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Armor's 'Why Term Limits' an oldie but a goodie

I am sometimes asked for the best primer on term limits. I respond that I haven't written it yet!

I wish I were joking. There have been some good books written on term limits -- The Cato Institute's scholarly Politics and Law of Term Limits and George Will's thoughtful Restoration come to mind. But not a primer, not THE book to tell the whole story from the angles of history, current politics, philosophy, law and statistics.

Or so I thought. I picked up a used copy of John Amor's Why Term Limits? and realize my sniffy response will need to be fixed.

Amor's, with the highly accurate subtitle Because They Have it Coming, is such a book. It is dated, as it was published in 1994. But 1994 places it in the midst of nationwide term limits victories and it is full of the optimism and fire that characterized that period. Recall that 23 states term limited their federal and/or state legislators via primarily citizen-led initiative movements. This was just before the great disappointment of 1995, when the Supreme Court invalidated all Congressional term limits in their U.S Term Limits v. Thornton decision. Those were heady days.

While many of the specific examples and stats are dated, they are not out of date because nothing has changed: "Special interests donate 90 percent of their money to incumbents, because 95 percent of incumbents win, because special interests donate 90 percent of their money ... You get the idea." Yes, we do.

There is much to learn here even for seasoned term limits warriors. And there are some approaches to the issue I have never encountered.  One example is that Amor divides the House between those who have served six years or less and those who served longer, made some adjustments to keep the party proportions consistent with the 1992 Congress, and looked to see if the fresh reps voted differently as a group.

They did. A case in point was the bipartisan Penny-Kasich spending reduction plan in 1992. The veterans and the leadership (big overlap here, naturally) voted it down 216-219. But the newer reps -- those presumably more reflective of the current thinking of the citizens -- would have passed it overwhelmingly.

In sum, this is the primer you are looking for, at least until I -- or you -- write an updated one.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Illinois 'legislative reform' package is more than just term limits

The Illinois 8-year term limits initiative intended for the November 2014 ballot is a package of reforms, yet all the attention will be paid to its centerpiece. Indeed, it is the 8-year term limits that will offer the most profound changes to the way Springfield works -- or doesn't work.

But what of the other elements? Are they legit? Is there a surprise inside? Color me cynical, but there are politicians in the room!

Reviewing the amendment here, it is clear there are no hidden trap doors or bended mirrors. Each element complements the term limits plank in an attempt to make the Illinois legislature more simple, flexible and representative. And, like the term limits, most of the ideas have been tested in other states.

THREE HOUSE SEATS PER SENATE DISTRICT -- This amendment would divide the Senate districts into three House seats instead of the current two so that an incumbent house member would be limited to one third instead of one half of the Senate District in terms of name recognition. This is another shift in power from incumbents to outsiders. That is, to citizens.

CHANGES IN CHAMBER MEMBERSHIP -- To accommodate the plank above, this amendment changes the number of members in each chamber. The House will expand from 118 to 123 members and the Senate will shrink from 59 to 41. A secondary benefit of this is that the House is the more representative of the two chambers, or at least it will be once the term limits kick in. It has shorter terms, more elections and smaller districts where one citizen can have more influence. On a net basis, the membership changes reduce the overall number of members and saves some money.

VETO POWER -- In Illinois it is unusually easy for the legislature to overturn a veto by the governor, requiring only a 3/5 vote. Under this amendment, the requirement would be 2/3 as it is in 36 other states.

NO MORE 2-YEAR SENATE TERMS -- This one is a simple housekeeping item. It abolishes the odd two-years term in the Senate that somewhat complicates the election process, encourages political gaming and confuses voters. In the future, all Senate terms will be four years as in most other states.

TERM LIMITS -- The crown of the amendment is, of course, the eight-year term limits. Eight years is the most common and time-tested term limit in America from the U.S. President and numerous state governors to nearly a dozen state legislatures and an uncountable number of county commissions, mayors and city councils.

This is a well-constructed package that makes both large and small tweaks to the structure and process of the legislature to push it in a more representative direction.

We need 300,000 signatures to put the question in the voters' hands. Let's get to work.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Term limits address the special ills of Illinois

As reported earlier, a campaign has been launched to put 8-year legislative term limits and other reforms on the Illinois ballot for November 2014. While every state legislature should have them, there are characteristics of the Illinois legislature that make limits essential.

While many states have part-time legislators who are paid nominal amounts for their service, a seat in the Illinois legislature is a full-time, year-round job paying a professional salary of $67,836 a year plus expenses. Legislators can retire earlier than other state workers and get a better pension too. The job attracts professional politicians like moths to a flame. Indeed the two best represented occupations in the legislature are lawyers and, you guessed it, professional legislators. Illinois suffers greatly from this narrow range of experience.

Illinois is among the nation's most corrupt states. Corruption is highly correlated to tenure because secure tenure breeds the hubris and opportunity necessary for corruption to blossom. Not only that, but the closed, tight circle of a government without regular rotation is far less transparent – and hence less accountable – than a more open, term-limited one.

Illinois state elections are simply not competitive. Since 2001, 97 percent of incumbents won reelection. Term limits mandate open seat elections at least every eight years in every seat. With term limits, the era of automatic incumbency will end, quick.

At election time, it is normal for half of the legislative seats to be uncontested, which means no elections are held and voters have no say in who represents them. This may continue to be true in non-term limit years, but in every seat a potentially competitive open seat election will be right around the corner under 8-year term limits.
Supporter in Cary, Ill.
The political culture in Illinois is characterized by political scientists as "individualistic," where the business of politics is chiefly concerned with about who is getting what. Who wins elections determines whose supporters get rewarded. (This is often contrasted with more "moralistic" or ideological political cultures such as in, say, Wisconsin.) The result is that a symbiotic relationship emerges between the legislator and the special interests that serves both their interests, permanently. Term limits tear up these cozy relationships and greatly reduce the influence of lobbies, whose resources are stretched thin between competitive races and who are constantly having to create new relationships.

One of the most marked peculiarities about the Illinois legislature is the centralization of power in the hands of party caucus leaders. Unlike other states and the U.S. Congress where committee chairman wield great power, in Illinois committees are more like rubber stamps for what the leadership wants. The leadership even chooses staffs for legislators and doles out campaign money for targeted races around the state. Term limits will change that.

Chris Mooney, a professor of political studies with the Institute of Government Affairs at the University of Illinois, believes it is for this reason more than any other that the effect of term limits will be a profound one in Illinois.

"The most prominent characteristic of recent General Assemblies is the centralization of power in the hands of long-serving party caucus leaders; by ousting these and other senior legislators, term limits will almost certainly effect a complete reconfiguration of the state's political power structure."

That is what Illinois needs and what voters want.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

It's about time: Term limits coming to Illinois!

By nearly any metric, Illinois is a basket case. In terms of growth of gross domestic output and growth of employment the state has long trailed the nation. Taxpayers have been migrating out of the state. The treasury is empty and taxes are rising in a self-destructive attempt to keep the state government afloat. One state scorecard ranked Illinois 47th among the 50 states in economic performance in 2012 and 48th for economic outlook.

How can this be?  Illinois has a full-time, professional legislature which is made up of predominately lawyers and experienced professional legislators. There is little turnover, with one study showing that overall turnover of the Illinois legislature to be the seventh lowest in the nation.  Certainly such a stable and experienced full-time team of lawmakers should make Illinois among the best-managed states.

Or, maybe this is precisely the problem. Maybe legislatures operate better with regular turnover, meaningful voter input via competitive elections, better incentives and a wider range of experience.
Bruce Rauner

Recent polling shows voters think so. A Paul Simon Public Policy Institute Poll published in November 2012 suggests some 78 percent of Illinois registered voters believe term limits are what is needed to shake up Springfield.

And it looks like they are going to get their way. A campaign has sprung up, led by venture capitalist and gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner, which aims to put a reform package on the ballot for 2014 with 8-year term limits as its centerpiece. The committee is currently raising money and making plans to collect the 300,000 signatures needed to put the measure on the ballot. You can help the Committee for Legislative Reform and Term Limits at their website here.

Before the first signature is collected you can already hear the politicians and special interests dusting off their favorite defense: "We aleady have term limits, they are called elections."

The problem with that little flower of homespun wholesomeness is that it isn't true. Over half of all legislative seats in last year's Illinois general election went unopposed. There were no elections held at all!  Even where elections were held for contested seats nearly all were nominal, lopsided affairs. A study of the legislature from 1992-2003 showed that the average vote margin in nominally contested races was never less than 25 percent.

Nothing has changed since then. Competitive elections are virtually unknown in the state of Illinois.

Consider this: Since 2001, incumbents seeking re-election have won more than 97 percent of the time.

Term limits will return turnover to the Illinois legislature, give voters greater voice, change the leadership of the body and toss out the professional legislators. It's time, let's get it done.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

New Yorkers punish term limits foe in mayor's race

At first considered the front-runner, term limits foe Christine Quinn went down in flames Tuesday as New York Democrats chose Bill de Blasio to be their nominee for New York City mayor. She didn't even end up in second place, trailing far behind William Thompson.

Quinn's flame out was not quite as spectacular as that of Anthony Weiner, but it followed a similar course.

Quinn was Speaker of the New York City Council in 2007 when Mayor Michael Bloomberg decided he wanted to run for office for a third term in defiance of New York's term limits law. The popular 8-year term limit had been passed and  then reaffirmed by voters in 1993 and 1996.

After internal polling showed voters would again affirm term limits in 2008, Mayor Bloomberg decided to simply ignore the earlier referenda and lengthened term limits from 8 to 12 years via a simple council vote. Oh yes, it lengthened the terms of the council too. You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours.

The ringleader for this betrayal of the voters was Chris Quinn. Voters never forgot. Term limits dogged her campaign since day one and many prominent supporters pointed to the issue as the primary reason for turning to de Blasio or Thompson.

Quinn, a married lesbian, was quoted by the New York Daily News saying that although her candidacy fell short, she hoped it enabled lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teens across the city to dream that they could make history someday. That's nice, but exit polling suggests she lost the gay vote too.

The May 1 Village Voice headline read: "LGBT purists to Christine Quinn: We'd love a gay mayor. Just not you." The Voice's Steve Weinstein wrote that Quinn's detractors point to 2006, when her peers elected her speaker, as the moment when she sold out her progressive base ... sucking up to a man [Bloomberg] whose endorsement would help smooth her way into the mayoralty. Two years after becoming speaker, Quinn led the council in overturning two voter referenda on term limits, enabling Bloomberg -- and City Council members -- to run for a third term ... That single action is likely to define her career."

"Among everyone I know, the first thing they say is, 'She betrayed us on term limits,'" gay rights activist Louis Flores told the Voice.

Quinn betrayed all New Yorkers and paid the price on election day when she had to run as a challenger in a competitive race. And that is the most important feature of term limits and the open seats they create: the people can have their say.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Term limits top the list of Levin's 'Liberty Amendments'

Talk show host and lawyer Mark Levin says at one time he opposed amending the U.S. Constitution via the state convention process. But now his skepticism has turned to enthusiasm and in his new book, The Liberty Amendments, he lays out 11 suggested amendments aimed at "preserving the civil society from the growing authoritarianism of a federal Leviathan" and urges states to pursue them.

Number one on the list: Congressional term limits. Number three: Supreme Court term limits. And, number nine: A change in the way amendments are approved that avoids Congress altogether -- and would likely pave the way for Congressional term limits.

Levin starts off with background on the amendment process and addresses a fear many term limits supporters have expressed about amending the constitution via a convention called by three fourths of the states.

Levin suggests concerns about a runaway convention are unfounded: "The text of Article V makes clear there is a serious check in place. Whether the product of Congress or a convention, a proposed amendment has no effect at all unless 'ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states...' This should extinguish anxiety that the state convention process could hijack the Constitution."

"In Washington and most political capitals, TIME in office = POWER" -- Mark Levin

The current term limits bills in Congress (introduced by Rep. Matt Salmon in the House and David Vitter and Rand Paul in the Senate) take the other of two paths offered in Article V, a vote in the Congress followed by ratification by the states.

In chapter two, Levin lays out a concise and persuasive case for Congressional term limits, citing the lack of rotation, gerrymandering, power of the incumbency, special interest money and seniority. The bottom line, he says, is "in Washington and most political capitals TIME in office = POWER." He calls for a limit of 12 years maximum in the Congress which can be split between houses.

Interestingly Levin also calls for 12-year Supreme Court limits. Here he cites the unexpected longevity of modern justices and the increased power they wield. Most persuasively, he points to the simple fact that a lifetime position today can -- and does -- entrench the "mentally impaired, venal and even racist" who may have once been vigorous contributors to the court. Due to uncompetitive elections and the lack of turnover in Congress, he could have noted that is phenomenon is not uncommon there either.

Less persuasive is Levin's call -- as part of the same amendment -- to permit Congressional overrides of Supreme Court decisions, such as if the Court determines a Congressional law is unconstitutional.

In chapter 9, Levin calls for the ability for states to directly amend the Constitution. If two-thirds (not three fourths) of the states approve the exact same amendment within a six year period, it would become part of the Constitution. No convention. No Congress.

As he puts it, "there is no persuasive reason the states need to administratively organize their amendment efforts through Congress. In fact, among the reasons states may be moved to act is precisely because of conflicts or disagreements with Congress."

No kidding. How about the conflict of interest involved in the Congress shepherding -- or, more accurately, torpedoing -- an amendment to limit the terms of the Congress? This amendment would permit states to make an end run around Congress.

Other amendments offered in the book include a tax cap (15 percent of income), a balanced budget amendment, national voter ID requirements and explicit private property protections. Nearly all are thoughtful and reasonable, but many are also politically fanciful currently.

But the book is not simply indulgence in political fantasy. It is a thought experiment that provokes serious consideration of our history, foundational law and the nature of our political system. It is particularly valuable for those who are active in the effort to pass Congressional term limits via a Constitutional amendment. Read it.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Comic offers cosmic redefinition of machine politics

Readers of this blog know of my interest in cultural manifestations of term limits as well as the political ones. Usually these show up in novels.

Our sighting today is a comic book -- er, I mean graphic novel -- published by DC Comics under its Wildstrom imprint. Ex Machina is a series that ran from 2004-2010 and tells the story of Mitchell Hundred, formerly a superhero called the Great Machine and currently the mayor of New York. Gathered into a 10-volume book format, the final edition is titled, that's right, Term Limits.

This is a well-written (Brian K. Vaughan) and illustrated (Tony Harris) series that is infused with informed politics and avoids clumsy advocacy. The title refers not so much to the reform championed by this blog, but instead to the final days of  Mitchell Hundred in office.

It is also a sly slap to real world Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had the New York City council nullify voter-approved term limits to stay in office for a third term. Hundred, by contrast, lives up to a self-imposed term limit and is voluntarily relinquishing office.
Brian K. Vaughan
Vaughan is quoted by Wikipedia as saying the comic was "born out of my anger with what passes for our current political leadership on both sides of the aisle."

But don't worry, the comic also includes people with super powers, aliens who wish to destroy all human life on earth and ray guns that open portals to hell. It is first and foremost a comic and a good one.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

In gay marriage decision, did Supremes inadvertently empower pols?

Even those who cheered the result of the U.S. Supreme Court's June decision regarding gay marriage should be concerned about how the court reached it.

Recall that in 2008 California voters passed Proposition 8 which banned gay marriage in that state. In 2010, a district court ruled the amendment unconstitutional. Normally, the state would appeal on behalf of its voter-approved law, but in this case California's governor and attorney general agreed with the district court decision and refused to appeal.

Prop. 8 supporters did their day in court, though. The California Supreme Court allowed them to make their case in federal court instead. But when the case made its way to the Supreme Court, the court ruled that the Prop. 8 supporters had no standing and tossed it out.

So what, you ask? This: The court appears to have handed a veto power over initiatives they don't like by refusing to defend them in court. So opponents can get a friendly judge and it's game over for voters.

California voters aren't outraged about this as the consensus on gay marriage has shifted since the original vote five years ago. But technically the Supreme Court didn't even rule on this issue. The issue was standing, and the voters didn't have it.

The purpose of the initiative process is to provide citizens with a way to make an end run around politicians when they are not doing the people's business. This is something the term limits movement has made the most of. Rarely do legislatures adopt term limits; more often they pull out all stops in opposing them.

Some fear the June decision gives politicians one more weapon against citizens who want to limit their power. Stay tuned.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Politicians fight term limits with ... Sanctioned Murder?

When a movement to limit terms springs up, politicians and special interests resort to nearly every trick in the book to stop it. This usually involves sending out teams of lawyers.

A new mystery thriller, Sanctioned Murder by Glenn Trust, tells the story of a threatened incumbency in Georgia sending out teams of hit men.

When the murders start occuring, the investigators -- a team of police officers and detectives including George Mackey, the hero of Trust's first novel -- can't connect the dots. There is a clearly a political twist, but the victims seem to be of different parties, wildly different views and cultural backgrounds. They know also that there is interest high up, as the governor's officer creates a task force early on to, it seems, monitor the investigation more than assist it.

As the subtitle of the book (The Term Limits Conspiracy) hints, the investigators find the connection and then the clues keep leading them higher and deeper into the establishment.

Sanctioned Murder is another of the growing genre of term limits thrillers (let's just pretend this exists, OK?) which includes Vince Flynn's Term Limits and Erne Lewis' An Act of Self Defense.

It is an easy read, a page-turner with lots of gunplay. However, I am not sure I am comfortable with the fate of the editor of the term limits blog at the center of the conspiracy. I'll try not to take it personally.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

There's still time to save Arkansas GOP from term limits debacle

As reported earlier, the anti-term limits measure to appear on the Arkansas ballot in 2014 would appear to a boon to Republicans who aim to protect their incumbents and solidify the GOP's state legislative majority. No doubt this will be used as a selling point to the party's hyper-partisans.

This is short-sighted. Thoughtful Arkansas Republicans should call for their leaders to take this awful measure off the ballot while there is still time.  It is likely this measure will backfire on the party, hurting fundraising and morale going into the 2014 elections, reducing the chances of achieving important policy goals and setting the party up for a difficult future.

Straining party resources

Term limits are popular with large majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents. But it is no secret that fundraising to defend term limits in Arkansas -- where the movement to impose term limits originally had a GOP pedigree -- will disproportionately come from one side of the aisle. Plus, the bulk of the volunteers who work to save the popular voter-approved term limits will skew towards the GOP. Hence, money and volunteers hours will be lost to other GOP campaigns in order to battle a GOP initiative.

As the campaign to protect term limits picks up steam and party regulars get invested in it, there will necessarily be a dampening of enthusiasm for the party leaders who -- as a group -- championed this measure. How could it be otherwise?

Weakening the brand

The GOP bills itself as the state's fiscally conservative party. The party attracts fiscal conservatives to run for office and these candidates must talk the talk to primary voters and contributors if they want to advance.

As illustrated in a famous Cato Institute study at the Congressional level, Republicans tend to arrive at the capitol and more or less live up to their fiscal conservative rhetoric for a while. But after 6, 7, 8 years their spending ramps up and soon they are no longer distinguishable from the veteran spenders.

There is every reason to expect that tenured Republican legislators as a group -- who will be able to run as incumbents for their own seats for 16 years straight instead of today's six or eight -- will stray further from the fiscally conservative path.

Term limits cut both ways

Term limits cut both ways. Protecting today's incumbents from electoral competition will surely help maintain the Republican majority longer -- but not forever. But some day down the line the shoe will be on the other foot and Republicans will be in the minority in a system rigged in favor of the incumbent majority.

It is not too late to remove the measure from the 2014 ballot. Indeed, when the GOP-dominated Florida legislature voted to put a term limits attack on the ballot in 2006, they heard from their base and voted to take the measure off the ballot just in time.

The same can happen in Arkansas, and it should.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Arkansas GOP incumbents want to lock the door behind them

After Contract With America author U.S. Rep. Dick Armey (R-TX) got comfortable with his new Republican majority in the House in 1994, he famously said that "if we Republicans can straighten out the House . . . then I think maybe the nation's desire for term limits will be diminished."

In other words, now that we're in power, we don't need term limits anymore.

This is the sentiment being echoed today in Arkansas, where term limits opened elections to competition and turnover leading to the historic upending of Democratic dominance in the state legislature. Now that the door has been opened and the Republicans walked in -- culminating in 2012 with the first GOP majority in both chambers since reconstruction -- they want to shut the door behind them and lock it. Entrenched incumbency all of a sudden sounds mighty attractive.

Their scheme to get it is the anti-term limits amendment, titled the "Elected Officials Ethics, Transparency and Financial Reform Amendment," that will appear on the statewide 2014 ballot.

By the early 1990s, legislative turnover in the legislature had become among the lowest in the nation, incumbents had became statistically unbeatable and hence the legislature became stagnant, dominated by its senior class. Even as the state changed over time, the legislature didn't.

But then genuine term limits were put on the ballot by citizens via the initiative process, winning with 60 percent in 1992 and again by 70 percent in 2004. As the limits set in, pent-up demographic changes were refected at the ballot box For example, there was a pop in the number of women in the legislature. More to our point here, Republicans now had the opportunity to run for lots of open seats in competitive elections -- and they started winning them.

Today, when and if the tide turns back toward the Democrats, we can expect this will be reflected at the ballot box too. But the new anti-term limits amendment would retard the will of the people.

The essence of the amendment is to change the House term limit from six years to 16 and the Senate term limit from eight to 16, with a maximum service in the legislature of 16 years between the two. This is a return to the old regime where incumbents can -- and therefore nearly always will -- run for the same seat for over a decade and a half with all the overwhelming advantages of an incumbent running for his or her own seat.

It should not be too surprising that the amendment was also supported by Democratic incumbents who put their own political aspirations ahead of the interests of the citizenry and their own party. Truly, in the case of term limits there are two distinct opposing parties but they aren't Democrat versus Republican, they are people versus power.  Polls reflect this, with large majorities of Democrats and Republicans (and independents) supporting term limits.

Arkansas voters of all parties need to defeat this attempt by incumbent politicians to rig the system in their favor. Let's get to work.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Arkansas 'reform' just an obscurantist attack on term limits

Whereas first you don't succeed, lie lie again. That's the motto of the Arkansas state legislature, which is trying for the second time to effectively nullify the state's voter-approved term limits. This time they are stooping to obfuscation and deception get the job done.
Some background: By the early 1990s, legislative turnover in the legislature had become among the lowest in the nation, incumbents had became statistically unbeatable and hence the legislature became stagnant, dominated by its senior class and the special interests that supported them. The initial term limits measure was put on the ballot by citizens via the initiative process, winning with 60 percent in 1992.

The popularity of the term limits grew significantly over time. In 2004, when legislators tried to weaken the limits, 70 percent of the voters rebuffed them.

Today, Arkansas is a model for other states, with a part-time legislature meeting every other year, reasonable compensation and genuine term limits. According to the American Legislative Exchange Council, which annually compares states according to a fixed list of economic variables, Arkansas routinely ranks in the top half or even quartile of its peers.

That's fine for the citizenry, but less so for self-interested legislators who want sail back into office in uncompetitive elections for perpetuity. Legislators learned the hard way Arkansans are not going to gut term limits in an honest vote. So, this year, they voted to place the, ahem, Elected Officials Ethics, Transparency and Financial Reform Amendment on the ballot in 2014.

Notice this lofty title doesn't even mention the central point of the the bill, a provision to gut term limits by permitting legislators to spend 16 years in the House or Senate or some combination of the two. Currently, legislators are limited to six years in the House and eight in the Senate.

The amendment contains a bunch of add-ons -- some with merit and some without -- but together are intended only to bury the attack on term limits in a friendly-sounding 'reform' package.

Oh well, proponents say, term limits are being deemphasized because the popular term limits are only being tweaked a teeny-weeny bit. Currently, a legislator is permitted to serve six years in the House and then eight in the Senate for a total of 14 years. The new limit would be 16 so this is only an additional two years. Friendly pundits are already pooh-poohing this change as almost an afterthought.

But this an intentional deception. The new House term limit would now be 16 years, not six. The new term limit in the Senate will be 16 years, not eight. Today, the jump from one chamber to the other requires a competitive election in which term-limited candidate may be facing another term-limited candidate in a competitive election. This is what politicians are desperate to avoid. This is the nugget hidden in this basket of smoke.

History and current polling suggest voters are unlikely to approve this measure if they are aware of its true purpose. The pols, lobbyists and friendly press will aim to obscure. Our job must be to educate. If we do our job, the voters will take care of the rest.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Does youthful energy drive better outcomes?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Argentine voters foil attack on presidential term limits

It’s not only here. Voters internationally love term limits and resent self-interested attempts of would-be tyrants to circumvent them.

The latest example: Voters in Argentina last weekend gave a resounding thumbs down to President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and her plans to keep power by abolishing presidential term limits.

In the face of deteriorating economic conditions, Fernandez made her bid for 'consitutional reform' last year with all the usual pitches of professional politicians, including the need for continuity and her irreplaceable wisdom and experience.

The people weren’t fooled. In November 2012, a demonstration outside the pink presidential palace at the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires brought hundreds of thousands of people into the streets. Their grievances were legion, but the unifying theme was opposition to the president’s arrogant grasp for power in what should be – and will be – her last two years in office.

Then, in the Aug. 11 primary elections, Fernandez's ruling party garnered only 26 percent of the nationwide vote. This is less than half of the percentage with which she was re-elected two years ago and five points less than her party's showing in the last mid-term elections. It is believed the results end any hopes of nixing constitutional term limits before the October general elections.

But the lust for power is a compulsion that demands obedience. “We're going to keep deepening this transformation, because it's our obligation," Fernandez said at a post-election rally.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Americans tell pollsters: Fire the entire Congress!

It is often noted that even though the vast majority of voters support term limits, they will also reelect their own representative over and over and over again.
This is less of a contradiction than it may appear on first glance.  Term limits are an institutional reform that affects the legislative bodies’ makeup and incentives and also who ultimately appears on ballots. That is very different than choosing between two or three candidates to fill a public post in particular election.
When voting to fill a post, voters look at the choices and pick the best one – or, in most cases, the least bad one.  In many cases, that may be the incumbent. After all, the odds are high the opponent is not a serious one.  In an environment where incumbents win their own seat in general elections some 95% of the time, serious goal-oriented people rarely run for office against them.
Hence, either incumbents go unopposed or they attract unqualified, even if well-meaning, opponents. These opponents are usually underfunded and are not even backed by their own political party. After all, with scarce resources, why would a party spend real money on unwinnable seats?
Meanwhile, the incumbent is a statistical sure thing and a great investment for special interest money and muscle.
Gerrymandering also plays a role.  In safe seats where one party dominates, the likelihood is high that voters will simply pull the lever for their party’s nominee.
Voters seem to understand this better than pundits.  In an NBC News/Wall Street Journal on July17-21, voters were asked:

"If there were a place on your ballot that allowed you to vote to defeat and replace every single member of Congress, including your own representative, would you do this, or not?"

57% said ‘yes.'
Well, there isn’t such a place on the ballot. Instead, voters are asked to choose from a list of candidates – chosen through a flawed process skewed towards the incumbency – and they hold their noses and pull the lever once again. The old power brokers return to office and nothing ever changes. How could it?
No, the voters don’t love their incumbents. The same poll showed 83 percent of voters disapprove of Congress, a new record. Voters want competitive elections and rotation in office. They want term limits.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Missouri State House: ME FIRST!

It can't be said that politicians never take an unpopular stand based on principle. At least, not when the important principle at stake is their own power and prestige.

Look at Missouri. Desperate politicians there are making another stab at defeating 8-year legislative term limits. On March 5, the Missouri House passed HJR 4, which would weaken term limits to a meaningless 16 years in either house. The bill is headed to the Missouri Senate.

HJR 4, introduced by Rep. Myron Neth (R-Liberty), would essentially negate the 1992 referendum which initiated the 8-year limits, in which 75 percent of voters gave the new limits the nod. The voters haven't changed their minds. Polling from 2011 shows that 77 percent of Missourians support the current 8-year term limits law and oppose weakening them.

And well they should. A recent study shows that term limits have been effective in some of their major aims.

First, term limits in Missouri have largely erased the surge in tenure in the Missouri legislature that marked the later 20th Century. Second, in the Missouri House, rotation in office due to term limits has created a more representative body comprising a far broader range of experience. Third, the intended division between the upper and lowers houses of the legislature has been improved. While the House has been transformed into a far more representative body, the percentage of the Senate with significant legislative experience remains very high, as many or most Senators serve first in the House. Hence, the balance – previously skewed toward professional politicians – has swung back more toward the center, balancing the value of experience and improving the representation and participation of the citizens.

This empowerment of the ignorant citizenry was supposed to lead to calamity. But in spite of all the grave pronouncements of self-interested politicians and special interests in Jefferson City, Missouri ranks among the best-run states in the country. The respected biannual "Rich States, Poor States" study by the American Legislative Exchange Council -- no friend of term limits -- ranks all the states by results, using the same metrics for all 50 states. ALEC ranks Missouri at #7. Nationwide, term limited states are crowded in the top half of these rankings.

So why are the politicians so desparate to gut the limits? The answer is obvious and the voters know it.

In the 2011 poll referenced above, a full 78 percent of the Missourians said that lawmakers who voted to lengthen the terms at that time are "primarily interested in keeping themselves in power," including 65 percent of Democrats, 78 percent of Republicans and 89 percent of independents.

Time and time again, legislators come up with creative ways to keep themselves in office longer and HJR 4 is just another of these craven power grasps. The people of Missouri are best served by citizen legislators, and the state Senate needs to just say no to HJR 4.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

DeMint may be gone from Senate, but term limits bill isn't

When Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina announced his retirement from the Senate, term limits activists were worried. After all, it was DeMint's name on the Congressional term limits bill.

But on Jan. 22, Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) introduced an amendment to the U.S. Constitution which would limit the number of terms that a Congress member may serve to three in the House of Representatives and two in the Senate. That is, the same bill.

DeMint may not be done with term limits. He left the Senate to take the helm at the Heritage Foundation where he can be enormously influential in advancing the issue. With the Cato Institute firmly behind the reform, there may be another policy powerhouse on the term limits case.

Sen. David Vitter has reintroduced the Congressional term limits bill in the Senate and a House companion bill is expected imminently.

Term limits for members of Congress has been spotlighted in recent weeks as former Senator and Vice Presidential nominee Joe Lieberman announced that after reflection on his 24 years in office that he now supported term limits.

The Lieberman statement was followed by a polls conducted by the Gallup Organization released in January showing that the American people would vote for congressional term limits by a 75 – 21 margin.

To become part of the U.S. Constitution, the amendment requires a two-thirds vote in each house of Congress and ratification by three quarters or 38 out of 50 states. This will not happen without pressure from us. Please sign the online petition now.