When he wasn’t lugging amplifiers and leading sound checks, Tim “Izzy” Israel swapped stories with country music chart-toppers. Criss-crossing the country in tour buses left little time for lobbying. Politics was a game other people played.
Then a once-in-a-century pandemic canceled concerts and brought life to a standstill. Israel watched it unfold, waiting for a decisive, coordinated response that never came. After losing his job in the entertainment industry, he grew disgusted with the partisan finger-pointing and endless excuses on Capitol Hill. As Americans lost their lives and livelihoods, the blowhards in Congress bickered.
“They didn’t look for solutions, and they’re supposed to,” said Israel, a father of six who lives in the Nashville suburb of Hartsville, Tennessee. “These people swear an oath. They never seem to be able to fix something like a plumber you would call or a construction worker or anyone else. They seem to get away with substandard performance on their job.”
If professional politicians couldn’t get the job done, Israel thought, there must be a way to replace the cloistered elites with average Americans like the salt-of-the-earth folks he met working as backstage bouncers and slinging hash browns in all-night diners.
Term limits seemed like an obvious solution. But it was equally obvious that incumbent senators and representatives wouldn’t vote themselves out of a lucrative career. When Israel learned that state governments could bypass Congress and impose term limits by constitutional amendment, he jumped in with both feet to support the convention of states movement.
Israel took to the open road in an epic cross-country walking tour he’s dubbed “Land Limits for Term Limits.” Carrying signs in support of his cause, Israel began the trek three days before Christmas in Key West, Florida, and is rambling his way toward Cape Flattery, Washington.
The journey is 3,662 miles by car. Factoring in detours and pit stops, he’ll probably log more than 4,000 miles before the mission is complete.
U.S. Term Limits, a Washington-based nonprofit, is helping Israel reach his goal. His association with the group came by way of coincidence. Israel had stopped to rest in Albany, Georgia, when he met Scott Tillman, the organization’s national field director. Tillman dispatched a small camper to follow Israel’s travels by day and provide safe lodging by night.
Despite the sponsorship of sorts, Israel’s walk remains decidedly grassroots. The camper hangs back at a distance, giving Israel ample space to chat with anyone who strikes up a conversation. U.S. Term Limits helps with publicity, coordinating interviews with curious reporters and sit-downs with politicians sympathetic to the cause.
North Carolina wasn’t part of his original route, but Israel recently made a detour to meet with North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore, who co-sponsored two resolutions to authorize a convention of the states. The legislator invited Israel to lunch at a local landmark, Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge in Shelby.
While every constitutional amendment since the Bill of Rights has been ratified after congressional passage, Article 5 of the U.S. Constitution allows a two-thirds majority of states to call a convention in order to propose constitutional amendments. Either process requires three-fourths of state legislatures to ratify an amendment before it takes effect.
Establishment politicians are wary of a states’ convention. They conflate it with a constitutional convention and stoke irrational fears that rogue delegates could draft a new Constitution from scratch, an outcome incompatible with a plain reading of Article 5.
Critics paint the movement as a right-wing fringe group. Yet national polls consistently show strong bipartisan support for congressional term limits. In his home state of Michigan, where state law limits U.S. representatives to three two-year terms in any 12-year period and U.S. senators to two six-year terms in any 24-year period, Jeff Tillman, deputy field director of U.S. Term Limits, said more minorities, women and young people are elected to federal office. That ought to be music to progressives’ ears.
As for Israel, he’s neither Republican nor Democrat, and he’s yet to meet an American who doesn’t see the wisdom in capping the length of congressional service.
“I’ve never had a thumbs-down,” he said. “People have picked me up, taken me to their house, fed me dinner. I think this should be common sense to everybody.”
Corey Friedman writes on political conflicts from an independent perspective. Follow him on Twitter