Fresh off Senate bid, Bernie Moreno to lead Congressional term limits push in Ohio

By: - March 18, 2022 3:50 am

January 22: Then-Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, Bernie Moreno (left) and Ohio GOP central committee representative, Jack Etheridge join a March for Life event organized by the Knox County Young Republicans, January 22, 2022, in Mount Vernon, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes, for the Ohio Capital Journal.)

Erstwhile U.S. Senate candidate Bernie Moreno is putting his efforts behind a bid to impose term limits on Congress. In a press conference Thursday, Moreno announced he’ll serve as Ohio’s state chair of U.S. Term Limits. The longshot campaign would require a constitutional amendment.

Moreno’s new gig

In Moreno’s description, term limits are part of an ongoing political crusade to restrict the government and stop the supposed spread of socialism.

“Lowering the scale and size and influence of the federal government is the surest way to prevent socialism and any kind of other authoritarian state -ism that you can imagine,” Moreno said. “So the question becomes what’s the most effective way to do that? And it was clear to me that the most effective way to do that is to have strict term limits on U.S. federal candidates.”

The organization’s plan is to trigger a constitutional convention under Article V of the U.S. Constitution. Following that strategy would require two thirds of state legislatures to call for a convention and then three quarters of states to ratify the amendment drafted by that convention.

Term limits are broadly popular, and many states have already imposed some kind of limit on their legislative or executive officeholders. But there’s less consensus when it comes to whether term limits are good policy. The National Conference of State Legislatures notes while term limits mean the faces change, legislative demographics remain much the same. And the loss of seasoned lawmakers puts state legislatures in a relatively weaker position compared to governors. The report even takes time to single out “The Curious Case of Ohio,” where lawmakers jump from chamber to chamber on eight year cycles.

But Moreno scoffs at the potential brain drain in Congress, arguing that’s a feature, not a bug. He held up the bipartisan infrastructure package, negotiated by outgoing Sen. Rob Portman, R-OH, as a case in point.

“The reality is people who’ve been there a long time are accustomed to this idea that these large, expensive bills are passed,” Moreno said, “where no member of Congress, no elected officials, even read them or probably even wrote them — that they’re written by lobbyists.”

Moreno’s position and the organization’s approach means he’ll likely be lobbying state lawmakers to advance a resolution calling for a constitutional convention.  Moreno also noted every Republican Senate candidate save Dolan has signed on to the term limits pledge.

The Senate bid

It’s been a little over a month since the Cleveland entrepreneur exited the U.S. senate race — only three days after securing the Clermont County endorsement — citing concerns that the crowded field could “cost the MAGA movement a conservative seat.”

Thursday Moreno made it clear he’s not only out of this race, but out of electoral politics, period. He explained the run put his wife “about 90 football fields outside her comfort zone,” and that they agreed at the outset he had to win and stick to a two-term limit of his own if he did.

As for his campaign war chest, Moreno said he’s refunded the contributions.

“So, the account went down to zero,” he said. “Actually, it’s kind of funny because I can’t tell you how many donors call me and go, ‘Wait, you sent me back a check. I’ve never had a candidate do that before.’ They’re genuinely perplexed.”

As for who he’s backing in the Senate race, Moreno stuck to the same position he staked out as he left the contest: whoever Trump is backing. Since Trump has declined to endorse a candidate to this point, Moreno is keeping his powder dry.

Ironically, Moreno criticizes the same sort of “anointed” status across the aisle when it comes to Congressman Tim Ryan’s Democratic Senate bid. Moreno argued the party is “disenfranchising their voters” because it isn’t having a primary. Democrats are having a primary — Ryan is facing Morgan Harper and Traci Johnson.

And Moreno has been happy in the past to use a candidate’s anointed status to his advantage. In 2008, Moreno took a Democratic ballot in the primary after Republican John McCain had largely sewn up his party’s nomination. Moreno described it as part of “Operation Chaos,” a political maneuver advocated by Rush Limbaugh to prolong the Democratic contest and weaken their eventual candidate ahead of the general election.

“I’ve always been a Republican, always been a conservative,” Moreno said. “In ’08, you forget ‘Operation Chaos’ existed in which the idea was it wanted to make certain that Hillary Clinton didn’t get elected. So there’s a lot of us Republicans that pulled the Democratic ballots so that we could vote for Bernie Sanders.”

Sanders, of course, wasn’t running in 2008, and Moreno didn’t pursue the same strategy in 2016 or 2020 when Sanders was a presidential candidate. In a follow-up email Moreno explained he couldn’t recall which Democratic candidate he voted for in 2008.

Limbaugh’s strategy was widely derided at the time, to the evident glee of the radio talk show host. According to the Columbus Dispatch, Limbaugh even told his audience he might face indictment in Ohio for encouraging voters to participate. But a spokesman for then-Attorney General Marc Dann threw cold water on Limbuagh’s theatrics.

“We have no intention of prosecuting Rush Limbaugh, because lying through your teeth and being stupid isn’t a crime,” he said.



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Nick Evans
Nick Evans

Nick Evans has spent the past seven years reporting for NPR member stations in Florida and Ohio. He got his start in Tallahassee, covering issues like redistricting, same sex marriage and medical marijuana. Since arriving in Columbus in 2018, he has covered everything from city council to football. His work on Ohio politics and local policing have been featured numerous times on NPR.