Here are some tricks and treats for democracy – The Fulcrum
On this Friday before Halloween, we were thinking about how democracy in our constitutional republic can be filled with tricks or treats for citizens. We compiled a list of both. What would you add? Email us your ideas and we’ll share them with our readers next week.
Weston is executive director of the Fierce Civility Project and the author of “Mastering Respectful Confrontation.”
My work colleague thinks conflict is good and leads to better results. Some of my other colleagues seem to be okay with his abrasive, combative behavior. He likes to make fun of me and calls me “sensitive” if I call him on it. It’s exhausting. How can I deal with him?
Bullied and Exhausted
I can imagine you are having a tough time if you are feeling both bullied and exhausted. My first suggestion is to see what steps you can take to cultivate “resilience.” In the Fierce Civility practice, we define resilience as the capacity to address challenges with ease, skill and confidence. Resilience is not enduring struggles. When you have cultivated what we call “resilient power,” you feel physically vital, emotionally stable and mentally clear. Are you pushing yourself — a kind of self-bullying — to work in a way that isn’t serving you, causing you to burn out? What self-care practices can you build into your day to reduce exhaustion and increase your energy and effectiveness?
Now let’s address the issue with your colleague. Start with asking some clarifying questions. In the conflict resolution world, you will often hear about “good” conflict and “bad” conflict. Bad conflict causes harm. Good conflict can use the tension of differences to initiate more creativity and focus. At the Fierce Civility Project we try to minimize the need to use words like “good” and “bad,” which, as judgments, can create separation. The important question is, “To what degree is the conflict bringing harm, benefits or some combination of both?”
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So, on some level, if he is suggesting that using “good” conflict can inspire, focus and make the team more effective, and if it works for everyone involved, I can see his viewpoint. So, I would suggest asking him, in a truly curious, respectful way, “What do you mean by conflict?” And, “What do you think it should look like?” If it includes respect and a commitment to not harming, then I would say try it out. You may develop more resilience in the process.
However, stating that conflict is a way to get better results could be a way to excuse harmful behavior, or avoid being held accountable for bullying. This is different. If he has no concern about harming others, then I would start with clarifying and stating your boundaries. Where do you draw the line with how you are treated? When does the process of dealing with challenges and deadlines go from feeling uncomfortable (which can be healthy) to feeling unsafe?
You can’t change people, but, with respect and patience, you can influence behavior. Find a time and place when you can talk to him, where you both feel safe and not attacked. Make him aware of his specific behavior without judgment, how it is affecting you, and what you would need to function in a work environment that is productive and not exhausting. Can you clarify why this way of working feels exhausting for you? Hopefully this will make him consider his approach.
Perhaps add the message, “I can see how you might think that this is a good strategy for getting the best out of people. And I can see how it works with some. I would like to continue to do my best work. However, with my kind of personality and value system, using conflict is not the best strategy to get me to excel. Can we discuss other options?”
I am not guaranteeing that this will get him to suddenly behave differently, but it is certainly a start in terms of helping you clarify what your boundaries are and how to advocate for yourself. Feel free to get back in touch if you have any more questions (or check out my book, “Mastering Respectful Confrontation,” to find out more ways to effectively confront someone, as well as ways to cultivate more resilient power).
With clarifying power,
“Ask Joe” is dedicated to exploring the best ways to transform tensions and bridge divides. Our resident advice columnist and conflict resolution specialist, Joe Weston, is here to answer your questions in order to resolve tension, polarization, or conflict.
Bridging divides is not about being on the same page; it’s about being able to disagree well. And it all relies on one very important foundation: a trusting relationship. On this episode of the Civil Squared podcast, host Jennifer Thompson is joined by founder and CEO of The Village Square, Liz Joyner, to discuss the importance of building trust before you try and build bridges between disagreements on contentious issues.
Our overwhelmed health care workers are desperately in need of support, writes Zaidane.
In honor of National Depression and Mental Health Screening Month, let’s support our health care workers.
October is National Depression and Mental Health Screening month. Over the past year and a half, health care workers across the United States have tackled the Covid-19 pandemic on the frontlines day after day. They have cared for those we love with empathy, compassion and lifesaving critical skills. They are taking care of us — but who is taking care of them?
Our health care professionals have been tirelessly working under nearly impossible and unsustainable levels of stress to keep their communities safe, and it’s taking a toll. In a recent study of frontline health care workers, 55 percent have self-reported burnout, and 62 percent say the pandemic has had a negative impact on their mental health. Alarmingly, three in 10 health care workers have considered leaving their chosen profession altogether during this pandemic.
What’s more, 41 percent of our health care workers are millennials, and they will continue to comprise the health care workforce for decades to come. And yet, national labor shortages are forcing fewer employees to shoulder more of the work: The American Nursing Association estimates a need for 1.1 million registered nurses in the U.S. by 2022. It is of paramount importance that we work to create a sustainable health care system that takes care of its workers — not just to ensure great outcomes for patients, but also to retain and attract the hardworking health care staff we depend on.
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Amidst staggering numbers of hospital admissions and new Covid-19 cases, our health care infrastructure is at a critical point: Our health care workers are in desperate need of support. The good news is that each of us can make a difference, today. In observance of National Depression and Mental Health Screening Month, here’s how you can help:.
The effects of doing this work now will be long lasting. Young people are at the beginning of their careers, with so much possibility and talent. It is in our best interest to create a culture of support — especially as it relates to mental health — in the workplace for these early professionals so they can continue to grow into the leaders and pioneers that make America, well, America. If we act now, we can do more than just guard against future workforce shortages. We can instill a culture of support, empathy, and care — for everyone in the health care system.
A majority of voters across the political spectrum support reforming the Electoral Count Act, which governs Congress’ role in the process. Above: Members of the House meet to certify the 2020 election.
A majority of voters across the political spectrum agree that the Electoral Count Act should be modernized to “protect the will of the people,” recent polling found.
The Electoral Count Act of 1887 governs the casting and counting of electoral votes for president and vice president every four years, including Congress’ role in the process. But election security and voting rights experts say the law’s language is arcane and often confusing, which leaves room for misuse. Modernizing the law, experts say, would safeguard American democracy against another Jan. 6 insurrection or other potential crisis.
Proposed changes to the Electoral Count Act would establish more clearly defined rules for Congress and the vice president to follow, making it more difficult to reject a state’s certified election results. Overall, 62 percent of voters surveyed supported such a change to the law, according to a poll released Tuesday by good-government groups Issue One, the Campaign Legal Center, Protect Democracy and RepresentUs.
Three-quarters of Democrats said they somewhat or strongly favored reforming the Electoral Count Act. More than half of independents (56 percent) and Republicans (52 percent) also indicated support.
Nearly two-thirds of voters said they would be more likely to support updating the law if the proposed changes were written by both Republican and Democratic members of Congress. Nearly seven in 10 Democrats would be more likely to support ECA reform if it was bipartisan, followed by 63 percent of Republicans and half of independents.
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“One of the reasons people say that America is ‘exceptional’ is that we regularly hold national elections run by the states per the Constitution, accept the outcome and peacefully transfer power based on the results,” said Zach Wamp, a Republican who represented Tennessee in the U.S. House of Representative for eight terms and now co-chairs Issue One’s ReFormers Caucus. “[The Electoral Count Act] must be modernized for the 21st century so that what happened January 6, 2021, doesn’t happen again.”
The voters primarily support ECA reform because they are worried a political party will try to overturn the results of an upcoming presidential election in order to put its own candidate in power. A majority of Democrats (56 percent), independents (53 percent) and Republicans (63 percent) raised concerns about this.
Most voters (58 percent) said there should be only a narrow set of circumstances in which Congress could reject a state’s certified election results, compared to a quarter who said Congress should have broad power to reject results. While previous election certifications featured token opposition by members of Congress, the 2020 results were heavily contested by Republicans on Jan. 6, 2021, as rioters stormed the Capitol.
“As our poll shows, voters on both sides of the aisle are worried about partisan politicians trying to throw out a state’s certified presidential election results,” said Robert Jones from GS Strategy Group, which conducted the poll. “The public wants to see Congress act, and they strongly believe that a solution must be bipartisan. With the next presidential election having the potential to be one of the most contentious ever, this is one area where both Republicans and Democrats should be able to agree.”
The nationwide online survey conducted by GS Strategy Group and ALG Research interviewed 1,012 registered voters between Sept. 20-26. The margin of error was 3.2 percentage points.
Andrew Yang isn’t done challenging the way Americans look at politics. The former presidential candidate and entrepreneur is launching the Forward Party: a third-party effort to depolarize our politics through election reform. Can it work? And what does Yang have to say about the sensitive issues of race that divide Americans in this episode of the Braver Angels Podcast?
The author has spent recent weeks meeting with democracy reformers all over the country, including a farmer and veteran in Kansas.
Clements is the president of American Promise, which advocates for amending the Constitution to allow more federal and state regulation of money in politics. He was previously an assistant Massachusetts attorney general.
This week, I passed miles of the windmills that have made Texas (if it were a country) fifth in the world for wind energy. I’m on the road across the country, meeting with American Promise volunteers and staff, talking with local representatives and media, and helping to launch our nonpartisan reform campaigns. Alongside the well-reported hard times of pandemic and division, frustration and fear, I’ve seen another story unfolding across our beautiful American land.
It’s a story of resilience and hope, kindness and hard work. I’ve seen Americans, quite clear about our immense challenges, responding with a determination to fix our mess, rather than simply yelling at each other, or waiting for someone else to do it.
My trip began in Maine, where the morning sun first hits America. Through last year’s election, many Mainers united in response to the U.S. Senate race, when they were overwhelmed by $200 million in outside money. Last month, I wrote about David Trahan, a Maine logger and Republican leader who runs the state’s largest Second Amendment, conservation and hunting group; he wants a new amendment to the U.S. Constitution to limit the power of money in elections. In that, he’s joined by Amy Cartmell and Jane Gallagher, who are organizing volunteers across the state, Tom Allen, a Democrat who served in Congress for many years, farmers like Jim Gerritsen, veterans like Dr. Rich Evans, and thousands of Mainers who will no longer be silenced “under an avalanche” of money from the national political donor class.
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Now Maine is engaged in a great debate about two kinds of power: the energy we need for our society and political power — who has it and who does not. The debate is re-arranging political alignments and coalitions to protect individual rights and the democratic process.
The energy debate follows a deal between Massachusetts and Hydro-Quebec to bring electricity from the Canadian corporation’s hydroelectric dams in Canada to Massachusetts. Hydro-Quebec, wholly owned by the provincial government, is working with CMP/Avangrid to run the electricity from Quebec through a “corridor” of high-voltage transmission lines across Maine. CMP is part of Iberdola Group, a multinational energy company based in Spain. As with Hydro-Quebec, Iberdola has foreign government ownership, including the Qatar Investment Authority.
Many in Maine oppose the corridor. Others argue that it’s a good response to the climate crisis. But no matter what Mainers think of the corridor, they seem to agree that foreign governments should not be spending corporate money to have undue influence in the debate. But that’s exactly what’s happening, with $60 million spent so far.
In response, Maine Republicans, Democrats and independents have joined Protect Maine Elections and American Promise in a citizens’ initiative to prohibit foreign government interference in the state’s elections, and to charge the Maine delegation in Congress with breaking the partisan logjam to get an anti-corruption constitutional amendment passed.
“We’ll eliminate foreign government interference and corruption in our elections with passage of this initiative,” says Rick Bennett, a Republican state senator. Ben Sprague, an independent who served as mayor of Bangor, adds, “We’re tired of foreign governments and wealthy interests playing games with our elections.” Democrats like Nicole Grohowski and Kyle Bailey, who led the successful adoption of ranked-choice voting in Maine, are helping to lead the charge. They are mobilizing people to collect more than 63,000 signatures to put the question on the 2022 ballot.
From Maine, I went southwest to Pennsylvania for a Constitution Day launch of American Promise’s Stand With Pennsylvania campaign to bring people together to take on the common foe of corruption. Next, I met volunteers through Ohio, Minnesota and into Kansas, where I caught up with Alan LaPolice, who’s on our staff. Alan’s a combat veteran, a fifth-generation Kansas farmer, educator, husband and father of three children. He joined American Promise from the Veterans Affairs Department and brings his passion and service for this country with him.
We headed to Green Bay, Wis., to see Judy Nagel and Howard Hauser, who are businesspeople and civic leaders in the region. In Green Bay, they brought together businesspeople, students, veterans and others in the community in a forum sponsored by American Promise and the Rotary. They came together to talk about the crisis of corruption and broken government — and to pledge to fix it.
Judy, a Democrat, says, “Pay-to-play politics harms economic growth and innovation.” Howard, a Republican, points out that “76 percent of political spending in the U.S. comes from just 0.1 percent of the population.” He added: “There’s a growing belief that government is not run for all of us, it’s run for the very few.” Both want all Americans heard and represented.
A few days later, in Wyoming, I met at the Laramie Public Library with Ken Chestek, a University of Wyoming law professor who recently ran for office for the first time, and a group of local citizens. They’re working with others across “the Equality State” to “restore the voices of Wyomingites.”
In New Mexico, I visited with Jarratt and Dinah Applewhite at their home in the vast open country outside the town of Lamy. We walked amidst Jarratt’s horses, and he showed us the old windmill he repaired to restore a watering hole, bringing back fauna and wildlife to the ranch. Jarratt says America would be well-served if “urban progressives talked with cowboys and environmental activists talked with farmers who steward the land.” He’d like to see a shared American narrative of progress and prosperity, freedom and equality.
A couple of years ago, Jarratt ran for office as an independent candidate for the New Mexico House of Representatives. With no political experience and no party backing, he won over 40 percent of the vote. He didn’t win the race but, as he later wrote, “It’s exciting to be alive when more and more people realize that our democracy isn’t working and needs to be revitalized.”
Now Jarratt’s connecting with Manu Meel, another friend I saw on my travels. Manu graduated from college last year and leads the fast-growing Bridge USA network of high school and college students. He and his young colleagues are determined to bring a new kind of leadership and honest discourse to American politics. Jarratt and Manu reflect the new crossing and reweaving of our geographic, demographic, political and generational lines.
In New Mexico, as my wife and I helped Jarratt and Dinah plant some indigenous wildflowers around their new pond, the early evening sky glowed with purple, orange and red light spreading in all directions. Jarratt said, “Out here we get the colors of the sunset in the West and the East at the same time. Same thing with the sunrise — all directions.”
East and West. North and South. We will set or rise together.
Utah has the most cities that have switched to a ranked-choice voting system, including its capital, Salt Lake City.
More cities than ever before will use ranked-choice voting in their elections next Tuesday, furthering the alternative voting system’s momentum across the country.
In Utah alone, 19 cities will use ranked ballots — most for the first time — after opting into an RCV pilot program earlier this year. This brings the nationwide total to 50 jurisdictions using RCV, with more than two dozen using it in elections this year. Outside of Utah, three of those cities are also newcomers to RCV.
Ranked-choice voting saw its biggest debut yet earlier this year in New York City’s primaries for mayor and city council, which drew national attention.
In an RCV election, voters rank candidates in order of preference. In the event that no candidate receives majority support, an instant runoff will occur, as the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and that person’s support is redistributed to voters’ second choices. That process continues until one candidate crosses the 50 percent threshold.
Proponents of RCV say it reduces the cost of election administration and improves the voter experience by eliminating the need for costly runoff elections. Supporters also argue RCV bolsters the campaigns of women and people of color. While critics say the system is confusing and doesn’t necessarily lead to better representation, polling in New York found the transition to be easy on voters, and a majority of the city council seats are likely to be won by women for the first time. The city council is expected to see other firsts emerge from the election, including its first-ever openly gay Black woman and first person of South Asian descent.
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Utah by far has the most jurisdictions that have switched over to RCV. In addition to the state capital, Salt Lake City, 22 other cities opted into ranked elections this year. In four jurisdictions, though, there weren’t at least three candidates on the ballot to rank, so those places will use traditional plurality voting.
“Good governance starts locally, which is why we’re thrilled so many Utah cities have embraced ranked-choice voting,” said Stan Lockhart, an advocate with Utah Ranked Choice Voting and former chairman of the Utah Republican Party. “This will be an opportunity for Utahns to test out ranked-choice voting ballots for themselves, and we’re confident that Utahns will appreciate being offered back-up choices in the ballot box.”
Minnesota is another state with several cities using RCV in its elections next week. Minneapolis, which adopted RCV in 2006, was one of the first jurisdictions in the country to make the switch to the alternative voting system. The state capital has a highly contested mayoral race with 17 candidates on the ballot, including incumbent Jacob Frey. Additionally, the cities of Bloomington and Minnetonka will be using ranked ballots for the first time.
Santa Fe, N.M., also has competitive RCV elections for mayor and city council on Nov. 2. The state capital first used ranked ballots in its 2018 elections.
RCV itself will be on the ballot in three cities next week. Voters in Ann Arbor, Mich., Broomfield, Colo., and Westbrook, Maine, will consider ballot measures to adopt RCV for future contests.
Last month, the Philadelphia City Council passed a resolution to study using RCV for municipal elections. The council is holding public hearings to discuss the switch.
And while the Virginia governor’s race won’t be utilizing ranked ballots, the state Republican Party used a form of ranked-choice voting in its nominating contest in May.
“Ranked choice voting is the fastest-growing, most bipartisan voting reform in the country. We’re thrilled that more than 30 cities will use RCV next week and that the year’s most high-profile elections in Virginia and New York City featured primaries with RCV,” said Rob Richie, president of FairVote, an RCV advocacy organization. “Whether it’s in progressive New York City or conservative Utah, voters overwhelmingly report positive experiences with RCV. Looking forward, I can’t wait for Alaska and Maine to use RCV next year, and for advocacy drives to bring RCV to more cities, use RCV to handle crowded fields in presidential primaries and forever end gerrymandering by using RCV in tandem with multi-member districts.”
Kull is founder and president of Voice of the People and serves as director of the Program for Public Consultation at University of Maryland. Thomas is director of external relations at Voice of the People.
By punting the debt ceiling issue to December and setting a Halloween deadline to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill, Democrats have given themselves a short window of opportunity to hammer out the final shape of the reconciliation bill, which aims to increase federal spending on health care, the environment and clean energy, education, and other safety net programs.
But how will they decide what stays and what goes from the original $3.5 trillion package? Instead of relying on lobbyists in Washington and campaign donors to dictate policy and spending priorities, congressional leaders should bring the voice of the people to the table.
As it becomes clearer that President Biden and most Democrats will not get everything they desire in the package due to the demands of Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, an analysis of public opinion on which provisions have the broadest support from voters could be a helpful roadmap for finalizing the final contours of the bill.
In a comprehensive analysis conducted by the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation, all 33 of the major policy proposals from the reconciliation bill garner support from large majorities of American voters. For every proposal, this includes majorities of Democrats and independents.
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Among Republicans, majorities support 18 of the 33 proposals and pluralities support another three: lowering the Medicare eligibility age to 60, increasing investment in affordable housing and adopting a minimum corporate tax rate of 15 percent.
Clearly, there is far more common ground in the public than there is in Congress.
Nine out of the 18 proposals with Republican majority backing earn more than 60 percent support from voters of both parties. The proposals with the most bipartisan support are allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices directly with pharmaceutical companies, expanding home health care, extending energy-efficiency improvement tax credits, creating federal environmental jobs programs, funding to fix and build public school buildings, taxing corporations’ foreign earnings, supporting sector-based job training specifically in cybersecurity and the energy industry, and bolstering apprenticeships through tax credits. In terms of public support, these proposals are the lowest hanging fruit for inclusion in the reconciliation bill.
Nine other proposals garner between 51 and 60 percent support among Republicans as well as robust support among Democrats and independents: providing health insurance to low-income families in states that haven’t expanded Medicaid, raising the income cut-off for Affordable Care Act subsidies, establishing energy requirements for all electric companies, tax credits for clean energy equipment and production, increasing the number of electric buses, providing financial assistance for first-time homebuyers, funding the repair of public housing, increasing the size of collegiate Pell Grants, and providing most undocumented immigrants with lawful permanent status and a path to citizenship. In regards to the final proposal, the path to citizenship for DACA-eligible immigrants garners even more support among Republicans (69 percent).
On five proposals, a majority of Republicans are fully opposed: increasing the IRS’ budget for tax enforcement, providing additional SNAP benefits to families with children during the summer, making community college tuition-free, providing tax credits for the purchase of electric cars, and increasing funding for minority-serving higher education institutions. Furthermore, a plurality of Republicans are opposed to increasing ACA subsidies for low-income people.
On two proposals, raising taxes on corporations and extending the child tax credits, Republicans’ views are divided. Republican views vary according to the presentation of four proposals: increasing taxes on income over $400,000, guaranteeing paid family and medical leave for all, subsidizing child care for low- and middle-income families, and free universal preschool programs.
More than half of the provisions included in the report were tested using the Program for Public Consultation’s in-depth survey method that provides thousands of respondents with briefings on policy proposals and expert-reviewed pro and con arguments before recommendations are made. Standard polls included in the analysis were conducted by Morning Consult, Pew, Ipsos and others.
The common ground of the American people demonstrated in the Program for Public Consultation’s report can be a foundation on which elected officials can build compromise, without having to abandon their bases. Research shows that elected officials and staffers misread the attitudes of their constituents. As policymakers finalize the reconciliation package, they could benefit by putting policies that lack broad support onto the cutting block.
If our leaders turn to the American people, they will find common ground with the people acting as an arbiter to help break the impasse among factions within the parties and across the aisle.
Mort Sahl arrived on the comedy scene in the 1950s, well before his time, using comedy to express uncomfortable truths about politicians, society and his audiences.
He died Tuesday at his home in Mill Valley, Calif., at the age of 94.
He made us laugh at the absurdity of what he saw as a political circus. He called attention to the misinformation and the posturing amongst politicians. He understood like few others the low level of discourse and understanding that politicians exhibited on a daily basis.
He saw it all as a charade: the dishonesty, misleading statements and ethical lapses. He saw the hypocrisy and called out politicians for their lack of accountability, for the promises unkept and for the disregard for their less powerful constituents.
In 1955 Sahl recorded “At Sunset,” which has been added to the National Registry at the Library of Congress. As noted in the archive: “Mort Sahl ventured very far from the clownish mother-in-law joke or such vaudevillian patter.” His groundbreaking album is described as “a well-pun pastiche of sophisticated ideas, an understated celebration of free-speech, and a tightly packed time capsule of mid-fifties lore.”
In the more naive and peaceful 1950s, Sahl was a shock to the system and laid the groundwork for comedians of the future like Lenny Bruce, Dick Gregory, Jonathan Winters, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.
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In a society awash in social and political dysfunction, in which reality in many ways differs from the ideals of our Founding Fathers, comedy is still used to confront us and to effectively to open our minds and, yes, to make us laugh.
Sahl’s one-liners from the ’50s survive the test of time:
“There’s a danger our fiscal bankruptcy might overtake our moral bankruptcy.”
“If you maintain a consistent political position long enough, you’ll eventually be accused of treason.”
Sahl was an equal opportunity offender being equally offensive at times to those on the left as to those on the right.
Surely conservatives are offended by: “Liberals feel unworthy of their possessions. Conservatives feel they deserve everything they’ve stolen.”
And progressives by: “Now that Obama is at war in a third country, does that mean he has to give back his Nobel Peace Prize?”
Comedy certainly can separate and divide us, as we have seen through many examples in the news today. Dave Chappelle’s jokes about the LGBTQ community in his recent Netflix comedy special was deeply offensive and exemplified the potential for comedy to feed hate and to divide us as Americans.
At its best comedy can engage and inform and encourage us to unite as Americans.
Stewart, the satirist made famous as host of “The Daily Show”, was the Mort Sahl of his time, with his form of no-holds-barred satire on his generation. Stewart famously said, “I’m not going to censor myself to comfort your ignorance.” A strong statement indeed that in many ways embodies Sahl’s work.
Mort Sahl famously joked through all the criticism bestowed upon him that “My life needs editing.” Dead at the age of 94, but his legacy lives on. Relive the satirical uniqueness of Mort Sahl as he explains politics in 1967 and decide for yourself if his life needs editing.
From social media to cable news, all the American public sees from our leaders are partisan attacks and hyperbolic rhetoric, but that’s not the way it has to be. To prove it, Former Members of Congress (FMC) and the Fulcrum have joined forces to bring you Congress at a Crossroads.
The new monthly video series brings together former members of both parties to discuss the structural issues in today’s Congress, as well as the hottest political issues. They won’t always agree, but they will always treat each other with respect and civility.
This month, our host, FMC CEO Pete Weichlein sat down with Former Reps. Dave Camp (R-MI) and Bart Gordon (D-TN) to discuss the recent Congressional standoff surrounding a federal debt limit increase, whether we should have a debt limit at all, and what will happen with this same issue when it is revisited in December or January?
Voting rights expert Myrna Pérez was confirmed by the Senate on Monday to serve as a judge on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals.
Two more election specialists are headed for government jobs, continuing President Biden’s run of nominating civil and voting rights experts to his administration and the federal courts.
Myrna Pérez, director of the voting rights and election program at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, was confirmed this week to serve on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. She will be the first Latina to serve on the court since Sonia Sotomayor was confirmed to the Supreme Court in 2009.
The Biden administration is also expected to tap Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman, a Republican, to lead efforts to protect against election interference, both foreign and domestic, at the Department of Homeland Security, CNN first reported. During the 2020 election Wyman challenged former President Donald Trump’s election fraud claims.
Pérez, who joined the Brennan Center in 2006, has been director of the voting rights program since 2019, leading the organization’s research, advocacy and litigation work. On Monday, the Senate voted 48-43 to confirm Pérez to the New York-based appellate court. She is the seventh out of Biden’s 13 appellate nominees to win confirmation so far.
“We are extraordinarily proud of our colleague Myrna Pérez. She is brilliant, passionate, and committed to equal justice for all. She has been a leader in the great national movement to defend our democracy, and a cherished leader at the Brennan Center. Now she will have a solemn opportunity to serve and uphold the Constitution and equal justice under law,” said Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center.
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While Wyman’s nomination is not yet official, she is expected to head election security efforts at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. As secretary of state, Wyman sharply refuted Trump’s claims that voting by mail was more susceptible to fraud and she raised concerns that such election misinformation was undermining American democracy. Washington is one of eight states that primarily conducts elections by mail.
At CISA, Wyman would act as a liaison to state and local officials, providing resources and support to protect elections from attacks and voters from misinformation.
Since taking office, Biden has nominated several other voting and civil rights experts to roles in his administration and judgeships in federal courts. In January, K. Sabeel Rahman, former president of the liberal think tank Demos, was named senior counselor at the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which falls within the Office of Management and Budget. Kristen Clarke, former president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, was also tapped to serve as Biden’s assistant attorney general for civil rights earlier this year.
In this episode of the Democracy Works podcast from the McCourtney Institute for Democracy, Tom Nichols discusses what truly may be democracy’s worst enemy.
Turberville is director of The Constitution Project as the Project on Government Oversight, a nonpartisan group that investigates corruption, misconduct and conflicts of interest in the federal government.
The Supreme Court’s reputation has been sullied by deeply contentious confirmation processes and the resulting polarizing rulings by its own justices. One would hope that the commission convened by President Biden would at least acknowledge that this is a problem significant enough to warrant consideration of some transformative reform. But if the commission’s first public deliberations Oct. 15 are any indication of the trajectory of this group, it has a ways to go before even agreeing on this fundamental premise.
The president perhaps hobbled the group from the beginning by not giving it a firm mandate to issue recommendations — the commission is instead tasked with “an appraisal of the merits and legality of particular reform proposals.”
But if the commission does not coalesce around at least some meaningful suggestions for reform, it could entrench a broken process for decades (or more). As Commissioner Nancy Gertner noted, “the purpose of this commission is to encourage discussion as opposed to stop it.” And it’s not too late — the commission should make clear in its final report which specific proposed reforms could better protect the court’s independence to ensure that it serves as a safeguard against abuse of power, rather than as an instrument to provide legal cover for such abuses.
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To be sure, the commission’s public proceedings and recent release of draft discussion documents have been a refreshingly thoughtful and civil exercise concerning some of the most difficult and polarizing issues of the day. And the group did not shy away from sussing out the challenges with implementation of particular reforms.
Its materials spend considerable time on figuring out how term limits could be practically implemented. Term limits would address the problem of justices serving for decades—too long for any individual to hold power in a democracy — and bring the court closer to the practices in the vast majority of state supreme courts, which have some sort of limit on a justices’ tenure. And as the commission noted, there is bipartisan support for the reform.
But it cannot stop there.
Term limits alone will not resolve the issue at the core of the Supreme Court’s politicization: the hyper-partisan process for selecting nominees in the first place. On their own, term limits could simply make conflicts more common, not less likely.
Alexander Hamilton famously called the judiciary the “least dangerous” branch. But the judiciary has been brazenly exploited by the political branches to cement power and advance partisan agendas, particularly over the last several decades. Politicians and special-interest groups — and even the American public — have come to view capturing the court as essential for securing policy victories, and as a means to ensure that their particular policy agendas become entrenched for decades to come.
The commission must therefore focus on shifting the incentives that motivate politicians to engage in partisan warfare over judicial nominees, which has obviously affected the public’s perception of the fairness of the institution — and, to many, the actual fairness of its decision-making.
At present, the court’s considerable power is concentrated in a small group of people with nearly unlimited discretion, who often serve for decades. As a result, the stakes are high — too high — when a vacancy occurs. This has led to political parties strategizing to appoint a majority of justices who will consistently align with their preferred outcomes.
So we need to diffuse power on the Supreme Court so each individual justice is less influential while they serve. This could take the form of having the court hear cases in smaller, randomly assigned panels like the federal appeals courts do, or even rotating members on and off the Supreme Court, which could also make it harder for partisans to create blocs of justices who routinely vote together.
The use of screening committees to vet and recommend nominees for the Supreme Court could also reduce the likelihood that partisans could stack the court with justices who would be favorable to their views. Such committees are already employed successfully at lower levels in the federal court system and in some states.
These sorts of reforms, combined with term limits, could dramatically alter the stakes of confirmation. With predictable openings, a set term of service, and less power vested in each individual, Supreme Court confirmations would no longer carry the political significance they do now.
As with any proposal, the devil is in the details: The commission seems to think that the creation of term limits or a requirement that the court sit in panels, would raise constitutional concerns. But that should not be taken for a given. There is little dispute that the Congress could, by statute, continue to expand the size of the court. It makes little sense that Congress could not implement reasonable structural reforms — like having the court sit in panels — that could help make decision-making less predictably partisan, but that Congress could, on the other hand, expand the size of the court to 200 or 2,000 people.
And here too, the commission has the chance to advance the debate. The Constitution can be amended for a reason, but ruling out any reform that requires an amendment simply ensures the status quo.
With the Supreme Court’s 2021 term fully underway, we are once again reminded just how large the court looms in the political and social life of our nation. We hold our collective breath and wait for the highest court to weigh in on a slate of hot-button issues. This term alone it has decided to take on gun rights, abortion, and state secrets, with many more case selections to come. It may very well render decisions that will fundamentally shape the public and private lives of millions of Americans for worse or for better.
In short, the Supreme Court is supremely powerful. But in our democracy, it shouldn’t be. The commission’s next draft will come next month and we hope it will seize this opportunity to legitimize some long overdue reforms to an institution that hasn’t really changed since the founding of the Republic.
Voters in New York City cast their ballots early for the Nov. 2 general elections for mayor and city council.
While most of the national attention will be on Virginia’s gubernatorial election next week, many other states will also be holding key elections on Nov. 2.
The tight race between Republican Glenn Youngkin and Democrat Terry McAuliffe, who is seeking a second, non-consecutive term in Virginia’s Executive Mansion, is seen by many political prognosticators as a sign of what’s to come in next year’s midterm congressional elections. And the Democratic-led General Assembly could be up for grabs as well.
But there’s also a governor’s race in New Jersey. Democrat Phil Murphy is running for a second term against Republican Jack Ciattarelli, while down-ballot races will fill out the Legislature.
Here are other local and statewide elections taking place across the country next week: