Making Democracy Work

Democracy Forum

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Democracy Forum on WERU FM Community Radio

Beginning in 2004 and every four years since, the League of Women Voters - Downeast in cooperation with WERU FM has produced and sponsored a series of radio programs on topics in participatory democracy called the Democracy Forum.

Beginning in 2017, we are continuing the series monthly. Broadcasts may be heard live from 10:00 to 11:00 a.m. on the third Friday of the month beginning on January 20. Listen live at WERU Community Radio, 89.9 FM Blue Hill, 99.9 FM Bangor, streaming live on the web at WERU FM.

Here is information about programs from 2017.

Programs from the 2016 archive, 2012 archive, and the 2008 archive are also available online.

July 20 -- Distrust in Government: A Necessary Evil or a Weapon of Destruction?

I think you all know that I've always felt the nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the Government, and I'm here to help. -- President Ronald Reagan, The President's News Conference, August 12, 1986

We'll talk about the waxing and waning of Americans' trust in government, why a little skepticism may be a good thing, how partisanship plays into the equation, and how too much distrust may be a self-fulfilling prophecy. We'll take listener calls during the second half of the show.

In case you missed it live, you can listen to this show from the archive at weru.org.

Special Guests:

  • Amy Fried, Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Maine.
  • Thomas E. Mann, Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution and Resident Scholar, Institute of Governmental Studies, University of California, Berkeley.

Key Topics:

  • Has there been a steady decline of trust in government, particularly in the 21st century?
  • Do we need a little distrust to make democracy work and keep it relatively free of corruption?
  • Is the current distrust in government out of the ordinary ebb and flow? Has it gone too far? How can we tell?
  • Have our attitudes about government been "played" for partisan advantage? How so and to what end?
  • Is this equally true at the state level as it is at the federal level?
  • What can we do to realign our attitudes?

To learn more, follow these links to related articles and essays:

June 2018 - State Preemption: From Guns to Garbage, Who's Got the Power?

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people. -- 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

We'll talk about how federalism protects and constrains states' rights and how states can both protect and commandeer local control. From guns and garbage to water quality and pesticides, how much control do states and towns have to protect their assets or advance their values? We'll take listener calls during the second half of the show.

In case you missed it live, you can listen to this show from the archive at weru.org.

Special Guests:

  • Garrett Corbin, Legislative Advocate for the Maine Municipal Association.
  • Lauren Phillips, J.D. Columbia Law School 2018, not yet admitted to practice law.

Key Topics:

  • How do states and towns derive the power to govern under our constitution, under federalism?
  • How can the states "preempt" or commandeer powers that might be assigned to the towns? Can the federal government do this to states, too?
  • What is "home rule?" How can states rights and home rule be used to challenge unpopular state or federal policies?
  • What can states and the federal government do to reign in these challenges?
  • What are some examples from other states?
  • How has this worked in Maine?
  • What are some opportunities for states and towns to advance an agenda?

To learn more, follow these links to related articles and essays:

May 2018: Immigration: Can We Live Without It?

Immigration is not just a link to America's past; it's also a bridge to America's future. -- George W. Bush

We'll talk about immigration and jobs, federal policy, and its effect on economic development and workforce in Maine. We'll take listener calls during the second half of the show.

In case you missed it live, you can listen to this show from the archive at weru.org.

Special Guests:

  • Dany Bahar, David M. Rubenstein Fellow in the Global Economy and Development program at the Brookings Institution
  • Carla Dickstein, Senior Vice President for Research and Policy Development at the Coastal Enterprise Institute
  • Martha Searchfield, Executive Director of the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce.

Key Topics:

  • What are the dimensions of legal and illegal immigration?
  • What has been the net effect of immigration on the U.S. economy?
  • What are the recent changes in federal policy, and what are the likely impacts of these changes?
  • What has been the net effect of immigration on Maine? How are the recent trends affecting Maine?
  • What do we expect for the months ahead?
  • What would be a "strong" immigration policy from Maine's perspective?
  • What do voters need to know?

To learn more, follow these links to related articles and essays:

April 2018: Ranked Choice Voting: How Will It Work in Maine?

Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves--and the only way they could do that is by not voting at all. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt

We'll talk about how ranked choice voting is moving forward for the June primary, what the Secretary of State is planning, and what voters need to know as they head for the polls. We'll take listener calls during the second half of the show.

In case you missed it live, you can listen to this show from the archive at weru.org.

Special Guests:

  • John Brautigam, a public interest attorney, senior adviser and strategist to Democracy Partnership's project, Maine Uses Ranked Choice Voting..
  • Grace Ramsey, deputy outreach director for FairVote, a national electoral reform advocacy group.

John Brautigam and some of the Democracy Forum team post-broadcast
Key Topics:

  • Is ranked choice voting definitely on for the June primary?
  • What happened in court last week?
  • How is RCV going to work locally?
  • How is the RCV count going to be done by the State?
  • What does RCV mean for the candidates?
  • What do voters need to know as they cast their ranked ballots?

To learn more, follow these links to related articles and essays:


March 2018 -- Gerrymandering: What's the Big Deal?

I could have been running against a saltshaker and I would have lost. --David Kessler, former Pennsylvania Congressman on the effects of gerrymandering.

We'll talk about how redistricting has changed over the last 50 years, the emergence of extreme partisan gerrymandering, court cases pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, and why it matters in Maine. We'll take listener calls in the second half hour.

In case you missed it live, you can listen to this show from the archive at weru.org.

Special Guests:

  • Matt Dube, Assistant Professor in Computer Information Systems at the University of Maine-Augusta.
  • Elaine Kamark, Senior Fellow in the Governance Studies program and Director of the Center for Effective Public Management at the Brookings Institution, and Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Key Topics:

  • How has redistricting changed over the last 50 years?
  • How can we tell if a state has engaged in extreme partisan gerrymandering?
  • How can we tell if districts have been fairly drawn?
  • What are the essential arguments in the court cases being argued at the Supreme Court?
  • What are the remedies to counter extreme gerrymandering?
  • Why should we care about gerrymandering here in Maine?

To learn more, follow these links to related articles and essays:

February 2018 -- Primary Elections: What Are They Good For?

We'll talk about how primaries have changed over the last 50 years, whether they're still working for the parties and the voters, what changes are on the horizon in Maine. We'll take listener calls in the second half hour.

In case you missed it live, you can listen to this show from the archive at weru.org.

Special Guests:

  • Jill Goldthwait, former Maine State Senator and award-winning political columnist for the Ellsworth American and the Mount Desert Islander.
  • Kevin Raye, former President of the Maine State Senate, former Chief of Staff to U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe, currently owner/operator of Raye's Mustard.
  • Dan Shea, Professor of Government at Colby College.

Key Topics:

  • How have primaries changed over the last 50 years?
  • Are primaries working for the parties? For the voters?
  • Are primaries a good way to choose the best-qualified candidates?
  • What are the advantages and limitations of caucus vs. primary?
  • What are the advantages and drawbacks of open vs. closed primaries?
  • What other models are there to consider?
  • What changes are on the horizon in Maine?

To learn more, follow these links to related articles and essays:

November 2017 - Ten Months In: Taking Stock in Maine

"Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation." -- Alasdair Gray, Scottish writer and artist

We'll talk about what's changed in Maine since the 2016 presidential election. How have the policies of the new administration affected Maine politics and people? We'll take listener calls during the second half of the show.

In case you missed it live, you can listen to this show from the archive at weru.org.

Special Guests:

  • Hannah Pingree, Democrat, former Speaker of the House in Maine, and co-host of the Maine Event on Maine Public television
  • Josh Tardy, Republican lobbyist, former House Minority Leader, and former chair of the 2016 Trump campaign in Maine.

Key Topics:
  • Which cabinet departments have the most direct impact on Maine: trade, immigration, EPA, education? What changes have we seen in the way these departments operate?
  • Which new laws have changed the way things work here in Maine?
  • What new executive orders and regulations are having an impact?
  • Has the 2016 presidential election changed the calculus for the two major parties?
  • What new observations can we make since the off-year election on November 7?
  • Are Maine people more civically engaged since the 2016 election?

To learn more, follow these links to related articles and essays:

October 2017 -- Political Parties: Do They Still Matter?

If a political party does not have its foundation in the determination to advance a cause that is right and that is moral, then it is not a political party; it is merely a conspiracy to seize power. -- Dwight D. Eisenhower

We'll talk about the state of the two party system, how recent trends have weakened the parties even as partisanship has grown, whether our political parties threaten our democracy or hold the main hope for its salvation. We'll take listener calls during the second half of the show.

In case you missed it live, you can listen to this show from the archive at weru.org.

Special Guests:

  • Mark Brewer, Professor of Polticial Science at the University of Maine.
  • Jonathan Rauch, Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution and contributing editor to The Atlantic.

Key Topics:
  • What is the recent history of the major parties? What trends are affecting their membership and relevance?
  • We have seen a century-long trend toward more direct democracy. Is this turning out to be a good thing?
  • We have 43% of voters unenrolled in a party at the same time that partisanship is at an all-time high. How do we explain that?
  • Are the parties irrelevant or essential to functioning democracy?
  • Both major parties are facing internal divisions. Can they hold together? Will they be replaced by other organizations? What should we hope for?
  • How can citizens play a role?

To learn more, follow these links to related articles and essays:

September 2017 -- Census 2020: Making Sense of the Census

Last year we did an episode about the census and sampling versus a direct statistic. You just said the word 'census,' and people fall asleep. -- Aaron Sorkin, Screenwriter, West Wing

We'll talk about the history and evolution of the census, why it's important, who uses census data, what's being planned for 2020, whether there are problems on the horizon, and why the census matters in Maine. We'll take listener calls during the second half of the show.

In case you missed it live, you can listen to this show from the archive at weru.org.

Special Guests:

Key Topics:
  • What is the history of the U.S. Census? Do other countries do it the same way?
  • What are the important uses of census data nationwide and here in Maine?
  • What is being planned for 2020?
  • Are there problems on the horizon for 2020?
  • Has the census become politicized, like so much else in 21st century America?
  • How can citizens play a role?

To learn more, follow these links to related articles and essays:

July 2017 -- Civil Discourse: Can We Still Do It?

"Don't nag.
Don't boast.
Don't threaten.
Don't lose your temper...
If we can't do any good, at least we must be sure that we don't do any harm."

-- Maude Wood Park, first national president of the League of Women Voters, from her book Front Door Lobby

We'll talk about what civil discourse looks like, why it seems to be so hard right now, how we can practice it ourselves, and what we can to do encourage it in our leaders and public servants here in Maine. We'll take listener calls during the second half of the show.

In case you missed it live, you can listen to this show from the archive at weru.org.

Special Guests:

Matt Motyl Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Illinois - Chicago
Andrew Rudalevige, the Thomas Brackett Reed Professor of Government at Bowdoin College
Tomas Spath co-founder of the Institute for Civility in Government

Key Topics:

  • What does our history tell us about partisanship and divisiveness?
  • Is political discourse really more uncivil now than ever before?
  • Does extreme partisanship play a role?
  • Does incivility have strategic value?
  • What does civil discourse look like? Is civility compatible with strong views passionately held?
  • How can we do better in our own communities when we disagree with our neighbors?
  • How can we demand more of our leaders?

To learn more, follow these links to related articles and essays:

June 2017 -- Jobs in Maine: What's the Future?

"There are stories -- legends, really -- of the 'steady job.' Old-timers ... tell stories of how the company used to be, back when a job was for life,... The graduates snicker. A steady job! They've never heard of such a thing." -- ― Australian author Max Barry, from his novel, Company

We'll talk about global changes in employment and the nature of work, the shifting demographics of jobs, barriers to work, and what it means for Maine. We'll take listener calls during the second half of the show.

In case you missed it live, you can listen to this show from the archive at weru.org.

Special Guests:

Jim Breece, Associate Professor of Economics, University of Maine, Orono.
Rosalie Hughes, investigative reporter for the Bangor Daily News and contributor to the Maine Focus series on Forgotten Maine Workers.
Beth Stickney, Executive Direction of the Maine Business Immigration Coalition.

Key Topics:

  • What have been the global trends in jobs over the last 25 years and how have those trends affected Maine workers?
  • What are some examples of shifts in income and employment opportunities in Maine?
  • What are some barriers to full employment?
  • Can Maine businesses find enough workers?
  • Can Maine workers find good jobs?
  • What role does immigration play in Maine?
  • Are there evidence-based policies that can help?
  • How can ordinary citizens play a role?

To learn more, follow these links to related articles and essays:

May 2017 -- Free Trade: Winners and Losers in Maine

"No nation was ever ruined by trade. " -- Benjamin Franklin

We'll talk about international trade policy, how does it work, who sets the rules, and what does it mean for Maine? We'll take listener calls during the second half of the show.

In case you missed it live, you can listen to this show from the archive at weru.org.

Special Guest:

Catherine Reilly deLutio, co-founder of 45 North Research. Kate has previously served as Senior Research Associate at the University of Maine's Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center. She also served as Maine's State Economist from 2005 to 2009. We'll take listener calls during the second half of the show.

Key Topics:

  • What is the history of international trade in the U.S. going back to our founding?
  • What are some examples of trade disputes from our past?
  • What are the global trends that are affecting trade today?
  • What's the difference between "free trade" and "fair trade?"
  • How do Maine businesses go about selling their products in other countries?
  • What powers are invested in the various branches of the federal government? What role do states play?
  • How can citizens play a role?

To learn more, follow these links to related articles and essays:

April 2017 - Fake News: Who Can You Trust?

"...It's not the lies that count but the muddying. When citizens can't tell real news from fake, they give up their demands for accountability bit by bit." Naomi Wolf

We'll talk about the proliferation of news sources in the internet age, the role of independent journalism in a liberal democracy, and the challenges for citizens in finding real news. We'll take listener calls during the second half of the show.

In case you missed it live, you can listen to this show from the archive at weru.org.

Special Guests:

  • John Christie, co-founder and senior editor for the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting.
  • Naomi Schalit, co-founder and senior reporter for the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting.
  • Melissa Zimdars, assistant professor of communication at Merrimack College in Massachusetts.

Key Topics:
  • What are the global trends that are affecting journalism and news in the internet age?
  • What is the history of professional standards in journalism? Do these standards still apply?
  • What's the difference between "fake news" and news with a point of view? Is there a liberal or conservative bias? Does that mean those sources are not trustworthy?
  • How can citizens keep abreast of these trends and find reliable sources of fact-based information -- if they want it?

To learn more, follow these links to related articles and essays:

March 2017 - Two Maines: Can We Bridge the Divide?

"There is no Them. There are only facets of Us." ― author John Green

We'll talk about the cultural, demographic, and economic differences that define the two Maines and how those differences are sharpening political differences. Are there only two Maines? Can we bridge the divide? We'll take listener calls during the second half of the show.

In case you missed it live, you can listen to this show from the archive at weru.org.

Special Guests:

  • Alan Caron is the owner of Caron Communications and the author of "Maine's next Economy" and "Reinventing Maine's Government"
  • Erin Rhoda is the editor of Maine Focus, an award-winning journalism and community engagement initiative at the Bangor Daily News.
  • Matt Stone is a journalist and writer on the Bangor Daily News Maine Focus team.

Key Topics:
  • When discussing the "Two Maines," which two are we talking about? Where is the boundary? Are there only two?
  • What is the origin of the two Maines? How far back in our history does it go? What s the essence of the difference between the two?
  • What biases and values infect our perceptions about each other? How true are they?
  • What economic and cultural differences are at play? Is Maine's duality different from what we read about in other states or across the country?

To learn more, follow these links to related articles and essays:

Read about and listen to past programs from the League archive.

February 2017 -- Ballot Questions in Maine: Whose Initiatives Are They?

"The most important political office is that of the private citizen." -- Louis D. Brandeis

We'll discuss what happened in the recent election, what our constitution provides, and what role the legislature and the governor are playing now. We'll take listener calls during the second half of the show.

In case you missed it live, you can listen to this show from the archive at weru.org.

Special Guests:

  • John Brautigam, former Maine legislator and Assistant Attorney General, now serving on the board of the League of Women Voters of Maine.
  • Ronald Schmidt Associate Professor of Political Science at USM.

Key Topics:
  • What is the history of the citizens initiative and peoples veto in Maine? Have these provisions always been part of the Maine constitution? How have they been exercised historically?
  • How does the process work? Where do the questions come from? Who pays for the campaigns?
  • What's happening with the four questions that just passed? What actions are required of the legislature and the governor? What other measures are they contemplating?
  • Are there problems with the current process? What measures is the legislature considering to change or restrict the citizen initiative process?

To learn more, follow these links to related articles and essays:

Read about and listen to past programs from the League archive.

January 2017: The Civic Mission of Public Education

"Our children should learn the general framework of their government and ... where it touches their daily lives.... It must not be a distant thing, someone else's business ... They must see how every cog in the wheel of a democracy is important and bears its share of responsibility for the smooth running of the entire machine." -- Eleanor Roosevelt

We'll discuss whether inequities in public education and the failure of public schools to prepare some children for citizenship contribute to political inequality.

In case you missed it live, you can listen to this show from the archive at weru.org.

Special Guests:

  • Meira Levinson, Professor of Education at Harvard Graduate School of Education. She previously spent eight years as a teacher in the Atlanta and Boston Public Schools. Her book 2012, No Citizen Left Behind, has been called "a forthright defense of schools as institutions for teaching about democracy and justice" by Education Week blog.
  • Bill Richards, a Maine educator with diverse experience in Maine public education. He currently serves as Interim Superintendent, Rangeley Lakes Regional Schools. He formerly served as Associate Commissioner of Instruction during the McKernan administration. He has also been the superintendent of schools in a number of school districts and served as a school board member.

Key Topics:
  • What is the history of universal public education and how is it linked to universal suffrage and ideas about democracy?
  • Has there been a decline in civic education? Or an evolution in what constitutes civics instruction?
  • What do kids typically learn about how government and democracy work in Maine and in the United States?
  • What do citizens need to learn to be effective in civic life?
  • In what ways do disparities in the quality of education among school systems widen empowerment gaps between rich and poor children?
  • Why does any of this matter to us here in Maine?
  • What can citizens do to encourage full voter participation?

To learn more, follow these links to related articles and essays: