Making Democracy Work

Democracy Forum Archive

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Democracy Forum on WERU FM Community Radio

Democracy Forum logoBeginning in 2004 and in every presidential election year between 2004 and 2016, the League of Women Voters - Downeast in cooperation with WERU FM produced and sponsored a series of radio programs on topics in participatory democracy called the Democracy Forum.

Beginning in 2017, we continued the series monthly. Broadcasts may be heard live from 10:00 to 11:00 a.m. on the third Friday of the month. Listen live at WERU Community Radio 89.9 FM, streaming live on the web at WERU FM.

2018 Radio News Award: WERU In September, 2018, the Democracy Forum won top honors from the Maine Association of Broadcasting for public affairs radio. The award-winning episode was from May, 2018: "Immigration: Can We Live Without It?"

Here is information about programs beginning in February, 2018.

Programs from the 2017 archive, 2016 archive, 2012 archive, and the 2008 archive are also available online.

November 15 - Is Government Doing Good: Policy Feedback Effects and the Civic Divide

“There's a tremendous gap between public opinion and public policy.Noam Chomsky

We'll talk about new political science research into policy feedback effects and how public policy design affects people's sense of themselves as citizens and their propensity to participate. We'll take listener questions 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

  • Don Moynihanthe McCourt Chair at the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University
Key Topics:
  • The study of policy feedback effects seems to be a new area of political science research. Give us an overview of what people are talking about and what the research is teaching us.
  • How does this reflect on the political behavior of the America electorate?

  • Give us some examples on both sides, positive and negative feedbacks.
  • What are the implications for lawmakers? The practical applications?
  • How can this research be harnessed to create more effective public policy and more engaged citizens?
  • Is there a role for ordinary citizens and advocates in making new laws better? 
  • What can ordinary citizens do?
To learn more, follow these links to related content:

October 18 - Hate and Fear in Politics: How Fear and Anger Endanger Democracy

...The only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror...” Franklin D. Roosevelt’s First Inaugural Address

We'll talk about hate and fear in politics and whether they undermine democracy: how panic and fear make space for abandoning the rule of law and the regular order; how when we demonize the opposition, it makes room for extraordinary measures to stop them. 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:

  • Joanne Freeman, Professor of History and American Studies at Yale University
  • Steve Wessler, Maine human rights educator, trainer, and advocate specializing in conflict resolution
Key Topics:
  • How is the present moment in American politics different from others in our history? Or is it?
  • What does the current moment of extreme polarization have in common with other times in our history?
  • Are hate and fear related? And then what role does race and ethnicity play?
  • What role does the rapid and destabilizing pace of change play?
  • To the extent that fear is tool for political mobilization, is it one that works symmetrically for liberals and conservatives?
  • How can we get past this moment? How did we get past it before?
  • What can ordinary citizens do -- if they want to?
To learn more, follow these links to related content:

September 20 - Black, White, and Blue Lies: Lies that Divide, Lies that Unite

P.T. Barnum taught us to love spectacle, fake news, and a good hoax. A century and a half later the show has escaped the tent.” -- James Parker, staff writer for The Atlantic

We'll talk about the lies in politics and the politics of lying, historical examples, current practice, and the consequences for democracy. 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:
  • How is the present moment in American politics different from others in our history? Or is it?
  • Remember the old riddle about the truthful Whitefoot and the lying Blackfoot? How can people know who to trust?
  • How does trust in government -- or distrust -- play into this? What is the recent history of trust in government in America?
  • What characterizes white lies, black lies, and blue lies? Where do conspiracy theories fit and how do they work?
  • How much of this is because of the rapidly changing media paradigm? Did we have similar examples from the dawn of the broadcast age? What responsibility does the media have to combat disinformation and lying?
  • What can ordinary citizens do to protect themselves -- if they want to?
To learn more, follow these links to related content:

July 19 - Town Government: Take 2. Listeners have spoken!

I'll take the problems of small town politics over Washington chaos any day. -- Roger Bowen, former Gouldsboro Selectman.

Back by popular demand. We'll talk more about practicing politics and democracy at the most personal level, in local government. What are the characteristics of the towns that have the most civic participation? How can community members help create a culture of inclusion and civic engagement in their own towns? What can go right; and what can go wrong? 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:

  • Susan Clark, author and facilitator focusing on community sustainability and citizen participation. She serves as Town Moderator of Middlesex, Vermont.
  • Susan Lessard, Bucksport Town Manager.
  • Dick Thompson, moderator for Towns of Palermo, China, Vassalboro, and others, Dick conducts moderator training for the Maine Municipal Association.
Key Topics:
  • Regaining lost democracy: is local activism the "new frontier" for civic engagement?
  • How's it working? Who participates? Is it now, has it always been an insider's game?
  • Is local politics as uncivil and sharply divided as national politics?
  • What characterizes the towns with the most community engagement?
  • How can you find out what you need to know to get involved and be effective?
To learn more, follow these links to related content:

June 2019 - Town Meeting: "Doing Democracy" in Your Town

Town meetings are to liberty what primary schools are to science; they bring it into the people's reach. -- Alexis de Tocqueville.

We will talk about practicing politics and democracy at the most personal level, in local government, and the unusual experience we enjoy in the form of the New England town meeting. Does the town meeting still work? Is participation up or down? Is partisanship creeping in? Is money "from away" taking more of an interest? If you've never been, what do you need to know? 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:

  • Susan Clark, author and facilitator focusing on community sustainability and citizen participation. She serves as Town Moderator of Middlesex, Vermont.
  • Susan Lessard, Bucksport Town Manager.
  • Dick Thompson, moderator for Towns of Palermo, China, Vassalboro, and others, Dick conducts moderator training for the Maine Municipal Association.

Key Topics:

  • What's the history of the town meeting in New England?
  • How's it working? Who participates? Is it now, has it always been an insider's game?
  • Is local politics as uncivil and sharply divided as national politics?
  • Which towns have town meeting? What are the alternatives? How do the alternatives stack up?
  • Regaining lost democracy: is local activism the "new frontier" for civic engagement?
  • If you've never gone, how can you find out what you need to know?

To learn more, follow these links to related content:

May 2019 - Democracy vs. Republic: Why Should We Care?

"Our Founding Fathers who created this republic did not believe in democracy. When did we come to worship this idol?" Pat Buchanan, September, 2012

We will talk about whether we live in a democracy or a republic. What do people mean when they say, "We're not a democracy; we're a republic," in the context of different policy debates. Is there a particular subtext implicating minority rights, even minority rule, and possibly states' rights and federalism? 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:

  • Lance Dutson, a principal of Red Hill Strategies, a Republican communications consultant, and a columnist for the Bangor Daily News.
  • Joseph R. Reisert, Harriet S. and George C. Wiswell Jr. Assistant Professor of American Constitutional Law in the Department of Government at Colby College.
Key Topics:
  • What do the words mean: "republic" and "democracy"?
  • What were the founders' fears and intent?
  • Is this debate as old as the republic? Why does it keep flaring up?
  • How has that played out? What do we have now?
  • Why are these trigger words right now?
  • Are these two diametrically opposed or mutually exclusive? Or is it a false dichotomy?
To learn more, follow these links to related content:

April 2019 - Citizen Initiatives: The Devil's in the Details

"Just vote us in, we'll take care of the rest. (Or, don't worry your pretty little heads about it.)" Starr Gilmartin, League of Women Voters, Downeast. March 28, 2019.

We will explore the historical origins of the initiative provisions, how initiatives actually work in Maine, our contemporary experience with them, their effect on politics and elections, the tension between direct and representative democracy, and proposals for reform, many of which are being debated in the Maine State Legislature right now.

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

Special Guests:

  • Joshua J. Dyck, Associate Professor of Political Science and Co-Director of the Center for Public Opinion at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
  • Michael Franz, Professor of Government and Legal Studies at Bowdoin College.
Key Topics:
  • When did citizen initiatives get added to the Maine State Constitution and why?
  • Are these provision a good institutional check on the legislature or do they undermine representative government?
  • When do they work, and what can go wrong?
  • What has been Maine's historical experience?
  • Can initiatives be used for other strategic purposes? How does that work?
  • What reform proposals are being considered in Maine right now?
  • What can ordinary citizens do?
To learn more, follow these links to related content:

March 2019 - The Electoral College: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

"...You win some, you lose some. And then there's that little-known third category." Al Gore, 2004

We'll talk about the electoral college, its historical origins and the founders' intent, the practical implications for modern American politics, and proposals for reform, including the National Popular Vote (NPV). The Maine legislature is currently debating whether Maine should join the NPV compact.

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

Special Guests:

Key Topics:
  • What was the founders' intent for the Electoral College?
  • How has the Electoral College functioned historically?
  • What demographic and political changes are altering the landscape in modern America?
  • What reform proposals are being considered for the Electoral College or in the states' selection of electors?
  • How would the National Popular Vote work? Why is it a good idea--or not--for Maine?
  • What can ordinary citizens do?
To learn more, follow these links to related content:

February 2019 -- The Free Press and a Functioning Democracy

"Were it left to me to decide whether we should have government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every [one] should receive those papers & be capable of reading them." -- Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Edward Carrington, 1787

We'll talk about democracy, journalism, the state of play in American news. Can fact-based journalism survive? Can democracy survive otherwise? We'll take listener questions by email at info@weru.org with "Democracy Forum" in the subject line. This program is being produced with support from the Maine Humanities Council.

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

Special Guests:

  • Earl Brechlin was the founding editor of the award-winning weekly newspaper, the Mount Desert Islander, and former editor of the Bar Harbor Times.
  • Burt Neuborne is the Norman Dorsen Professor of Civil Liberties and founding Legal Director of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School.
  • Judy Woodruff is the anchor and managing editor of the PBS Newshour.
Key Topics:
  • What was the founders' conception of the first amendment? Why did they put it first? And why was it important to protect the free press?
  • What business, cultural, and technological changes are altering the journalistic landscape in the 21st century?
  • Disinformation campaigns and yellow journalism go back to the founding of democracy. Is it different now or more dangerous?
  • What can ordinary citizens do?
To learn more, follow these links to related content:

January 2019 -- Cyber Attacks on Democracy: Social Media, Fake News, and Voter Responsibility

"The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true Liberty. " -- James Madison

We'll talk about cyber attacks on elections, weaponizing misinformation, social media, and disinformation. Is this the new normal? Can democracy survive? 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:

  • Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, Elizabeth Ware Packard Professor of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication, the Walter and Leonore Director of the university's Annenberg Public Policy Center, and Program Director of the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands.
  • Jamie McKown, Faculty, Government & Polity at the College of the Atlantic and James Russell Wiggins Chair in Government and Polity.
Key Topics:
  • What about Prof. Jamieson's new book, Cyberwar: How Russian Hackers and Trolls Helped Elect A President?
  • What do we know? What don't we know? And what may we never know?
  • By what means and to what extent did this affect the outcome of the election?
  • Disinformation campaigns go back to the founding of democracy. Is this different or more dangerous?
  • Are domestic campaign organizations adopting similar tactics? Will this be the new normal?
  • If it's war, what can ordinary citizens do to help de-escalate?
To learn more, follow these links to related content:

November 2018 -- Election 2018: What Happened and What Does It Mean?

"Every election matters. ...[E]very election provides lessons worth learning." -- Chuck Todd, Meet the Press

We'll talk about who won in Maine and why. How do the election outcomes in Maine reflect national trends--or not--along the dimensions of party majorities, women and minority candidates, voter turnout, demographics, and voter suppression? What does it all mean for governing in the biennium ahead? 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 Baughman, Associate Professor of Politics, Bates College
  • Jill Goldthwait, Award-winning columnist for the Ellsworth American and the Mount Desert Islander, retired nurse and former independent Maine State Senator.
Key Topics:
  • Who won in Maine and why?
  • How does that reflect national trends?
  • What were the trends among women running for office and in voter turnout among women?
  • Was voter turnout a factor? How did turnout compare to prior mid-term elections?
  • Was voter suppression a factor?
  • What role did ranked choice voting play?
  • What are the opportunities for citizens to have an effect on federal and state policy for the next two to four years?
To learn more, follow these links to related content:

October 2018 -- Political Polls: Can We Ever Trust Them Again?

"Do you ever get the feeling that the only reason we have elections is to find out if the polls were right? - " -- Robert Orben, comedy writer and one time magician

We'll talk about the state of the art in political polling, why polls sometimes get it wrong, the emerging challenges for pollsters, and what citizens need to know about who and what to believe. 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
  • Courtney Kennedy, Director, Survey Research, Pew Research Center.
Key Topics:
  • Polls and pollsters are not all created equal. How can ordinary people judge what they're hearing?
  • What are some of the emerging challenges in polling now?
  • Can media reporting on polls affect voter behavior and election turnout?
  • Are there sources of polling information that people can generally trust? Or should ordinary people just ignore them?
  • What can citizens do to become smarter consumers of polling information?
To learn more, follow these links to related content:

September 2018 -- Elections in Maine: Where the Rubber Meets the Road

The voting booth joint is a great leveler; the whole neighborhood - rich, poor, old, young, decrepit and spunky - they all turn out in one day. -- David Byrne, Talking Heads

We'll talk about what citizens need to know about the conduct of elections in Maine: what are the opportunities for citizen participation and observation; what aspects are conducted by the State with regard to the security and integrity of the process and the electronic components; what role do the town clerks play in making sure things run smoothly, etc. 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:

  • Patti Dubois, Waterville City Clerk.
  • Julie Flynn, Deputy Secretary of State, Maine Secretary of State's Bureau of Corporations, Elections and Commissions.
Key Topics:
  • What can voters expect for Election Day 2018?
  • Can Maine voters trust the election process?
  • Which aspects are under the jurisdiction of the State of Maine? Which are under local control?
  • How well-prepared is Maine for election disruption and foreign or political interference?
  • What can citizens do if they suspect something is going wrong?
  • What can citizens do to build confidence in local elections?
To learn more, follow these links to related content:

July 2018 -- 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: