Making Democracy Work

Democracy Forum

Talk radio with LWVME

Democracy Forum on WERU FM Community Radio

The League of Women Voters Downeast in cooperation with WERU FM is producing and sponsoring a monthly radio program on topics in participatory democracy. It's called the Democracy Forum.

Broadcasts may be heard live from 10:00 to 11:00 a.m. on the second Monday of the month at WERU Community Radio, 89.9 FM Orland, 99.9 FM Bangor. Listen live on the Web at WERU FM.

Here is information about upcoming programs and programs from the archive.

Political Advertising and Its Effect on Voters and Elections - October 8, 2012

Special Guests:
  • Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Professor of Communication and Director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.
  • Richard R. Lau, Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University.

Key Discussion Points:

  • Does political advertising work? How does it work? Do ads change people's minds about the candidates?
  • Does negative advertising work better than straight ads? Are they more memorable? Do they persuade people about candidates, or do they make people so disgusted that they stay home?
  • Is this good for democracy? What can citizens do?

Listen to the conversation from the archive at community radio WERU FM.

Educating Voters; Educating Citizens - September 10, 2012

Special Guests:
  • Professor Jennifer Hochschild, the Henry LaBarre Jayne Professor of Government at Harvard University.
  • Elisabeth MacNamara, the 18th president of the League of Women Voters of the United States (LWVUS) and chair of the League of Women Voters Education Fund (LWVEF).

Key Discussion Points:

  • What is the role of public education in creating an informed electorate? What is the responsibility of the citizens themselves?
  • What is the difference between an educated electorate and a well-informed one? Does it matter for democracy?
  • Does ideology trump evidence? When the facts conflict with beliefs, do people mistrust the fact-checkers?
  • What can we as citizens do to inform ourselves? What can we do to inform each other across the partisan divide?

Listen to the conversation from the archive at community radio WERU FM.

Tea Party: What Can We Learn about Civic Engagment -- August 13

Special guests:

  • Theda Skocpol, Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology at Harvard University
  • Amy Fried, Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine.

Key Discussion Points:
  • Tea Party members, who they are, and what they believe
  • The movement's impact on elections and governing
  • What it means for civic participation

Listen to the conversation from the archive at community radio WERU FM.

Income Inequality: Does It Matter for Democracy - June 18, 2012

Special guests:
  • Richard Freeman, Herbert Ascherman Chair in Economics at Harvard University and director of the National Bureau of Economic Research
  • Susan Feiner, Professor of Economics and Professor of Women and Gender Studies

Key Discussion Points:
  • What are the trends in income inequality over the last century?
  • What are the factors that have caused the widening gap between the super-rich and everyone else?
  • Why does it matter? What are the risks to democracy?

Listen to the conversation.

Corporations in Politics and Public Policy - May 14, 2012

Special guests:
  • Robert Monks, shareholder activist, author, and corporate governance adviser

Key discussion points:
  • The role in of corporations in shaping public policy through financing political campaigns and lobbying
  • Do free enterprise and democracy go together?
  • Possible alternatives to the current system

Listen to the conversation.

Is the Two-Party System Working or Broken? -- April 9, 2012

Special guests: Key discussion points:
  • The role of the two-party system in federal elections and government
  • The effects of partisan politics in the Congress
  • Possible alternatives to the current system.

Listen to the conversation.

Dysfunction in Congress: What Do We Need to Make It Work -- March 12, 2012

Special guests:
  • 2nd District Congressman Rep. Michael Michaud
  • Arn Pearson, VP of Programs at Common Cause.

Key Discussion Points:
  • The underlying structural or procedural problems that keep Congress from governing effectively
  • Most important reforms, e.g., redistricting, campaign finance reform, return to regular order

Listen to the conversation.

Free Speech, Corporate Money, and Democracy - February 13, 2012

Special Guests: Key Discussion Points:
  • The constitutional background of granting personhood to corporations and equating political spending with free speech.
  • The practical outcomes for democracy.
  • What can citizens do?

Listen to the conversation.

What do we need to make our democracy work better - January 9, 2012

special Guests:
  • 1st District Congresswoman Chellie Pingree
  • Dr. Thomas E. Mann, constitutional scholar of the Brookings Institution

Key Discussion Points:
  • Why do you think Congress has such a low approval rating?
  • What are the systemic impediments that prevent Congress from responding to what members surely know citizens want?
  • Is campaign finance reform part of the solution?
  • Is the two-party system is part of the problem.
  • What about revising the Senate rules to limit use of the filibuster or other Congressional reforms?
  • How do you view the role of the media?

Listen to the conversation.

Election of Maine's Attorney General - November 11, 2008

Even after Election Day 2008 is behind us, Maine will still have to elect our Constitutional officers, among them, our attorney general. For the first time in many years, the race for attorney general is a competitive three-way race among prominent Democratic legislators.

Many Mainers may not be aware of what role the attorney general plays in our state, how the attorney general is chosen, or who's seeking the office this year. In this program, we learn how Maine's Constitutional officers are chosen. Then we meet the three people who are seeking the office of attorney general this year.

Guest: Cab Howard, Assistant Professor of Law and Public Policy at the University of Maine School of Law. Professor Howard joined the Law School as a Visiting Assistant Professor in 1997 after nearly a quarter century of public service as a member of the Maine Attorney General's Office.

The Candidates:

  • John Brautigam
  • Sean Faircloth
  • Janet Mills

This program originally broadcast at 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday, November 11, 2008. You can hear it from the archive at WERU FM.

Democracy & Health Care Reform - October 4, 2008

In the previous shows in our series, we have explored some of the systemic factors that come between the will of the people and the implementation of public policy in our democracy. For this program, we are going to examine a practical example of how these and other factors have (or have not) worked to stalemate effective reform using health care as a case study. Health care is an issue for which there is broad agreement among U.S. citizens about the basic elements of a public policy solution: most people want universal coverage at an affordable price. Yet the federal government has so far failed to implement programs that reflect the will of the people.

  • How do things work that we don't yet have universal coverage?

  • How is health care reform legislation is drafted? Who are the key players? How do the House and Senate differ in their treatment of legislation in this area?

  • Over the years, health care has become increasingly privatized and run for profit. What role has this played in the decision making process?

  • How big a factor is campaign finance? Lobbying?

  • Is it true that Medicare Part D was written to give the pharmaceutical industry what it wanted? Who wrote this legislation? How was it passed?

  • Other industrialized countries have universal health care systems which provide better health outcomes than ours at a lower cost. What does our failure to enact meaningful health care reform say about the state of our democracy?

  • What can be done to get the health care reform most people want in the U.S.?

Guests: Brian Biles is a Professor in the Department of Health Policy at George Washington University. In various roles, he has been helping to analyze and shape the nation's health care policy for more than three decades. He spent much of that time in government service, having served as staff director of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health and later, as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Trish Riley is currently serving as the Director of the Maine Governor's Office of Health Policy and Finance. Prior to joining the Governor's staff, she served as president of the nonprofit Center for Health Policy Development and the executive director of its National Academy for State Health Policy. She has served in appointive positions under four Maine governors and in numerous other leadership positions nationally and here in Maine in the field of health policy.

This program originally broadcast at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, October 4, 2008. You can hear it from the archive at WERU FM.

Government Privatization - August 2, 2008

Our program today is on the privatization of government functions, its effects on the functioning of our democracy, and some proposals for reform.
  • Private vs public: what's appropriate for the public sector, what's appropriate for the private sector
  • What would be the function of government if everything possible were privatized
  • What spheres have been privatized, considered or debated to be privatized
  • What trends and future developments do we see
  • What are the ramifications: accountability, constitutional, political, economic, social, separation of powers
  • What are the problems for democracy
  • Are there appropriate safeguards and oversight in place to protect against corruption
  • What are the reform proposals

Guests: Paul Verkuil is a litigator, counselor, businessman and scholar. He is Professor of Law at Cardozo Law School, Yeshiva University, and Senior Counsel at the law firm of Boies, Schiller & Flexner. His most recent book is Outsourcing Sovereignty: Why Privatization of Government Functions Threatens Democracy and What We Can Do about It. You can read more about his background at the website for BSF LLP or at the website for Cordoza School of Law.

Si Kahn is a singer, songwriter and activist. He is executive director of Grassroots Leadership, where their goal is to put an end to abuses of justice and the public trust by working to abolish for-profit private prisons. Si is the author of the book, The Fox in the Henhouse: How Privatization Threatens Democracy. You can read more about him and his work at www.sikahn.com.

This program originally broadcast at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, August 2, 2008. You can hear it from the archive at WERU FM.

Lobbying - July 12, 2008

This program is on lobbying at the federal level. Guests cover such topics as:

  • What lobbyists do and how they work
  • Statistics about growth in lobbying: $$ spent; # of lobbyists
  • Spending by corporate lobbyists vs. public interest groups
  • Court protections for lobbying
  • Access to and benefit by governement officials
  • Lobbying and campaign finance
  • Revolving door
  • People and policy in a democracy
  • Possible reforms
  • Online resources

Guests: James Thurber is Director and Distinguished Professor at the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies, American University. Visit his web page to learn more about his background.

Sheila Krumholz is Executive Director at the Center for Responsive Politics.

This program originally broadcast at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, July 12, 2008. You can hear it from the archive at WERU FM.

Corporations and Democracy - June 7, 2008

This program is on corporations and democracy. A Harris Poll conducted in March 2007 indicated that 84% of U.S. adults think big companies have too much power and influence in Washington. Our conversation explores the effects of corporate political power on the functioning of our democracy and some proposals for reform.
  • What is a corporation, and how did it become the dominant form of business organization?

  • What is the history of the relationship between corporations and government? Did corporations always have both economic and political power? How did corporations come to have some of the same political rights as people?

  • What are some of the problems with that relationship? How have corporations influenced public policy? Is democracy as a system of government adversely impacted by the current relationship?

  • How could things change? Why would these changes work? How would we get from where we are to where you would like to be? Can a regulatory regime be sufficient?

Guests: Robert A. G. Monks is a prominent Maine citizen with a long and illustrious career in business, law, and government service. His most recent book is Corpocracy: How CEOs and the Business Roundtable Hijacked the World's Greatest Wealth Machine -- And How to Get It Back. You can read more about his background at the web site for Lens Governance Advisors, which is the law firm Mr. Monks created to continue his work in holding corporate management accountable to ownership and in improving shareholder value through increasing shareholder involvement.

Ruth Caplan is the author of the 1990 book, Our Earth, Ourselves, and she is a founding co-chair of the Alliance for Democracy and current co-chair of the Alliance's Corporate Globalization/Positive Alternatives campaign. She has been working since the early-nineties, in collaboration with other writers and activists, on a plan for an alternative economic system that is socially equitable and environmentally sustainable. You can read more about the Alliance for Democracy at their web site.

This program originally broadcast at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, June 7, 2008. You can hear it from the archive at WERU FM.

Consitutional Checks and Balances - May 3, 2008

Our topic is constitutional checks and balances and the separation of power, especially the extent to which recent trends have concentrated power in the executive branch. Guests will answer such questions as:

  • How the Constitution provides for checks and balances and the separation of powers and how it is supposed to work.
  • The history of concentrated executive power in modern times.
  • Some of the methods used by the Executive branch to increase its power and recent examples of the way that each of these methods has been used, including:
- Secrecy
- Inherent powers
- Political appointments & the civil service
- Signing statements
- Unitary Executive theory
  • Whether the Legislative branch is institutionally weakened by the forces of modern politics?
  • Whether constitutional protections are adequate to modern reality.

Guests: Charlie Savage won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for his Boston Globe coverage of Presidential signing statements. He recently joined the staff of the New York Times. He is the author of the book, Takeover: The Return of the Imperial Presidency and the Subversion of American Democracy, which has just come out in paperback.

Neil Kinkopf teaches constitutional law, criminal law, legislation and civil procedure at Georgia State University College of Law. He is co-chair for the issue group on Separation of Power and Federalism at the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy. During the Clinton Administration, Professor Kinkopf was a special assistant in the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel, where his practice focused on issues of presidential power. Read more at www.acslaw.org.

This program originally broadcast at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, May 3, 2008. You can hear it from the archive at WERU FM.

Professional Civil Service & Political Appointments - April 5, 2008

We talked about the evolution of the professional civil service in the federal bureaucracy and the interplay between professionalisma and politics. Some potential topics include:

  • Historical perspective on political appointments and the professional civil service.
  • How it works now: how big is the federal bureaucracy and what percentage are appointed vs. hired into the civil service.
  • Appropriate balance between conformance to direction set by the duly elected president and protection from misuse of presidential authority for political purposes.
  • Trends in civil service resignations/whistle blowers from one administration to another.
  • Role of contractors and trends in outsourcing functions previously performed by governmental employees.
  • Role and responsibility of the legislative branch?
  • Is there real cause for alarm?
  • What kinds of reform might be considered?

Guests: Paul Light, NYU Wagner's Paulette Goddard Professor of Public Service and Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution; and George Krause, professor of political science at the University of Pittsburgh.

This program originally broadcast at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, April 5, 2008. You can hear it from the archive at WERU FM.

Open Government - March 1, 2008

The topic is open government. Guests discuss the importance of freedom of information for democracy.

  • What are the legal and Constitutional bases for citizens' right to know and for government claims to secrecy?
  • What is the rationale for secrecy and what are its legitimate uses?
  • How much of what's been classified in the past has been done under legitimate interests vs. self-serving ones?
  • What are the recent trends in classifications and declassifications; what are recent changes to law & practice?
  • What are the other aspects of open government: open meetings; citizen participation, etc.?
  • How do trends in privatization of government function affect citizens' rights to know; does citizens' right to know then conflict with intellectual property law and proprietary information?
  • What are the options for citizens & Congress to get information

Guests: Charles Davis, associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and the executive director for the National Freedom of Information Coalition; Meredith Fuchs, General Counsel at the National Security Archive; and Sean Moulton Director of Federal Information Policy at OMB Watch.

This program originally broadcast at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, March 1, 2008. You can hear it from the archive at WERU FM.

The National Security Archive

OMB Watch

The National Freedom of Information Coalition

Campaign Finance Reform - January 5, 2008

The topic is federal campaign finance reform. Guests offer an overview of federal election financing and current trends.

  • How does money affect election outcomes? Does the top spender always win?
  • What's the background on campaign finance regulation? What kinds of campaign finance reform are possible and desirable?
  • What are the arguments against campaign finance reform?
  • How would public funding work?
  • Where do reformers go from here?

Guests: Laura MacCleery, Deputy Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU; and John Rauh, founder and president of Americans for Campaign Reform - Just $6.

This program originally broadcast on January 5, 2008. You can hear it from the archive at WERU FM.

Brennan Center for Justice at NYU

Americans for Campaign Reform

Term Limits - November 3, 2007

The topic is term limits. Guests review the five key outcomes of research on the effects of term limits around the country and here in Maine.

  • They did not lead to greater gender or ethnic diversity, as proponents hoped.
  • They did lead to less experienced legislatures, a loss of knowledge among legislators, and a more chaotic legislative process.
  • They led to a loss of power in legislatures relative to the executive branch.
  • They do seem to have caused legislators to vote their conscience more often, relative to the wishes of their constituents.
  • They do seem to have caused power to shift from the State House of Representatives to the State Senate.

Guests: Richard Powell, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Professor Powell has conducted research on the effects of term limits in Maine. He co-authored the book, Changing Members: the Maine Legislature in the Era of Term Limits.

Karl T. Kurtz, Director of the Trust for Representative Democracy at the National Conference of State Legislatures. Karl has studied the effects of term limits on state legislatures around the country and co-edited the book, Institutional Change in American Politics: the Case of Term Limits, which takes a comprehensive look at the long-term effects of the 1990s wave of term limits legislation.

This program originally broadcast on November 3, 2007. You can hear it from the archive at WERU FM

National Conference of State Legislatures