Leadership St. Tammany Alumni Foundation Presents:
Leadership Revisited 2015
Have We Lost Faith in Our Political System:
Possible Causes, Consequences and Solutions?
It has been said, “Every nation gets the government it deserves.” Is America still the beacon of liberty and self-government our revolutionary forefathers fought for and brilliantly created? Have we lost faith in our political system? How important is broad participation in governance and elections? On Tuesday, October 13, 2015 LST alumni gathered to explore the factors that account for lackluster engagement and apathy, its costs, human impacts and possible solutions. Speakers included Stephanie Grace, Clancy DuBos, Secretary of State Tom Schedler, James Hartman, Jay Connaughton and Jake Groby.
PRESS COVERAGE BY BOB WARREN, NOLA.COM/Times-Picayune:
Have we lost faith in our political system? It’s complicated
on October 13, 2015 at 3:18 PM, updated October 13, 2015 at 3:33 PM
Have we lost faith in our political system? A panel in St. Tammany Parish examined that question Tuesday (Oct. 13) and concluded the answer is “yes.”
Buried under a deluge of negative campaigning, opinion posing as news, and partisan politics, some people have indeed opted out of the process, panelists said. But hot issues, scandal and crisis still hold the power to stoke engagement and action, even among those voters who otherwise rarely participate.
The Leadership St. Tammany Alumni Foundation, which annually presents a panel discussion probing community issues, sponsored the discussion — “Have We Lost Faith in Our Political System: Possible Causes, Consequences and Solutions” — at the Clarion Inn south of Covington. Previous Alumni Foundation symposiums have looked at topics such as government accountability and St. Tammany’s high criminal incarceration rates.
Panelist James Hartman, a political consultant, said he believes the “degeneration of our faith really began with Watergate.” Social media, he said, enables the easy spread of vitriol.
We’re seeing the “heightened engagement of angry voters,” he said.
Stephanie Grace, a columnist for the Advocate, said the media plays a huge role. The sheer amount of information available — from newspapers to network news shows to bloggers and social media — enables people to seek the news that validates their opinions.
And as media companies shrink, resources devoted to long-range investigative reporting become scarce.
Would the exposure of the Watergate scandal happen today? she asked. “I don’t know.”
Secretary of State Tom Schedler said the reluctance of people to vote is perplexing and used the 2014 coroner’s election in St. Tammany as an example of his frustration.
For months, newspaper and television reporters had been churning out stories about the misdeeds of former St. Tammany Coroner Peter Galvan, who is now serving a federal prison sentence for corruption. The coverage “soaked” the newspapers and airwaves for months.
Yet, he said, the general election for a new coroner drew only 13 percent of the parish’s voters. And the runoff was worse, only drawing around 11 percent, he said.
Everyone has the right not to vote, he said, but that just allowing a small group of voters to decide the important issues for you, Schedler said.
He said he has pushed to reduce the number of elections in Louisiana. Fewer elections, Schedler said, will save money and increase participation.
Responding to a comments from the audience about the lack of “statesmen” in today’s political arena and the negative affect money has on the election process, political consultant Jay Connaughton said there are good, honest elected officials today.
He also said that money and politics have historically been intertwined. It’s just with increased transparency that people are able to track is so easily now.
Later, discussing some solutions, Sandra Slifer, who has had leadership roles with the League of Women Voters of Louisiana, said it’s up to people to get off their couches and get involved. Attend meetings of elected bodies and government boards, watch how the members vote or act, and ask questions, she said.
Clancy Dubos, the political editor for The Gambit, said sometimes people are motivated to participate through fear or some type of crisis.
He cited New Orleans as an example, where the post-Hurricane Katrina electorate voted in a single assessor to replace the long-entrenched system of multiple assessors.
“What might motivate people? A crisis,” he said.