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LWV of Sanibel tackles issues of democracy at program

February 8, 2019
Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

The League of Women Voters of Sanibel presented "Is Democracy Working?" on Jan. 17 at its luncheon program, featuring Dr. Peter Bergerson, senior professor of Political Science at Florida Gulf Coast University. In addition, Robert Terry - a retired judge and constitutional attorney - gave a short tutorial on a citizenship question that has been proposed to be added to the 2020 Census.

2020 Census citizenship

For the first time since 1950, the U.S. Census Bureau plans to ask everyone living in the United States whether they are citizens on the 2020 census. Lawsuits by the Attorneys General in California and New York argue that this will result in undercounting immigrants, which could impact the allocation of congressional seats, government funding and more. The impact of undercounting could be especially damaging in states with large immigrant populations, such as California, Florida and New York. The question is headed for the U.S. Supreme Court, since a federal district court justice in Manhattan ruled recently in favor of the New York state lawsuit against adding the census question. Timing is short for the judgment, as the Census Bureau must print census forms by May-June.

Article Photos

Guest speakers Dr. Peter Bergerson, left, and Robert Terry at the recent luncheon meeting of the League of Women Voters of Sanibel.

The Census Bureau in 1980 won a lawsuit arguing against a change that would have required a citizenship question on the census. The Census Bureau stated that innovations in survey methods had provided a more accurate and less burdensome way of counting the country's non-citizen population - a well designed sample rather than a complete count like the census. Moreover, the bureau's research demonstrates that asking questions about citizenship causes unprecedented concerns about data sharing and confidentiality among immigrants and those who live with immigrants. Thus, the Census Bureau has argued for decades that including a citizenship question would make the census less reliable.

Is democracy working?

The public's trust in government to do the right thing is at a historic low - 19 percent, compared with 75 percent during the Eisenhower administration. Many factors have contributed to this, including the Vietnam War, Watergate, gerrymandering, increasing gulf between haves and have nots, fact that four of the last seven presidents were chosen by a minority of the voters, and sharpness of political rhetoric. Many are questioning the belief and purpose of political institutions, leaders, and their decisions and values. Democracy was formed at a pre-technological time when the population was much smaller and more homogeneous. All these conditions have changed.

Nevertheless, this is not as perilous a time for democracy as the Civil War, World Wars I and II, or the McCarthy period. Several key factors determine whether democracy is working. The separation of powers - the system of checks and balances - is fundamental to democracy. The executive, judicial and congressional branches of government must function independently to ensure the sharing of powers, and the judiciary must have unimpeded ability to review actions by the other branches. Bipartisan legislation is important, and a free press is vital to democracy.

In a democracy, the process of decision making legitimizes the goals and policies, not vice versa as is the case with China. In China, political life is based on the model for the Confucian family. The central authority is the father figure, who is infallible, tyrannical and protective. There is no idea of sharing power among several institutions, as in the United States. With a billion more people than the United States, seven major dialects and four major active religions, China devotes most of its public money to uniting the country.

Today, concerns are expressed that the leaders of the Senate and the House of Representatives are too powerful. In fact, there have been far more powerful and effective leaders in those positions in the past (Lyndon Johnson, for example). The government flaws that concern most people are flaws of personality, not flaws of the pillars of democracy. People lose perspective about sensitive appointment. An example is Supreme Court appointments, which have averaged one new appointment every two years.

Bergerson concluded that the public should keep in mind Winston Churchill's statement that, "Success is not final, and failure is not fatal. Keep going. Never, never give up."

The League of Women Voters of Sanibel will hold its next luncheon meeting on Feb. 21 at noon at the Sundial Beach Resort, at 1451 Middle Gulf Drive, Sanibel. The guest speaker is Indera DeMine, an immigration attorney who will discuss the impact of immigration on Southwest Florida. Lunch is available for $25 in advance. To make a reservation email



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