Midterm Edition: Why Vote?

We've told you that midterm elections matter. But the truth is, midterms only matter to you -- and you only matter to your legislators -- if you show up at the polls. It's the first step in making yourself heard. And once you have, you mean that much more to the people who make our laws. 

In this episode, you'll hear what voting actually does for you and your demographic. Plus, how to make sure your voice is heard, whether you're eligible to vote or not. Our experts this time around are Cheryl Cook-Kallio, Edgar Saldivar and Peter Levine.   

Episode Segments

Have a civics question you want answered? Let us know in the form below and we'll try to answer it!


 NOTE: This transcript was generated using an automated transcription service, and may contain typographical errors.


Civics 101

Episode: Why Vote?



Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:02] We've spent a lot of time in this series explaining mid-term elections why they happen how they work. Who runs in them what shows up on the ballot. And I feel like we got there you know midterms Crash Course accomplish.


Nick Capodice: [00:00:18] Why do I feel there's a but in here.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:21] But our goal. I mean it's the title of the first episode. Our goal was to convince people that midterms matter. You know full disclosure we definitely have an agenda. We were trying to prove a point.


Nick Capodice: [00:00:34] Yes that's true. But midterms do matter. Of course they matter. They can change the course of politics they change the law.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:42] But I'm stuck on that final step. Participation showing up to vote because midterms are going to happen whether people turn out for them or not.


Nick Capodice: [00:00:51] That is actually my least favorite excuse for not voting.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:54] OK. Hear me out. We started with the goal of proving the power right. The worth of this election. And I think we partially felt we needed to do that because a lot of people don't care and we know that because we can look at voter turnout numbers and see that people just don't show up for the midterms the way they do for presidential elections.


Nick Capodice: [00:01:16] This is understandable when you're voting for the leader of the free world the largest office in our country it's bound to bring people out voting for the president is huge and it's in an obvious way and that's not really the case with smaller local offices that are on your ballot in a midterm.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:01:32] And that fact isn't going away right no matter how you Gussy them up. The midterms are missing that one crucial thing.


Nick Capodice: [00:01:38] Hannah if at this stage you're trying to convince me that midterm elections are not a big deal. I'm not only going to lose it but I got Dan Cassino on Speeddial right now.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:01:50] OK I would not dare try to do that to you. Especially not at this point. But all I'm saying is I think we need more more what more of a reason to turn up and to vote on Election Day.


Nick Capodice: [00:02:03] You got something?


Hannah McCarthy: [00:02:05] I think I do. Which is good because this is Civics 101. The podcast refresher course on the basics of how our democracy works. I'm Hannah McCarthy.


Nick Capodice: [00:02:18] I'm Nick Capodice.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:02:19] and today on Civics 101 we're going to turn the focus on you dear listener because it isn't the president who makes or breaks an election it's you your five minutes in the voting booth are more than just an exercise in civil participation. Choosing to vote is like saying Hey look over here. You better listen to me because I have got your job in my hands.


Nick Capodice: [00:02:40] I hear you. Hannah and I don't need convincing. But if we're going to go there with voting then I have to say there are plenty of people who do show up to vote every year and still feel like legislators ignore them.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:02:51] You are absolutely right. That was the case for a lot of voters and that's where I want to start. With the frustrating truth about making your voice heard speaking up is not just about election day. It's a lot of work and it needs to be happening all the time.


Cheryl Cook-Kallio: [00:03:10] One of the problems I think with voting is that people think it's a passive action that you do in every two years you do with every four years when in fact it's what you do between elections that actually energize the constituency during a campaign and during an election.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:03:27] That is Cheryl Cook Kallio everybody high school teacher and former member of the California Assembly.


Cheryl Cook-Kallio: [00:03:32] And you know you'll hear people say well I didn't know this was going to happen or I didn't know this is going to be on the ballot. A lot of this is is prepped for years in advance and so voting is extremely important. But paying attention between voting and applying your civic knowledge between voting is equally as important to get the result. And to me a good result is one that represents a broad constituency.


Nick Capodice: [00:03:58] But what does applying your civic knowledge actually look like? We always hear you know you got to get involved but you know give me the instruction manual.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:04:06] It means a lot of things but why don't we start with the obvious you know knowing what you're voting for because let's be honest we've all likely encountered an office on the ballot on Election Day that we didn't even know was up for election or maybe we didn't even know what that office was.


Cheryl Cook-Kallio: [00:04:23] It makes me sick because I've seen that so many times and literally or worse yet who's running right who's running.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:04:32] All right. We hear stuff along these lines pretty often right. You know stay informed do the research don't complain if you don't vote and maybe don't complain if you vote without doing your homework first. And that advice can start to turn into white noise. But Cheryl cares about this and to be honest so do I. Because you are definitely, not maybe Nick, definitely electing people and voting on ballot measures that will change your life.


Nick Capodice: [00:04:59] Let me jump in here because look I know it's not super easy to figure out who and what you're voting for. And I guess is this what you mean by the work? I've pored over so many ballots not just from our state New Hampshire but from every state in the union. They're all completely different. They all have totally different rules and it's frankly overwhelming.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:05:16] It is overwhelming and frustrating and it's my job to research this stuff. But you know passivity is easier or soft focus is easier.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:05:28] And the thing is I don't have to know the world will go on rolling without my knowing exactly who I just helped to elect sheriff. But I'd rather just know who it is. I'm voting for. That way I don't wonder if I helped elect somebody who maybe goes against my morals and luckily we've got thousands of journalists and analysts around the country clamoring to provide us with that information.


Cheryl Cook-Kallio: [00:05:52] I think that people need to be informed and in order to be informed they have to look at a variety of sources. If the only place that you're getting your information is off of Facebook or Fox News or MSNBC you're only getting half of the story. When I see a story come up and I look at the source of the story. I then physically look for other articles that may be done from a different perspective. It takes work and part of the issue with living in a democracy is you have to be constantly vigilant.


Nick Capodice: [00:06:27] I guess if you want the government by and for the people to actually reflect what the people want then the people have to know how to ask for what they want how to establish it. It's just it's such a huge task. I don't feel like any of us can show up on election day knowing everything.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:06:44] I think that's completely true. And as Cheryl sees it you don't have to be an expert in your options.


Cheryl Cook-Kallio: [00:06:51] It's important to recognize that you can't know everything. And so for me if I'm in an area that I'm unfamiliar with I will call a person that I think is an expert or here's the one thing that people don't do enough and that is call the office of their elected official. If I'm really confused about something and I know the bill was authored in a particular office or I know somebody who's opposed to that in a particular office I will call up and ask for the information. That's what their job is is to give you that information.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:07:26] OK. That's the kind of work you couldn't do before an election in the month leading up to it. Right. That's Election Day centric work. But I want to go back to this idea that Cheryl has about civic knowledge because there's the kind of passivity that means not showing up to vote. And then there's the kind of passivity of not knowing who or what you're voting for before you do show up. But to Cheryl civic engagement also has to take place in the off season like being a baseball fan who pays attention to the draft and then watches spring training.


Nick Capodice: [00:07:58] Except these players are in charge of making law. So the stakes are a little higher.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:08:02] Slightly higher. Yeah and the actual law making the job that we essentially hire our legislature to do that is what is going on in the off season. That's what's going on between elections. So the most important part of engaging with your rep or your senator is not the act of voting. Aside from the issue of actually getting to the polls and being sure you're allowed to vote and we will get to that later. The impact of Election Day itself is largely psychological. But the law making that comes after that. That is what makes your life better or worse. That is what keeps your schools operating and your streets safe.


Cheryl Cook-Kallio: [00:08:45] And it's about approaching democracy what's important. What do you need to do before an election. You know what we're talking about is exactly what illustrates the importance of paying attention between elections that it really isn't about just sitting around and twiddling your thumbs. I had a student had once said to me you know I don't care about those government stuff which of course caused me to have you know hyperventilating and he said you know when it's never going to make a difference to me. And I sat there sat down and I said you know right now probably nothing I said but the minute that you want to walk your daughter to school and you recognize that there needs to be a stop sign at the corner. It will become very important to you. And he looked at me and said You're right.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:09:34] We all turn out for the presidential elections and any kind of trickle out for the midterm elections. And then you know the rest of the time how many of us show up when the work is actually being done. I think there's this sense that our metaphorical microphone only appears in the voting booth and then that the rest of the time we have to sit around and watch things happening to us or at us but we're allowed to comment on laws before they happen we're allowed to ask for a stop sign.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:10:02] And the people who can make that stop sign happen and can make you or your kids save are often the very people up for election or re-election during the midterms.


Nick Capodice: [00:10:12] Something that's really easy for me to forget is that you can go online and look up your senator or your state rep governor's number and you could just give them a call. You can ask them questions about what's going on in your city. You can tell them that you need that stop sign at the end of your road or tell them you're opposed to a bill or let them know about a problem at your school.


Cheryl Cook-Kallio: [00:10:32] Decisions are made by people who show up and you only show up on Election Day. Then you're not doing your due diligence and you're likely to be somewhat disconcerted over the outcome at least in some areas.


Nick Capodice: [00:10:46] One of the only obstacles I can foresee for this is it's a matter of numbers. So what if I'm the only one who wants that stop sign or what if my state representative or legislature just doesn't seem to care.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:10:57] I mean that's definitely something that happens but it all comes back to voting. If you turn out to the polls and people who share your beliefs turn out alongside you then you've established that broad constituency that Cheryl was talking about earlier.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:11:15] For example let's say youre a 47 year old Wisconsinite who loves the color green and loves swing sets and believes in unionized playground companies. You want the playground Union to build a green swing set in every city in the state.


Nick Capodice: [00:11:30] I feel very passionately about this.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:11:31] You do and a lot of people around your age feel the exact same way.


Nick Capodice: [00:11:35] OK so we are going to be golden right? If if we all want these union built Kelly Green swings sets we're going to get them right?


Hannah McCarthy: [00:11:43] Ah but let's say only a handful of people in your swing set devoted demographic actually vote.


Nick Capodice: [00:11:49] OK that's not great.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:11:50] No it's not great. Because the thing is it doesn't really matter if you all feverishly desire to see union belt green swing sets dotting the Wisconsin landscape if you don't vote. Your legislators pay attention to those who show up to the polls. If your demographic does not why should they pay attention to what you want in the meantime?


Nick Capodice: [00:12:10] That's pretty dark.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:12:11] That's politics my friend.


Cheryl Cook-Kallio: [00:12:13] Right now if young people would vote if we got the vast majority of students that are 18 years old voting in California they could change how we charge for college education. You would all of a sudden have a group of legislators that would be paying very close attention to this demographic. It's because they don't vote some of these things are passed.


Nick Capodice: [00:12:40] That's crazy. I mean we don't usually talk about legislation in terms of voter turnout. The idea is that your person either wins or loses and they go about their business of working for you or not but it sounds like. And tell me if I've got this right. If your demographic turns out in full force then your demographic's going to get more attention than other demographics even if you both voted for the same person.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:13:03] Exactly. It's just like Cheryl says that people who candidates pay attention to are the people who vote in large numbers. So white people vote more than people of color. Older people vote more than younger people. Rich people vote more than poor people.


Nick Capodice: [00:13:19] And by the way as we've mentioned in a couple different episodes whiter older richer tends to also describe the demographic of the people we actually get to vote for. But on the subject of who is turning out to vote our country by and large makes it way easier for that white wealthy older demographic to vote.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:13:40] Which brings me to my next point the point Cheryl made about college aged voters not turning out. You cannot boil that down to young people being lazy or something.


Cheryl Cook-Kallio: [00:13:50] So you know you're in your parents home you're going off to college you change residences. How many times while you're in college four years are in training or wherever else you go to become an adult. You forget to register and then you can't decide are you going to vote in the city that you're going to college in. Are you going to vote in the town that you came from. You have to make that decision. In some state they make it very difficult for people to vote by mail. So if you are going to college in you know North Carolina specifically had a rule about this or a law about this not too long ago that they didn't want students voting on the college cities that they live in but you're not going to drive home to vote on a Tuesday. So you are basically taking away their right to vote unless you allowed them to vote absentee. I mean they've changed that law now but it is a way to suppress voter participation by making it difficult to register and making it difficult to change your registration.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:14:52] Now I do want to say the people who work on tightening voter registration access say they're doing it to prevent voter fraud. But the defacto result of this is that there are laws all over the country that make it tricky for college kids to vote for people of color to vote for lower income people to vote for trans people to vote.


Edgar Saldivar: [00:15:11] You know the voter ID requirements can be very burdensome to poor individuals to people of color to the elderly who don't often have the ability to obtain the records or pay the fees the state requires to have photo IDs for example.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:15:28] This is Edgar Saldivar he's a senior staff attorney at the ACLU in Texas and Edgar makes clear that although these laws do not explicitly block minorities from voting they do in some cases make it more difficult.


Edgar Saldivar: [00:15:43] There are numerous ways that state legislatures have made it burdensome difficult or sometimes impossible to cast a ballot for individuals who are eligible to vote. And rather than extending access to the ballot what we've seen as a trend to make voting much harder rather than easier.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:16:11] And it's not just registration that poses a problem. A polling place can be moved at the last minute or maybe you show up and you find your name has been purged from the voter roll.


Edgar Saldivar: [00:16:21] Right so a voter roll essentially is a listing all the persons that are registered in a particular precinct.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:16:29] Now Edgar says that there are a lot of ways a person's name might be purged from the rolls in a city or state. Maybe you've moved or you've been incarcerated or become mentally incapacitated. All of these he says are lawful reasons to purge someone from the voter rolls.


Nick Capodice: [00:16:44] However I've read tons of articles specifically in the last 10 years about people who are definitely eligible to vote and they show up and they're told nope sorry you're not on the list.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:16:54] Yeah that does happen.


Edgar Saldivar: [00:16:55] Some states have taken a sort of overly aggressive efforts to purge voters. Oftentimes voters who aren't eligible to vote whether may be sort of a kind of administrative mistake that caused it, you know they go vote and they realize that they are not on the voter rolls.


Nick Capodice: [00:17:14] So it sounds like you've got to have your rights down pat before you even go to your voting station.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:17:17] That's exactly it. Edgar says that if you are eligible to vote meaning you're a U.S. citizen. You'll be 18 on the day of the election. You're a resident of the state county and district where you are casting your ballot and you are not in prison or on parole for a felony conviction. Then it is your constitutional right to vote.


Nick Capodice: [00:17:38] But what if your attempt is thwarted. What if you know that you're eligible to vote you've waited in line for a few hours. You show up and they say Buzz off buddy you're not on the voter rolls.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:17:48] OK. First and foremost what you have to do is ask for a provisional ballot and a receipt. If you ask for this provisional ballot it is required by law that they give it to you. And then after the fact they will assess on a case by case basis whether or not your vote is valid.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:18:06] And then if you have any other problems because things do crop up you can call this number. It's 8 6 6 our vote so that's 8 6 6 6 8 7 8 6 8 3. They're are a nonpartisan election protection coalition. They're national. They'll know what to do.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:18:27] But let me just give you a specific example. Right. So a lot of trans rights groups are trying to look out for people who might be denied at the polls. The ACLU of New Hampshire for instance has put together a fact sheet explaining that yes if you have changed your name you need to reregister under that name.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:18:45] However if for example your I.D. appears to show someone of a different gender you cannot be denied the right to vote.


Nick Capodice: [00:18:51] All right come prepared maybe even write these things down before you go. Just to be on the safe side. But still I can totally see myself being intimidated by the prospect of being denied a ballot even if I know my rights.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:19:04] Yeah in a case like that it can be worth a quick Internet search to figure out if there's an election day carpool program near you that can offer support. in Tennessee for example. There's even a ride share app for the LGBTQ community in Chattanooga that helps people get to the polls. And you know what Nick. If all else fails you can always call your attorney general and verify your right to vote and you can do that right at the polling place.


Nick Capodice: [00:19:30] Can I check in for a minute here. Sure. So we started this episode with you saying you're going to give people just one more reason to turn out on Election Day for midterms. And you've given us a couple and some how tos.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:19:42] OK good. That is what I was going for.


Nick Capodice: [00:19:43] But I think there's one big thing missing actually. The people who can't vote yet. Young people. People who are going to be able to vote in the future or just don't have that constitutional right yet in their lives. So many of the laws. So many of the laws that we make in this country have to do with those people but they don't get a say.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:20:10] Or do they.


Nick Capodice: [00:20:12] Do they? Is this a trick.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:20:14] I mean I say they do. I say young people are instrumental to effecting change.


Nick Capodice: [00:20:19] Go on.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:20:20] OK. Point number one and please bear with me on this one. Young people are the future.


Nick Capodice: [00:20:27] Oh Hannah is everybody rolling their eyes out there?


Hannah McCarthy: [00:20:30] But it's true.


Peter Levine: [00:20:32] So I think it's important for young people to realize that they have a lot of power and they're actually exercising it.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:20:37] This is Peter Levine. He's the academic dean at the Tufts University Tisch College of civic life.


Peter Levine: [00:20:43] They're a very big Voting Bloc. They are gonna run the country. Whatever happens in. 15 20 25 years. So the skills that they learn now. For running the country are really important. Whatever happens the way that they vote does determine the outcome of elections even if they don't vote at the numbers they should. So they do swing elections. So they are actually exercising power so I don't buy the hype that they're just disengaged. Some of them are but some of them aren't.


Nick Capodice: [00:21:08] But still he's talking about the young vote. What about the young nonvote.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:21:12] So Peter has been doing research on civic engagement of people from kindergarten through senior year of high school and he's been doing it for over a decade now. So he knows that first of all if you learn about voting when you're young you can be a good voter by the time you actually get there.


Peter Levine: [00:21:28] So the pattern in America is that people gradually become voters. Each decade until people get into their 80s. They vote at a higher rate and it seems that people sort of overcome the barriers they learn how to do it. They tune into some issues and get an idea who they're going to vote for and when they do that they're much more likely to vote against it. You could say voting is habit forming. And for the very youngest the habit has only formed for about one in five in the midterm elections.


Nick Capodice: [00:21:54] So get in the habit of being a voter before you're actually a voter.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:21:58] Yeah but that isn't it. You know you can actually do something long before you're a member of the electorate. For one thing. What is more compelling more sympathetic than a young person demanding say justice or support? And What is more disappointing than a legislator who ignores that young person's call. Not to get all cynical about this but you know it's good PR to pay attention to young people.


Peter Levine: [00:22:25] So even if you don't have the vote you can work in other domains. But the other thing is you can influence older people have the vote. So. Certainly the Parkland students are demonstrating that you can have a big influence on voters even if you're too young to vote yourself.


Nick Capodice: [00:22:39] And on of these ideas that Cheryl Cook-Kallio talked about that civic engagement is about what happens between the elections, like swaying legislators is less about voting day than it is about how you get at them when things are in session. Is there a way for underage people to get their say?


Hannah McCarthy: [00:22:55] This is one major thing that Peter kept coming back to civics is not limited to government and exercising your voice isn't limited to being of voter age.


Peter Levine: [00:23:04] So you can change the world in lots of ways and that that opens up a whole range of things you can do. One thing is there are in other institutions and communities apart from the government the ones that the government runs they're in the school or any neighborhood.


Peter Levine: [00:23:16] They might be in a religious location they're in a family. And all of those institutions can be changed so you can if you can't change the law through voting you might be able to change your school's policies through talking to the Administration at the schools.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:23:34] So those things that are quite a law like let's say you're suspended for something that you think is unjust. You can go to the mattresses over something like that. You can disagree with policy and you can make people listen to you about it long before you get to actually vote for anything.


Nick Capodice: [00:23:54] And you can work for politicians too. You can volunteer or you can show up at rallies offer feedback like Bakari Sellers said eat cold pizza in a church basement. You can make it so by the time you might have to deal with a challenge to your right to vote you know your rights better than anybody because you've been preparing for this your whole life.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:24:12] I mean my big takeaway from all of this is that the lack of voter turnout is this kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. They say young people don't vote and so young people don't get attention from legislators and so they feel disenfranchised and that literally disenfranchises them. They then don't vote. The same goes for any group of people who feel like they're on the outs.


Nick Capodice: [00:24:35] So I guess the best medicine is to prove those numbers wrong.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:24:39] Yeah I couldn't agree more. Per usual. We're going to end this episode on the story of an historic midterm. Nick do you have one for us?


Nick Capodice: [00:24:49] I sure do.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:24:50] All right.


Nick Capodice: [00:24:51] This one. Go vote dammit.






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Midterm Edition: Propositions (aka Ballot Measures)

Regardless of how you choose to vote on Prop 1, you'll finish this episode knowing all about ballot measures. These are bills and amendments initiated by the people, and voted into law by the people. What could possibly go wrong when we sidestep our famously pedantic legislature??

Today's episode features our eminently quotable teacher and former California Assemblymember Cheryl Cook-Kallio, political correspondent at KQED Guy Marzorati, and frequent initiative proposer Tim Eyman. Cameo by Dan Cassino.

Have a civics question you want answered? Let us know in the form below and we'll try to answer it!


 Civics 101 is a production of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Midterm Edition: PROPOSITIONS

Nick Capodice: [00:00:01] If you're from the great state of Idaho you might have heard this.

[00:00:04] It's not just saving our tradition of horse racing. Proposition 1 is about Idaho job creation classroom funding real accountability and the Idaho sponsoring Prop 1 are donating 100 percent of net profits from their horseracing operations to a new charitable foundation.

[00:00:21] I work with horses all my life. Supporters of Prop 1 are running deceptive ads. Prop Wong is an unlimited expansion of gambling statewide. I know the people behind Prop 1 and it made a lot of promises to schools and the racing community. But they take 18 times more money. Than schools get.

Nick Capodice: [00:00:39] Hey Hannah

Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:42] Yes.

Nick Capodice: [00:00:43] Pop quiz hotshot.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:44] Okay.

Nick Capodice: [00:00:45] Yes or no on Prop 1.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:50] I don't know what Prop 1 is and I need more information if I'm gonna say.

Nick Capodice: [00:00:55] Who benefits, who benefits from Prop 1.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:58] Schools, right?

Nick Capodice: [00:01:04] 4h? I cannot explain to you what Prop 1 is. I'm Nick Capodice.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:01:10] And I'm Hannah McCarthy.

Nick Capodice: [00:01:11] This is Civics 101 the podcast refresher course on the basics of how our whole democracy works. So today we're going to be talking about propositions. Ballot measures. These are initiatives referendums and recall.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:01:25] So when you say propositions what are you talking about.

Nick Capodice: [00:01:30] Propositions is an umbrella term under which initiative referendum and recall fall. To be clear today we're not talking about legislatively referred constitutional amendments which all the states except for Delaware have.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:01:46] Hold up, what is up with Delaware.

Nick Capodice: [00:01:47] I don't know actually we're going have to put that in our state anomaly episode along with Nebraska's single house legislature.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:01:53] And our 400 seat House of Representatives.

Nick Capodice: [00:01:55] Yeah.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:01:56] Did I sound a little drunk when I said that/

Nick Capodice: [00:01:57] No it sounded perfect. First off ballot initiatives they only happen in 24 states. And when I told our midterm guru Dan Cassino from Fairleigh Dickinson University that I thought it was funny that New Hampshire didn't have initiatives. He said that.

Dan Cassino: [00:02:11] No it's about when your state constitution is written. With your state constitution written between about 1880 and 1915 you're going to have initiative referendum recall all that, if it wasn't written or wasn't revised during that period you're not going to have it.

Nick Capodice: [00:02:25] This was during the height of the Progressive Era when progressives were arguing that corporations monopolies and trusts were corrupting state legislatures and there was no way for the citizens voice to be heard. Ballot initiative gives them that voice. So many of you out there you're not going to see props on your ballot on Election Day. So for you this episode is going to make you wish you had them, or grateful that you don't. If you are from one of those 24 states. Chances are they are a massive part of your political landscape. But first we need to dissect what an initiative and a referendum are. Here's former California assembly member and teacher Cheryl Cook Kallio.

Cheryl Cook-Kallio: [00:03:06] The initiative and referendum process puts the ability for citizens to either initiate the word initiate a statute that can be passed that either becomes a bill or it might become an amendment to a state constitution which gives grassroots organizers a real advantage. So an initiative is new legislation initiated by the people.

Nick Capodice: [00:03:31] Yes and referendum is.

Cheryl Cook-Kallio: [00:03:33] Something that the legislature submits to the people in order for them to validate a law that they would like to pass. Oftentimes it is something that's controversial or it may be like a state constitution or a referendum could be a grassroots movement by citizens of a particular state or county or city to recall or to redo a bill that they don't want that was passed by their lawmaking body.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:04:04] So a referendum is either reworking or removing a bill that's already been passed by Congress.

Cheryl Cook-Kallio: [00:04:12] So this gave a lot of power to individual citizens as opposed to leaving it up to your representatives.

Nick Capodice: [00:04:19] And legislative referendum is when elected officials put the question to the people. What do you think. Should we pass this bill.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:04:27] Why on earth would Congress want the people's opinion instead of just working it out themselves.

Nick Capodice: [00:04:33] Well as we've learned in many episodes it's really hard to get bills through both houses of Congress. So if you're a legislator and there's a bill that you think doesn't have a chance of getting out of committee or going through a debate on the floor of the House or the Senate you can just throw it to the people for a vote and it becomes law.

Tim Eyman: [00:04:52] So yeah this is Tim Eyman, I'm part of a team that has done initiatives in Washington state in the last 20 years. And during that time we've managed the get 16 ballot measures on the ballot. During that period of time and voters have approved 10 of those and rejected 6. So we're batting over 500.

Nick Capodice: [00:05:12] Tim is a conservative and part of what appeals to him about this process is that it gives him a voice in a state that tends to lean pretty blue.

Tim Eyman: [00:05:21] Well the initiative process is allowing people died. And I think that that is very attractive to me. Frankly I just don't trust politicians to do the right thing. But the initiatives we focus on are really focused on limiting government power and taxes.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:05:40] OK that's initiative and referendum but what is recall.

Nick Capodice: [00:05:45] Ooh, recall is super interesting and super duper rare but I wanted to include it today. Here's another initiative expert Guy Marzorati; political correspondent from our friends at KQED in San Francisco.

Guy Marzorati: [00:05:56] Recalls are of actual politicians and elected officials. We had one a little more than a decade ago in the governor's office where the sitting governor was recalled by voters and so that again was a required signature drive. That was then placed on the ballot and the governor was recalled and a new governor was chosen in the same election.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:06:17] That the people just removed a governor.

Nick Capodice: [00:06:20] They did. Gray Davis was removed from office in 2003 mostly due to tax and budget issues. But this was the election when Arnold Schwarzenegger was sworn in as governor.

[00:06:29] But for the people to win politics as usual must lose.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:06:35] No impeachment process no trial in the Senate. Just the voice of the people.

Nick Capodice: [00:06:41] Yes though I should add only 19 US states have recall and there's only been three in U.S. history, two of which were successful.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:06:49] OK so that's recall. How about initiatives and referendums how did they start. Who can put one on the ballot.

Guy Marzorati: [00:06:55] It can be anyone. And you know you there's a process by which you submit the language to the state. And then after that language is reviewed you are allowed to start gathering signatures.

Nick Capodice: [00:07:07] Here's Tim Eyman again. This is the guy who's gotten 20 initiatives on the ballot in Washington state.

Tim Eyman: [00:07:12] Well it's it's really tough. You've got to somehow convince well over 300000 fellow citizens to sign a piece of paper to put that on the ballot and you have to do that in about three or four months. So it's an incredibly difficult process to be able to you know essentially start the entire campaign and get it up and running in such a short period of time.

Nick Capodice: [00:07:38] Just a quick check in Hannahm How are you feeling about initiatives so far?

Hannah McCarthy: [00:07:43] In the sense that we are a democracy for the people by the people, it sounds really great right?

Nick Capodice: [00:07:52] Well let's start by looking at those signatures.

[00:07:58] My name is Kathy from petition's unlimited. And we here today in this very very rough economy. And I got the job for you.

Guy Marzorati: [00:08:07] In California we often can see outside of supermarkets and you know places where a lot of people gather you'll see folks with clipboards with different initiatives that they are gathering signatures for.

[00:08:19] Make your own hours. This is great for a musician for an actor somebody just wants to make money on the side.

Guy Marzorati: [00:08:26] Many of those people who do that are paid to do it and it can be a lucrative business if say an initiative is running against the clock to qualify for a ballot. Maybe its proponents will pay a hefty fee for each signature that's gathered in order to make sure that the initiative proposal does get on the ballot.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:08:46] Hold on. It's not just passionate advocates getting signatures.

Nick Capodice: [00:08:50] Oh no. This is business big business.

[00:08:55] Enough valid signatures from registered voters and the measures make it into the November ballot.

[00:09:00] If you have the 13 or 12 petitions even one person to sign them all it's worth about forty dollars. So it's worth a lot of money.

[00:09:08] Some campaigns are paying as much as five dollars this year for a single signature.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:09:14] It's the person collecting signatures who gets the five dollars per signature.

Nick Capodice: [00:09:19] Yes. So they can make upwards of five hundred dollars a day.

Cheryl Cook-Kallio: [00:09:22] So there's no incentive for that person with a clipboard to tell you the truth about what you're signing. So if you're not doing your due diligence if you're not reading the initiative you know yourself and they have a whole bag of tricks they can walk up and they say you like puppies don't you. And you know this protects the puppies and oh yes I'm going to sign this because it protects the puppies only to find out that it kills kittens.

Guy Marzorati: [00:09:47] Their job is really just to get the signatures and get paid for it.

Nick Capodice: [00:09:51] As of October 17th 2018 Ballotpedia has tracked about one point four billion with a B dollars spent on contributions and expenditures towards ballot measures for these upcoming midterms.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:10:04] This is starting to dampen my enthusiasm for a citizen led democracy.

Nick Capodice: [00:10:12] Well let me just throw another wet log on the fire Hannah. Sometimes parties and corporations throw tons of money behind initiatives for other reasons.

Guy Marzorati: [00:10:25] Ballot initiatives sometimes are often just used to get people out to the polls. I mean we saw the example that this year in California with the gas tax repeal. This was a measure placed on the ballot with heavy funding from the state Republican Party. They spent a lot to get the signatures and get it qualified for the ballot but then stop spending as much. Once the measure actually qualified. And the reason was they really wanted this gas tax repeal on the ballot to get Republicans to the polls. They thought it would be a big driver of turnout that would help them in the governor's race. And even more importantly help them in really close congressional races. But as an actual measure they didn't really fund it once it was on the ballot to the same extent which made it seem like maybe it was more important to get it on there than to actually get it passed.

Nick Capodice: [00:11:11] So imagine for a second that we as a nation had initiative and referendum. And that the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade was up to the people to decide. Can you imagine the voter turnout for that election.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:11:27] I think it would be huge. Right. I mean that's one of the most divisive issues in the country if that were up to us for a vote. I think most able voters would turn out. But. How would you even write that on a ballot.

Nick Capodice: [00:11:44] I am very glad you asked because this brings me to another point since you're voting for ideas as opposed to just candidates, names on the ballot, there is a lot of attention on how these are phrased. Back in 2008 Cheryl Cook-Kallio she was teaching a high school class she called the most inclusive class she had seen.

Cheryl Cook-Kallio: [00:12:04] They had a gay straight alliance before other schools had them. The kids were very open about who they were.

Nick Capodice: [00:12:09] And this was when California was voting on Prop 8 which was about same sex marriage.

Cheryl Cook-Kallio: [00:12:13] We have an I Vote thing in California where students mimic the national election and they all voted against gay marriage. And my mouth flew open as did my entire We The People class and I immediately went to the ballot and looked at how it was worded and I said well they were all vote thought they were voting in favor of gay marriage. So how something is worded is extremely important. And there are lawyers spend their entire career figuring out how to word something so that it seems like one thing is as opposed to another.

Guy Marzorati: [00:12:47] The wording is such a politicized aspect of this whole ballot initiative conversation. So the wording is decided by the attorney general's office. And this you know can work very drastically for and against supporters of a ballot measure. Take this year with the gas tax repeal. Democrats control all statewide office in California which includes the attorney general's office. So what voters will see on their ballot does not say do you want to vote yes on a gas tax repeal. Instead the measure and the language at sea seems really tilted towards do you want to get rid of funding that has been dedicated to fix our roads to fund transportation which is what this increased gas tax went towards. So polling interestingly that has just asked people about their thoughts on the ballot measure by reading them the ballot language. You know the repeal is done a lot worse than if you ask people whether they support a repeal of the gas tax.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:13:51] Well what language actually made it onto the ballot.

Nick Capodice: [00:13:54] All right here's the first part for the Prop 6 summary: repeals a 2017 transportation law's tax and fee provisions that pay for repairs and improvements to local roads state highways and public transportation. Ballotpedia has this automatic formula that analyzes the readability of all of these measures. And it's called the Flesh Kinkaid grade level which is how many years of formal education you'd have to have in order to fully understand with confidence a ballot measure. So this one we just read that scores of 16.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:14:25] What does 16 mean.

Nick Capodice: [00:14:27] That means you need 16 years of formal education to comprehend. You need a college degree. And the one we played some ads for in the beginning are old horsea friend Prop 1 in Idaho.

[00:14:37] I work with horses all my life.

Nick Capodice: [00:14:40] 53 years of formal education to understand.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:14:44] Who besides a monk has 53 years of formal education.

Nick Capodice: [00:14:50] It's just it's just a formula that analyzes language. But let me but tell me how you'd vote on this. Ready?

[00:14:56] Yeah.

Nick Capodice: [00:14:56] An initiative amending Chapter 25 title 54 Idaho code contains findings and purposes MEND's definition of historical horse race adds new section authorizing historical horse race betting in certain locations where live or simulcast parimutuel horse race betting occurs specifies requirements for historical horse racing terminals declares such terminals not to be slot machines allocates revenue from historical horse race betting requires licensees to enter into agreements Horseman's groups prehistorical horse race purse money fund and State Treasury authorizes distribution by state races commission and between state treasurer refund monies direct state racing commission to promulgate implement rules declares and act effective upon voter approval and completion of voting canvass and provides for severability.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:15:31] Get out. Leave.

Nick Capodice: [00:15:34] My favorite words in this are parimutuel.

Nick Capodice: [00:15:36] So a lot of words, spellcheck was like don't you mean something else like three words in this the my spellcheck didn't catch

Hannah McCarthy: [00:15:43] What's the single thing I'm voting on like what's the big idea here. Because these are a million little things that don't mean a hell of a lot to me. I know nothing about horseracing.

Nick Capodice: [00:15:52] Yeah this is the sort of stuff that requires you to do the legwork you have to research each initiative before you vote. From what I can gather Prop 1 is about legalizing the use of video terminals for horse race betting.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:16:04] I would not have gotten that.

Nick Capodice: [00:16:06] And there's 11 of these in California alone. So if there's a call to action today it's to go to a Web site like ballotpedia.org, Put in your address and get a sample ballot before Election Day.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:16:19] Or let's say you're in the polling booth. Get out your phone. Look this stuff up if you need to.

Nick Capodice: [00:16:24] So let's hear Guy's final thoughts on the pros and cons of direct democracy.

Guy Marzorati: [00:16:31] Supporters of ballot initiatives say this is the best way to give citizens power to react to things that the legislature isn't dealing with. Examples of that in the past have been about property taxes. This year rent control issues that the legislature hasn't taken up for years. People are fed up and they feel like OK you didn't act on this. Now it's time for us to act on it. On the flip side when we talk about citizens initiative these often aren't brought to the ballot by you know some good citizen who suddenly thinks of it an idea that should be a law it's oftentimes interest groups unions corporations that feel like. You know they want to change a law. They couldn't do it through the legislature. They don't want to negotiate about it. They want to just port forward kind of a yes or no idea and they're willing to spend heavily to make it happen.

Guy Marzorati: [00:17:19] That's you know how does the process I guess has taken on more of a cynical aspect.

Nick Capodice: [00:17:25] And if it seems that people are a bit cynical of initiatives I want to close by saying that yes, corporations and political parties have massive influence on what initiatives make it to the ballot. That said, these are also the issues that elected officials have been avoiding, that they wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole. Issues like marijuana legalization. Abortion. Same sex marriage. The death penalty.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:17:54] So knowing that the language might be designed to purposefully obfuscate the meaning. I feel empowered to do research and also to take with a grain of salt what I'm reading in that voting booth it's a little bit like those crosswords you do Nick where the clue contains the answer but it's not immediately apparent you have to think outside the box to get to it.

Nick Capodice: [00:18:21] The cryptic crossword.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:18:22] Yeah.

Nick Capodice: [00:18:23] And I think it's really exciting they just Prota a lot of there's a lot of trust in the voter in these issues. If the voters all do their work. Then these can be a really cool thing. If they don't they're at the whims of people who have lots of money.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:18:38] Right.

Nick Capodice: [00:18:39] So you gonna move to California.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:18:42] No, I like the rain.

Nick Capodice: [00:18:44] Before we go we have our final snapshot of a famous midterm from U.S. history delivered by former NHPR reporter current afternoon host at Wisconsin Public Radio. Author of dead presidents, Mr. Perfect, Brady Carlson. What mid term are we talking about today Brady?

Brady Carlson: [00:19:01] We're talking about the midterm of 2002 and the lesson from this midterm is that the rules of American politics only apply until they don't.

Brady Carlson: [00:19:16] We know that what typically happens in midterms is that the president's party loses seats in Congress in the midterm after the president is first elected. They don't always vote for the opposition party to have control of Congress. But at the very least the president's party ends up with fewer seats in Congress after that midterm. That said the political picture in 2002 was complicated. We were only a couple of years removed from the presidential election of 2000. That's the one where Republican George W. Bush won the Electoral College but lost the popular vote and there was the highly controversial Supreme Court decision about recounts in the state of Florida.

[00:19:57] Neither the sanctity of the ballots nor the integrity of the election. Has been compromised. And that the election results....

Brady Carlson: [00:20:08] Republicans had a majority in the House of Representatives. It was a straightforward majority. The Senate was anything but straightforward 2000 elections have left the chamber with 50 Republican senators and 50 Democratic and Democratic aligned senators. So the vice president was on the hook to potentially break all these ties.

Brady Carlson: [00:20:26] And then after five months of that split Republican senator switched parties and the Democrats had a very narrow majority.

Senator Jim Jeffords: [00:20:33] I have found myself in crushingly odds with the Republican philosophy and more in line with the philosophy of the Democratic Party.

Brady Carlson: [00:20:43] So leading up to this midterm we had one chamber of Congress with a Republican majority one with a Democratic majority a president who had only narrowly won an election. So this is about as divided as divided government gets which in and of itself is very complicated.

Brady Carlson: [00:20:59] But of course the most complicated piece of the midterm in 2002 was that it came about a year after the attacks of September 11 2001.

Geoge W Bush: [00:21:09] I became something that no president should ever want to be a wartime president.

Brady Carlson: [00:21:16] There were other issues at the time. There had been a big tax cut bill in Congress. There was the No Child Left Behind education law.

Brady Carlson: [00:21:22] The U.S. economy had kind of become sluggish but the single big issue in this midterm was security. The U.S. was already launching a military effort in Afghanistan. President Bush had called for Congress to authorize a new military campaign in Iraq. And I had forgotten until I looked it up just how close to the election the Iraq war vote took place it was in October 2002 so it was under a month before Election Day. Republicans in Congress by and large backed the president, said you need to go into Iraq. The Democrats who had mostly opposed the president on the economy and other domestic issues ended up split on the Iraq vote. A lot of rank and file Democrats opposed the war vote but their leaders in the House and Senate as well as some very high profile senators like Hillary Clinton and John Kerry voted in favor of the resolution.

Senator Hillary Clinton: [00:22:13] Any vote that might lead to war should be hard but I cast it with conviction.

Brady Carlson: [00:22:21] Now obviously that became a very consequential vote for a lot of reasons a lot of people changed their minds about that vote in the years to come. But if you look at it purely through the lens of a midterm election campaign you have a lot of high profile Democrats who are basically siding with the Republican administration on the top issue of the campaign. And all of that ends up leading to a midterm outcome which is far from the usual. There's an important caveat about that rule that the president's party loses seats in the president's first midterm. And that is that you can usually track how big those losses are going to be for the president's party based on the president's approval rating at the time. So take GeorgeW. Bush's predecessor Bill Clinton in his first midterm election. His approval rating was like 43 percent. And so Democrats lost pretty big. They lost control of Congress. In 2002. George W. Bush's approval rating was 63 percent.

Geoge W Bush: [00:23:23] We choose freedom and the dignity of every life.

Brady Carlson: [00:23:34] It wasn't that long before it was even higher in the immediate aftermath of the September 11th attacks. So you have a president with relatively high approval ratings long term changes in the country's political alignment and an election where security and terrorism are top issues in a way that they usually aren't. And it wasn't that all of that ended up turning into a landslide for Republicans in 2002. It was still pretty divided. If you look at the raw vote totals but the races that might have swung one way or another determine the outcome wound up swinging in the administration's favor. So in the end Republicans gained five seats in the house the game two in the Senate. So they wound up having majorities in both chambers of Congress.

Brady Carlson: [00:24:15] Again this is the first time that the president's party had gained seats in the president's first midterm election since the 1930s.

[00:24:28] He told me to come down here and tell you something. Tell me to come down here and tell you that two years from now he wants all y'all on his team.

Brady Carlson: [00:24:47] The lesson here is that there are no guarantees in U.S. elections. There are trends and some of them happen so often that they might almost feel like political laws. But to assume that voters will go a certain way in an election just because voters have usually gone that certain way in the past is to forget the wisdom of one of our great philosophers baseball star Yogi Berra who said it ain't over till it's over.

Nick Capodice: [00:25:18] That'll do for this our penultimate episode on the midterms. Stay tuned for the next and final one. Today's Episode is produced by me Nick Capodice and Hannah McCarthy.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:25:29] Our staff includes Jacqui Helbert and Ben Henry our executive producer is Erika Janik. Maureen McMurray believes in parimutuel promulgation.

Nick Capodice: [00:25:37] Music from today's episode is from Geographer, Scott Graton, Chris Zabriskie, Poddington Bear and Blue Dot Sessions.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:25:45] Civics 101 is a production of an NHPR, New Hampshire Public Radio.




Made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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This podcast is a production of New Hampshire Public Radio.

Midterm Edition: Campaigning

How do you stand out in a sea of lawn signs, or make yourself heard above the roar of a thousand ads? Campaigns are hard enough when the whole country is watching -- so what does it take to get the vote when most people couldn't care less? That's the mystery of the midterm campaign. We asked some experts to help us solve it.

In this episode, you'll hear from Inside Elections reporter Leah Askarinam, CNN political analyst Bakari Sellers, politics professor Barry Burden and state house candidate Maile Foster. Plus, Brady Carlson walks us through a midterm of revolutionary proportions. 

Episode Segments

Have a civics question you want answered? Let us know in the form below and we'll try to answer it!


ENOTE: This transcript was generated using an automated transcription service, and may contain typographical errors.


Civics 101

Episode: Campaigning


Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:00] Nick, you ready?


Nick Capodice: [00:00:01] Yeah.


[00:00:05] (ad archival)


Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:41] Relentless.


Nick Capodice: [00:00:41] Yeah this is some of the most depressing audio I've ever heard.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:44] Yeah it's it's a bummer. Now listen to this.


[00:00:51] (ad archival)


Nick Capodice: [00:01:08] Hope and action. Anger.


[00:01:11] Yeah.


[00:01:12] We have to do something better for.


Nick Capodice: [00:01:14] Things are going to change.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:01:16] It's like a montage in a movie it's like when things turn around.


Nick Capodice: [00:01:20] That's my favorite part of every movie. Yes the rocky montage.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:01:24] So you better right?


Nick Capodice: [00:01:25] Yeah I do feel a lot better.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:01:25] That's how you're supposed to feel.


Nick Capodice: [00:01:28] So what's up with this emotional rollercoaster.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:01:31] Well Nick that is the sound of someone trying to convince you to vote for them in 2018. A campaign ad that doubles as a heart wrenching autobiography The story of a youth who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and grew into a grateful and nurturing adult but remains frustrated by the way the world works and wants to do something about it.


Nick Capodice: [00:01:53] Heavy stuff.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:01:55] It is heavier than you can imagine. These ads which look pretty expensive by the way are just one teeny tiny piece of the campaign puzzle and that puzzle is even more puzzling in a midterm election.


Nick Capodice: [00:02:10] Did you solve the puzzle.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:02:11] Absolutely not. But I did talk to a lot of smart people who have because that is how we do it because this is civics 101. The podcast refresher course on how our democracy works. I'm Hannah McCarthy.


Nick Capodice: [00:02:26] And I'm Nick Capodice.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:02:28] And today we are talking money shoe leather and grass roots. Today we are talking campaigns. The sound of campaigning is in constant flux. In the 1960s there was a lot of just repeating candidate names over and over.


[00:02:51] Nixon. Nixon. Nixon Nixon.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:02:52] In the 80s you had a lot of stare at the camera and keep it serious going on.


[00:02:57] Kansas agriculture needs our support. I'm asking for yours on November 6th.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:03:03] And the Hollywood ish melancholy of today will probably be replaced by a whole new sound four years from now numbers shift tactics shift campaign finance laws shift but the principles of campaigning, the bare necessities those are locked in your state constitution.


Maile Foster: [00:03:22] My name is Maile Foster. I'm a small business owner and single mom and I'm running for State House District 18 as an independent. And that's the central Colorado Springs area.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:03:38] A while back Miley was approached by an organization called Unite America.


[00:03:43] Imagine a government that unites rather than divides us one that takes action on issues.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:03:48] They identify independents in various states and then try to get them to run for office.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:03:53] You know people love saying I'm not a politician in their campaign ads?


[00:03:57] I'm a businessman not a politician. Kip's not a politician. He's not a politician of convenience. Here my politician endorsements. None.


[00:04:07] Maile is very much not a politician. She's a financial adviser and before that she worked for IBM. So I wanted to know where someone like her begins after agreeing to something like this. You know you wake up the next day what do you do first.


Maile Foster: [00:04:25] Well it's this big thick three ring binder to do list. That's what it is.


Nick Capodice: [00:04:31] A binder. You mean like a literal binder there's an instruction manual on how to run campaigns?


Hannah McCarthy: [00:04:37] Yeah. The people from Unite America just shipped her this hulking how to manual.


Maile Foster: [00:04:41] Well I will just start on this to do list.


Maile Foster: [00:04:47] Oh we have to file paperwork with the secretary of state each have to form a committee and get a tax ID number. I mean basically start from scratch starting the business almost. And but there's additional financial and regulatory reporting requirements because I have that all spelled out for me is not too hard to just start going down the list. What you gotta do to kick off the campaign.


Nick Capodice: [00:05:17] So you just file some paperwork with the secretary of state. It's just that easy?


Hannah McCarthy: [00:05:21] Actually there is one major step that had to come first.


Maile Foster: [00:05:25] And so right from day one it was like May 17 was the first day I can go get signatures. And so that very first day I was out talking to people to get signatures to get on the ballot.


Nick Capodice: [00:05:39] So signatures so people have to go out and vote for her before they vote for her.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:05:43] Yeah this is called Nomination by Petition and just for the record ballot access laws vary from state to state. So if you're planning to run you should give your election officials a call. But in Miley's case since she was going independent she needed at least 400 signatures to get on the ballot. State Senate requires 600U.S. House requires 800. It's a cool thousand for U.S. Senate. The rules are different for major and minor parties as well.


Nick Capodice: [00:06:11] So Maile got her 400?


Hannah McCarthy: [00:06:12] Actually. She scored 637 signatures.


Nick Capodice: [00:06:16] I mean that seems like an awful lot of work just to get started campaigning. But once you do that what's the next step?


Maile Foster: [00:06:22] Well you need someone to help you manage finances. You need a Treasurer you need someone to help you with volunteers and help recruiting volunteers. You need someone to build a Web site.


Nick Capodice: [00:06:34] So people so for even for a small statehouse seat you need a whole team?


Hannah McCarthy: [00:06:37] Yeah it's kind of amazing to think of how many operations like this are going on around the country during an election year. And you know even with volunteers this stuff costs money which means on top of her day job Maile has to put in hours every day making calls and hoofing it from one door to the next. Introducing herself and asking for money.


Maile Foster: [00:06:59] The first priority of course was raising money because I made a choice of. Obviously I'm not going to get money from a political party because I don't want to be beholden to a political party.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:07:11] I should point out here that the group that recruited Maile does help to fund campaigns. It's a super PAC registered with the FEC specifically designed to be nonpartisan but they don't cover all expenses and Miley has to do a lot of legwork on her own. She actually told me that she outraised all of her opponents.


Nick Capodice: [00:07:30] So that's not bad for someone who's never campaigned before. I'm still trying to figure out what a campaign actually looks like for a candidate who's not in office. Fundraising, courting voters, creating a platform. How does that work?


Maile Foster: [00:07:42] Well a typical day is I'm up at 530. I'm working my day job at maybe by 7 or 730 which didn't I didn't quite used to be up that early. I'm just having the extended day a little bit.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:08:01] So Miley is up. She does her financial advising thing and then.


Maile Foster: [00:08:05] I try to go into campaign mode about 3:00.


Maile Foster: [00:08:13] At least probably an hour a day raising money and then either phone calls or coordinating Fund-Raising events and things like that. Now I'm really trying to meet people especially people in my district to understand what I need to do to earn their vote. I learned something about myself is that it was hard for me to do more than two hours of walking when it was 90 degrees.


[00:08:44] Even with all these advances and changes that have morphed the political landscape since say, the "I like Ike" era.


[00:08:51] U. Like Ike, I like Ike everybody likes Ike!


Nick Capodice: [00:08:53] It sounds like campaigning is pretty analog.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:08:58] Well voters need to see you right. They need to know your face. They need to hear your voice especially if they have no idea who you are. That means thousands of candidates around the country flooding the Internet television radio your mailbox your doorway with their face and their message.


Leah Askarinam: [00:09:25] So a lot of the kind of work that goes into a midterm campaign on the challengers end is just making sure that voters know who they are.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:09:36] This is Leah.


Leah Askarinam: [00:09:37] I'm Leah Askarinam. I'm a reporter and analyst for Inside Elections with Nathan Gonzales. We provide nonpartisan analysis of gubernatorial and federal races.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:09:48] Leah makes clear that even step 1, making sure voters know who you are cannot happen without a lot of cash.


Leah Askarinam: [00:09:57] Without money nothing else really matters.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:10:00] And that once you've got that money it's a matter of appealing to voters and in a midterm election that often means appealing to a country that wants to punish its president.


Nick Capodice: [00:10:11] This comes back to the referendum on the president idea.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:10:14] Exactly and we get into that a bit more in our episode on Why Midterms Matter so make sure to check that out. Anyway let's say there's a Democrat in the Oval Office.


Leah Askarinam: [00:10:23] So you'll see candidates try to say listen I don't like the Democratic Party either.


[00:10:27] I'm Not a Democrat for the powerful. I'll be a governor who empowers you.


Leah Askarinam: [00:10:31] I don't like Nancy Pelosi either.


[00:10:33] But I've said from day one that I won't vote for Nancy Pelosi.


Leah Askarinam: [00:10:36] I like the old Democratic Party and I want to help you the workers.


[00:10:41] It's time we acknowledge that not all Democrats are the same.


Leah Askarinam: [00:10:45] And I want to make sure that you have health care and that you have a good paying job.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:10:49] So it's like when we think about the rules of politicking about sticking to your party's message, Midterms are like this alternate universe in which a party loyalist might end up campaigning against the tenets of their party. And the same goes for voters. With this referendum in the air, some become swayable.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:11:10] So people who are registered Democrats because they are Democrats in the 1980s who have since voted pretty much exclusively for Republicans, to get them to kind of come back to their party. And that's also includes some independents people who maybe formerly were Democrats felt that the Democratic Party abandoned them but felt that the Republican Party wasn't the best fit either.


Nick Capodice: [00:11:35] This may sound cynical but it sounds like the midterms are a perfect opportunity to cash in on disillusionment to say like, I hear you, this party is a real mess. It's been a real bummer. But you can vote for me because I'm not one of those Democrats right? I'm a kinda Democrat you wish still exist. I'm your I'm your grandfather's Democrat.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:11:56] Or you go the route of Maile Foster and run independent right, which means you can campaign on fiscal responsibility and education like Maile is without those commitments carrying the weight of political affiliation. And Maile by the way is an example of one of these kind of soul searching voters. She was a Republican for most of her life and then registered Democrat for a little while before she finally became an independent.


Nick Capodice: [00:12:21] Is there a certain demographic of the population who's more or less likely to be swayed by this independent campaign?


Hannah McCarthy: [00:12:27] I think it varies from year to year along with the political climate. But for example in this year's midterm there has been a lot of attention on suburban white educated women.


Leah Askarinam: [00:12:40] And so you'll see Democrats in other districts try to get those voters. So they are trying to make Republican suburban Republicans feel comfortable not voting for the Republican Party.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:12:53] You might see this with an independent or a moderate Democrat candidate who can sway voters with lets say conservative ideas combined with a strong sense of checks and balances.


Nick Capodice: [00:13:04] But I've seen a lot of these ads and it seems like the strategy is a little less nuanced, like a Democrat who appeals to gun rights activists by shooting a gun the entire time that they're on camera.


[00:13:14] And I approve this message. (bang bang bang)


Hannah McCarthy: [00:13:21] I've seen a lot of those ads.


Nick Capodice: [00:13:22] So many guns in ads!


[00:13:22] And I'll take dead aim at the cap and trade bill.


[00:13:26] I'm a straight shooter.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:13:31] The tactic that you take all depends on where you're running and what pollsters have dug up on your community's demographics and ideas. It's a pretty delicate balance.


Bakari Sellers: [00:13:42] Well I'll just tell you that all elections are tough but a midterm election is a little bit more difficult depending on which party you are part of.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:13:53] This is Bakari Sellers, former state rep from South Carolina currently a lawyer and a CNN commentator.


Bakari Sellers: [00:13:59] If you are a party of the individual in the White House usually you have to run against Washington D.C. as we say and sometimes that gets kind of difficult. You want to stay away from the national politics and just run your own race if you're in the opposition party or if you're a Democrat in 2018. What you want to do is run against the White House and your opponent. If you're running during the mid-term election in 2010 what you saw was many Democrats some Democrats even ran against the Affordable Care Act. Many Democrats didn't want Barack Obama campaigning in their district. You're starting to see a lot of that. Or you're seeing a lot of that in 2018 with Donald Trump.


Nick Capodice: [00:14:35] Seriously so some Democrats in 2010 called up Obama and they were like would you mind just staying away from Nebraska this time of year.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:14:43] Well if the midterm is almost always a referendum on the president right then distancing yourself from the president might be the safer bet in some states. I talked to a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin Madison who got a little deeper into this idea of you know running your own race. This is Barry Burden.


Barry Burden: [00:15:03] So members of the president's party tend to want to make elections about local issues and about them as people so they want to emphasize what political scientists call the personal vote reminding constituents in the district who they are as an individual often kind of identifying with constituents reminding them that hey I grew up here or I share values with you or I've been working for you in Washington where I share the same goals as you so I'm not really part of that Washington establishment. Lots of members of Congress and challengers actually run for Congress by running against it. They criticize the institution and try to convince voters that they will be the ones to go to Washington and help clean up the mess.


Nick Capodice: [00:15:45] So in a midterm election we're seeing personal vote versus the national vote?


Barry Burden: [00:15:51] Democrats say in 2018 would very much like this to be a national referendum and to bring in lots of members of their party so to create a kind of wave or tide or whatever metaphor you like whereas members of the president's party Republicans this year want to insulate themselves from the tide and build a kind of levee or life preserver or something so they can weather the storm.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:16:11] In these uncertain waters. You can think of the president as either your buouy, or the cement shoes dragging you to the bottom. The party not affiliated with the president swims toward what's going on nationally while the party represented by the president might do better staying far away from the shore where it's safe.


Nick Capodice: [00:16:34] So what is the president's job during a midterm in terms of campaigning? Because he's got some people who are trying to steer clear of his messaging and policies and there's others who are on the attack against it.


Barry Burden: [00:16:45] It's a delicate dance for a president in a midterm they want obviously to help their party keep their party's seat share in the legislature if not grow it or minimize the losses. They will do a lot of fundraising and some of that is out of public view. So they're doing private fundraisers gathering millions of dollars and then trying to distribute that to members of their party who could use the funds who are really in some close races and would benefit from some additional campaign money.


Nick Capodice: [00:17:14] OK so the president is using his position of power to generate some cash flow even if he isn't straight up campaigning for candidates in his party.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:17:22] Right. And there are areas of the country where it's totally helpful for the president to campaign but he's got to be strategic.


Barry Burden: [00:17:31] In terms of going out on the campaign trail and giving stump speeches. They're going to be careful about that. They don't want to go into places where they're unpopular and they might create kind of a backlash and remind voters that the candidate in that state or district who's from their party is also linked to the president and that might kind of amplify the penalty that that party faces. So you know they will often deploy to safe districts where they can raise a lot of money and help somebody who's on their side.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:17:59] So here's the deal. There are plenty of places in the country that are solidly overwhelmingly for the president and those districts matter. But to me they're kind of the whitebread of the midterm elections. They're predictable they're the safe bet. If you want to understand what makes midterms unique, what gives them a personality all their own, look to the districts where things are up in the air. A midterm election takes a swing state a swing town and truly tests the mettle of candidates in that area.


Nick Capodice: [00:18:34] How is this different from every other election year. We're always looking at swing states to see how things are going to shake out.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:18:39] The big difference here is turnout. It's lower in a midterm year than it is in a presidential election year and fewer voters mean higher stakes when it comes to campaign messaging especially because the people turning out to vote tend to be driven to the polls by strong conviction. If you can swing the electorate in your direction in a midterm, especially if that direction is away from their typical status quo, then you've accomplished something huge. The candidate who manages to pull that off has played the midterm campaign game to a tee. And if enough candidates do just that it can change everything like a peaceful revolution coordinated and precise campaigning in a midterm election can shake state sometimes even Federal Congress and flip control. This doesn't happen often by the way.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:19:32] It takes some crazy political will and circumstance but it is possible in the past three decades we saw this in 1994.


[00:19:41] Democrats lost the house they've controlled for all but four years since 1932 they lost the Senate they controlled for all but six of the previous 40 years.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:19:51] 2006.


[00:19:52] Good evening. Call it a revolution or a repeal. Democrats are now in charge in the house they needed 15 seats to retake the majority.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:20:01] And 2010.


[00:20:03] Republicans will take control of the House of Representatives.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:20:13] It is really hard to pull off a total switch of power changing who holds the reins at the very top. But with the right political climate and some intense campaigning midterm elections can change everything.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:20:37] Before we go I want to take you inside of one of those crazy landscape changing elections of the past. It's considered a full blown political revolution and Brady Carlson host and reporter at Wisconsin Public Radio is here to break it down which midterm are we talking Brady


Brady Carlson: [00:20:55] This is the midterm of nineteen ninety four and if modern Americans know about any midterm in particular, 1994 is often the one that they know about. Well the first player is Bill Clinton. He was in the middle of his first term as president the first Democrat to win the White House in 12 years.


Brady Carlson: [00:21:16] The man from Hope.


Bill Clinton: [00:21:17] Now I was born in a little town called Hope Arkansas. Three months after my father died.


Brady Carlson: [00:21:23] And everybody talks today about how charismatic he was and how popular he was and that wasn't necessarily the case when he first got started. He ended his term as a relatively popular president. But in the early going he ran into lots of roadblocks.


Brady Carlson: [00:21:45] Remember the first few issues that he made policy moves on. Like the expansive health care proposal.


[00:21:52] Our health care is too uncertain and too expensive.


[00:21:55] The Brady bill so he's adding waiting periods and background checks on guns.


[00:21:59] The Brady bill is not just symbolism.


Brady Carlson: [00:22:02] From lifting the ban on gay service members.


Bill Clinton: [00:22:05] The debate over whether to lift the ban on homosexuals in the military has to put it mildly sparked a great deal of interest over the last few days.


Brady Carlson: [00:22:13] These were all big pushback items at the time and even the things that he did manage to get through like he got approval for the North American Free Trade Agreement NAFTA that wasn't massively popular with the Democratic base. And this is all at a time when there's also talk about like the Whitewater real estate scandal, continued rumors of womanizing,.


[00:22:39] What she calls a 12 year affair you... That allegation is false.


Brady Carlson: [00:22:46] So these are all things that are working not in Clinton's favor classic ingredients in that midterm losses stew. And at the same time you have Republicans launching this very well organized well funded and national campaign to win seats in Congress. This is where they launched what was known as the contract with America. It was a set of bills. They said if you choose us in the midterms here's what we'll do in office.


[00:23:14] We are going to get to the final recorded votes in the first 100 days on every item.


Brady Carlson: [00:23:24] And a lot of opposition parties will just campaign against whoever's in power. And this is a case where the opposition party was also offering an agenda.


Brady Carlson: [00:23:35] The Democrats had majorities in both houses they had had a majority in the house for decades the Senate had gone back and forth a few times but there were pretty substantial majorities for the Democrats in both chambers at that point. 1994 was the biggest loss by the party in power in a generation.


[00:23:58] That Capital is a very different building this morning it is in Republican hands solidly in Republican hands.


Brady Carlson: [00:24:07] Democrats lost 52 House seats eight Senate seats and so was the first time Republicans had majorities in both chambers of Congress since 1950. For the Speaker of the house was one of the Democrats who lost his seat. And at the state level it was big for Republicans too. So their candidates were beating prominent national Democrats like the then governor of New York Mario Cuomo. People know his son Andrew Cuomo as governor today or the then governor of Texas Ann Richards who lost her position to the Republican challenger who was a then baseball executive named George W. Bush.


[00:24:48] I like to go to ball games and I try to you know lend a sense of the kind of fans owner.


Brady Carlson: [00:24:53] And so what happened was the Republicans led by the new speaker of the House Newt Gingrich of Georgia started talking about this election in terms of a Republican revolution. That people weren't just repudiating a first term president. This was a case where the American people had chosen a new majority party and they wanted a new course for American politics. Things were going to be different from then on. And for a while it actually sounded a little bit like that was what was going to happen. I remember a couple of months after that midterm there was a press conference from President Clinton and he responded to one of the reporters questions by basically saying yes everybody is paying attention to Speaker Gingrich and the Republicans. But I'm still relevant. I'm the president. I still have something to add to this.


Bill Clinton: [00:25:46] The president is relevant here especially an activist president and the fact that I am willing to work with the Republicans.


Brady Carlson: [00:25:52] What an extraordinary thing to happen that the president of the United States has to remind you that he's relevant.


Brady Carlson: [00:26:00] Well this was the catch that Republicans had become convinced that they had won midterms because of the Contract With America that voters had chosen them and that because of that voters were choosing their policy agenda. And some voters were of course but not all of them. I mean a midterm is still a midterm. Even if Republicans offered policy agenda and offered a contract with America offered legislation there were still a lot of people who may have voted for that party's candidates who are really just mad at the new president and wanted to balance out his power.


Brady Carlson: [00:26:42] And so the Republican majorities as they were starting to put some of this legislation out there, the bills to change welfare programs the bill change taxes, they started to see pushback to those policy plans just like the Clinton administration had seen pushed back against its plans. And at the same time that you're seeing that opposition President Clinton who is still relevant as he said found his political footing again he had tack to the left when he started and that didn't work. So he tacked back toward the center. He basically coopted some of the more popular parts of the Contract with America and very vocally criticized and campaigned against the less popular ones. So he had rebranded himself at the same time that the Republicans had tried to write him off. TheU.S. economy had started to improve. And so you have this rapidly changing political climate again. And so two years after Bill Clinton had basically been written off by a lot of people he was winning re-election.


Bill Clinton: [00:27:54] Tonight we celebrate the miracle of America. Tomorrow. We agreed on and began our work anew.


Nick Capodice: [00:28:06] Thanks for listening to Civics 101. There is a whole lot more where that came from in our series on the midterms. Make sure to become obsessed with it as we are.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:28:15] Today's episode was produced by me Hannah McCarthy with Nick Capodice and Jacqui Helbert. Erika Janik is our executive producer.


Nick Capodice: [00:28:22] Maureen McMurray is a straight shooter all the way.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:28:24] If you want more Civics 101 or you've got a burning question about how this whole crazy democratic experiment actually works we have got a Web site for that civics101podcast.org. You Can also follow us on Facebook or Twitter @civics101pod.


Nick Capodice: [00:28:40] Music in this episode is by Diamond Ortiz Poddington Bear Jahzaar Dan Liebowitz and our old friends Blue Dot sessions.


[00:28:48] Civics 101 is a production of new Hampshire Public Radio.





Made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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This podcast is a production of New Hampshire Public Radio.

Midterm Edition: House v Senate

Two houses, both alike in...well, many things.  But oh so different in many others. We go from absolute basics to the philosophical differences that exist in the Legislative branch. This episode features the opinions of former staffers from both chambers (Andrew Wilson and Justin LeBlanc) a former member of the CA assembly (Cheryl Cook-Kallio) a CNN political analyst (Bakari Sellers) and the inimitable Political Science professor from Farleigh Dickenson, Dan Cassino.

Also, Brady Carlson tells the tale of the biggest loss in midterm history, though we did get a federal holiday out of the deal.

Episode Segments

Have a civics question you want answered? Let us know in the form below and we'll try to answer it!


 NOTE: This transcript was generated using an automated transcription service, and may contain typographical errors.


Civics 101

House v Senate


Archival Audio:  Mr. President, Mr President I call my amendment per the order. The court will report the amendment...


Hannah McCarthy: Nick, What is going on why are you making me listen to this?


Nick Capodice: Ok this is from a youtube video from 2009 and it’s called Senate Chaos. Senator Bernie Sanders from VT he’s just proposed an amendment to a healthcare bill, and as usually happens,  he asks the amendment be considered as read.  Since senators usually get these bills and amendments in advance, there’s no need to read them aloud.


Archival Audio: (I object, objection is heard)


Nick Capodice: Alright, Right there, Senator Tom Coburn from Oklahoma (I object) objects.  So the clerk has to read the whole thing aloud. It’s 767 pages. That would take over 14 hours. After two hours of reading, Sanders withdraws the amendment. Alright, Listen to this.


Archival audio: And had the courage to change from green to red or red to green! (chants of ‘Shame, shame, shame!)


Hannah McCarthy: Whoah, what is going on


Nick Capodice: What’s going on Hannah is the House of Representatives. Such a magical place.


Nick Capodice: Welcome to Civics 101 I’m Nick Capodice

Hannah McCarthy: And I’m Hannah McCarthy


Nick Capodice: And we’re continuing our series on the upcoming midterms. Today? Something many Americans are going to see on their ballot, and a question I’ve wanted to ask since day 1. What is the difference between the House and the Senate?  


They mostly have the exact same powers, with a few exceptions which we’ll talk about, but they both propose bills that might  become laws. Bills can start in either the house or the senate, but they have to be passed by both houses before they go to the president to be signed into law. Though to really understand their key differences, we need to go back...through the annals of history.  

Hannah McCarthy: Please don’t do this.


Nick Capodice :  Oh ho, it appears we’re at the old City Tavern in Philadelphia in 1787, Hannah!


Hannah McCarthy: Please


Nick Capodice:  Why is that James Madison over there? The Sage of Montpelier?


Archival: Yes but ours will be different. Since our plan expands the powers of congress, we will check that power by dividing it into two houses; an upper house, and a lower house.


Hannah McCarthy: What is that from?


Nick Capodice: You’ve never seen A More Perfect Union, the bread and butter of the 8th grade social studies class?


Nick Capodice:Ok, fine. Forget it. Scrap it. But What I’m tryin’ to get at is, During the great debates at the constitutional convention, there was this huge question of representation. Who should make our laws? How many people? Should the big states have more power, because they have a bigger population? Or should all states have equal representation? To make a long story short, we’ve ended up with both. We have a two house Government. A bicameral legislature.  The names can be kind of tricky though. Here’s teacher and former California State Assembly member Cheryl Cook Kallio


Cheryl Cook-Kallio: And so Congress is technically both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Members of the Lower House, the House of Representatives have always been addressed as Congress Members, and members of the Upper House have been addressed as Senator.  


Hannah McCarthy: So a senator is technically a congressperson, but you would never call them that.


Nick Capodice: Yeah, no, and the senate is technically one of the ‘houses’ in congress, but when we say ‘the House’ we mean the house of Representatives.


Hannah McCarthy: I’m glad we got that out of the way I have always wondered.


Cheryl Cook-Kallio: the Framers created a two house legislature in order to make sure that the needs of the people as well as the states were addressed. The House of Representatives, the length of term is shorter it's every two years. It's a more frantic place. It takes on a sense of urgency. The Senate on the other hand is up every six years.


Nick Capodice: Length of term is a major thing that differentiates the house and the senate. The next key difference is the number of members. Our current House has 435 members apportioned by state population; California has 53 congresspeople, we in NH have 2. And the senate has 100, two from each state.


Dan Cassino: The founders were trying to give the public some power for trying to have some element of democracy. The problem is they didn't trust the people as far as they could throw them.


Nick Capodice: This is Dan Cassino, political science professor at Farleigh Dickinson University


Dan Cassino: They didn't like the people at all. They even called democracy mob-ocracy because they don't like the idea of the people actually running anything. The reason we have the House of Representatives is to give the people a voice but to make sure that voice can't actually do anything. The House is supposed to be representative of the people but as far as the founders are concerned the people the United States were kinda like the people of Springfield and The Simpsons;




Dan Cassino: They're ready to jump on any bandwagon with pitchforks and torches and protest against anything. And we've seen this repeatedly throughout American history. In the early 19th century. We had the first major third party in American politics the anti-Masonic party, a party devoted entirely to a conspiracy theory that Masons were murdering people in upstate New York dumping the bodies, then masonically-oriented police and judges were covering the whole thing up.


Hannah McCarthy: That was their sole platform? Not liking the Freemasons?


Dan Cassino: That seems a little ridiculous except those folks into Masonic party won a bunch of seats and statehouses and even won a bunch of seats in the House of Representatives. So why does it matter? Well the Founders saw this. They thought this would happen. So what they did was they made it so the house or reserves couldn't really do anything. House of Representatives is subject to the whims of the people. So if anti-Masonic party is really popular for two years, guess what they can take some seats in the House. But if they took every seat that was up for them in the Senate they could never control more than a third of the Senate. The House is there to represent the whims of the people. The Senate is there to make sure that the people can't  actually get anything done.  Now that's inefficient of course. But that's exactly the way the founders set things up. The people can pass whatever they want in the house and it'll die in the Senate.



Hannah McCarthy: So it sounds like Dan is saying the senate is...should I say superior? Superior to the house?

Nick Capodice:I don’t know! I mean, the house does get some bills out there. I’ve gotta be fair, but Dan told me that number it’s like 9%.

Hannah McCarthy: Wow

Nick Capodice: And most of them are pretty uncontroversial bills.

Hannah McCarthy: So like naming a holiday or something like that

Nick Capodice: Yeah. And in the Senate honestly it’s not too much better right now, it’s about 15% of bills proposed in the Senate become law. But back in the 60s it was much higher, over half of Senate bills became law.

Hannah McCarthy: I want to know what they think of each other, does the House have an inferiority complex?

Nick Capodice: Well let’s see what they have to say for themselves. I got a former senate staffer, Justin Leblanc



Justin Leblanc: We jokingly often refer to the House and the Senate with reference to what the British Parliament calls them and that is obviously the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The Senate chamber itself is I think very austere. You feel like you're walking on sacred ground.


Nick Capodice: And a former house staffer, Andy Wilson


Andy Wilson: Despite the House and the Senate being coequal branches of government, there's very much a feeling of the Senate is sort of the upper chamber


Hannah McCarthy: Wait, are they coequal?

Nick Capodice: They are, but that doesn’t stop the sense that one of them is more ‘uptown’


Andy Wilson: It's more stately it's more dignified etc. So there's sort of a different feeling about even the Senate side of the Capitol complex versus the House side.


Nick Capodice: Justin and Andy have both left congress since, Justin is now the founder and president of Lobbywise, and Andy works for a PR firm in NYC.


Andy Wilson: Well I'm I'm a House guy so I quite enjoyed the the free flowing nature of the House. Other members other people that might have worked in the Senate might might feel more proud of having sort of that stately Senate vibe. But I like the House.


Hannah McCarthy: I think I might be a house gal

Nick Capodice: It sounds like a little more fun, doesn’t it? Look, I want to make it clear, Andy and Justin were in no way throwing shade towards each other’s chambers, but there is some good-natured ribbing that goes on.

Hannah McCarthy: So I’ve got a good feel for their differences due to size and term length, but what are the specific differences in their powers?

Nick Capodice: here’s what Justin said about that.


Justin Leblanc: I think the most significant difference between the Senate and the House really comes down to two things. While they both have to pass legislation and they have to pass the identical legislation in each chamber before it can go to the president for signature into law, only the Senate has the the constitutional responsibility and authority to advise and consent the White House on treaties and so any treaty agreed to by the White House has to be approved by the United States Senate. The House does not have such similar authority.


Nick Capodice: And not just treaties, but the senate confirms all Presidential appointments; cabinet secretaries

Hannah McCarthy: Secretary of state, secretary of defense, etc?

Nick Capodice: Yeah, and ambassadors, and Supreme Court Justices.


Justin Leblanc: And then on the flip side all appropriations measures that is all measures that fund the federal government,  those let, those bills must begin in the House. The Senate does not  have the authority to initiate an appropriations process.


Nick Capodice: This has a fun name by the way, the “Power of the Purse”, the framers wanted the House, the voice of the people, to be dominant when it comes to how we tax and spend money. The Senate cannot make money bills. But besides, money, there’s also impeachment powers. Here’s Cheryl Cook Kallio again.


Cheryl Cook Kallio: The other specific job the House of Representatives have is that any articles of impeachment for any elected federal official goes through the House of Representatives. If they are if they are passed in the House of Representatives, the trial is held in the Senate. That's a specific job of each house.


Nick Capodice: Voting is different, too.


Andy Wilson: In the House. It's a majority rule. So in order to pass a piece of legislation in the house it's 50 percent of the votes plus one. So if you know if the Republicans have a 20 seat majority they can basically do whatever they want whereas in the Senate people might be familiar with the filibuster which frequently requires 60 votes for something to pass.

60 percent of the of the Senate has to agree for something to be passed which requires a great deal of consensus a greater deal of coalition building even once a party is in majority they may not have enough to pass that 60 vote threshold. And so you have to work with the opposing party or at least some members of the opposing party. So it's much more of a collegial feeling in the Senate versus sort of our side versus your side view and feeling in the House of Representatives.


Hannah McCarthy: It kinda sounds like the filibuster, which we kinda think of as a strongarming tactic that gets in the way of things, .it sounds like it actually forces people to reach across the aisle and work together.


Nick Capodice: Yeah, and it’s totally different in the house.


Dan Cassino: The House of Representatives has 435 voting members. Now the problem is that’s so many people that you’re never gonna be able to wrangle all of them, if you let everybody talk, they're never going to shut up.  There's one thing politicians love it's the sound of their own voice. As a result the House of Representatives is incredibly tightly controlled. Everything that happened the House Reps as first has to go through what's called the Rules Committee, a Committee that doesn't even exist in the Senate


Hannah McCarthy: What?

Nick Capodice: I know, they don’t have a rules committee


Dan Cassino: and the Rules Committee is going to decide for any bill that comes out of committee, if that bill is ever gonna make it to the floor or not;  what terms that bill would be argued under and how much debate you' re going to have. Now we say how much debate you might be thinking to senators, two representative to come up and debate and talk back and forth but that never actually happens outside of Hollywood and in the House of Representatives, the most common rule we get is what's called a closed rule meaning there's gonna be no amendments allowed whatsoever. And they’re gonna allow somewhere around 15 minutes of debate. So you get 15 mins of Republicans talking about the bill 15 minutes of Democrats talking about the bill and then you're going to have an up or down vote on the bill. And that's all you're going to get because if they actually allowed amendments, you have all these radicals from both sides there. Nothing is ever going to happen. They’ve basically given up on trying to build consensus in the House of Representatives. House of Representatives is all about mobilizing your party in ramming through whatever you can. And the Speaker of the House because of that becomes enormously powerful if the Speaker of the House doesn't like a bill that bill is dead.


Nick Capodice:  Failure to act on a bill is the equivalent of killing a bill. So the Speaker of the house can just refuse to allow any bill to come to the floor, so it will never be voted on. Unless you do something called a ‘discharge petition’ but that’s gotta be in another episode.

Hannah McCarthy: Gotcha.


Dan Cassino: So the Senate is supposed to be this great debating place where all these members stand up and actually talk to each other and have back and forth and unfortunately that basically never happens. If you watch C-SPAN or C-SPAN or C-SPAN 3 or C-SPAN history if you're a real nerd, if  you ever watch the C-SPANs you'll notice they focus on the person who's talking and never focus on anyone else. They don't show you who's in the gallery. The reason they don't show you that is because there's nobody else. When the members of Congress are speaking. They are in fact talking to themselves. Nobody else is hanging out. Why not? Because they've got other stuff they need to  be doing, either go in a committee hearing or they're raising money which a lot of members of congress spend up five six hours a day doing.


Nick Capodice: And this is something both Houses have in common. Campaigning , a lot. Five to six hours a day to stay in office. Here’s former state rep and CNN political analyst Bakari Sellers;


Bakari Sellers: Let me just say that when you're in the House of Representatives the campaigns never end. You're in a perpetual sense of campaigning because it's that two year period.  You don't stop you don't take a reprieve you win an election and you and you move on to the next elections.  


Dan Cassino: If you want to run for the House the big thing you have to have is name recognition in your community, in a relatively small community 700,000 people for most House seats. You have to people have to know who you are and you have to be able to knock on doors and mobilise people to knock on doors for you.


Nick Capodice: What does it take to campaign for senate?


Bakari Sellers: If you're campaigning for the United States Senate you should have been campaigning your entire life. And there's no there's no waiting until the filing period. And I love to see that you had these like billionaires or millionaires who, or people who have this amazing sense of self and they wait until the filing period which is usually like March for June or July or August primary and they think they can just parachute in and run a race and spend money on TV.


Dan Cassino: If you want to for the Senate the big thing you need is either be really rich yourself or to know a whole lot of rich people because that Senate race is gonna  cost you tens of millions of dollars and you're never able to knock on enough doors. So the types of candidates you get are going to be very very different. This is also one of the reasons why we see a lot more women running for the House than we do for the Senate. While women are able to mobilize other voters just as well as anyone else they actually have a harder time raising money because they don't necessarily have the business connections because of lots of other things going wrong in our society. They'll let them easily run for the Senate.


Nick Capodice: And that doesn’t just effect gender in the Senate


Bakari Sellers: It's you can literally still count on less than two hands. But you know if you go back in history and you're talking about Ed Brooke and Mo Cowan and Carol Moseley Braun and Cory Booker and Kamala Harris and Tim Scott. I just ran through... there may be one that I'm missing or two but I just ran through the African-American members of the United States Senate in history. And so it's a very it's a very deliberative body. But it's also a very old white male body as well. Usually there's a sense of patriarchy that puts you in a position to run for that office.


Nick Capodice: And going by the numbers he’s right, as of this recording, October 2018, there have been 10 total African-American US senators. Ever.


Hannah McCarthy: So 10 total in the history of the country


Nick Capodice: Ten total in the history of the US. Currently the senate is 1/50th African-American but by contrast the house is 10% African-American, so it’s a huge difference.


Hannah McCarthy: Yeah it is huge.


Nick Capodice: I asked Justin and Andy, former congress staffers,  for their final thoughts on both Houses and the system as a whole


Justin Leblanc: The elected officials your elected officials and their staff work incredibly hard and they're they're not particularly well-paid and they're working long hours. Most senators and their staff are in the office from 7:00 or 8:00 in the morning until 9 or 10 at night every day of the week. And when they when they go home they're working all weekend. And when we talk about congressional recesses that is times where the House and the Senate are not actually in session and can't vote on legislation, they're not on vacation. Their staff are still showing up on the Hill every day to do their jobs. And the members are back in their states continuing to work. And so whether you agree or disagree with the policy positions your elected officials may take, I would never accuse any one of them or their staff of being lazy or not hardworking.


Andy Wilson: Sometimes it's easy to look at the House of Representatives or the Senate or the Executive branch and think of it kind of like a machine. It's just this big bureaucracy that exists and it kind of churns on and on and on. But it's really a very human enterprise. It's really about how do you work with your colleagues. How do you have relationships with them. And you know who do you know well do you work with well et cetera. So it's very much a human enterprise. The second piece which follows off on that is its own the system is only as good as the people that are involved in it whether that's voting whether that's running for Congress or whether that's working as a staffer, whether that's getting involved in local political debates or local government issues, state government issues county government issues et cetera. So it's easy to sit back and say these bums don't do anything or they're good for nothing or something like that but it's really just a bunch of people that are elected by people in states and districts across the country. And so if you have a complaint or if you have a priority then the only way to to push for it or the only way to make a difference or make things different is to get involved and you can do that.


Hannah McCarthy: I have one last question

Nick Capodice: What is it?

Hannah McCarthy: It...I mean it just all sounds so ridiculous.  Senators talking to an empty room, the House not even debating, everybody stopping anything from getting done

Nick Capodice: Yes, so that was my final question for Dan, it sounds like the whole thing is broken. That it is a farce, that it doesn’t work. Is that true?


Dan Cassino: Even though all this is absurd all the we were doing things and passing bills is absurd it doesn't make any sense, this is exactly the way the founders wanted it to work. The mechanisms like cloture and filibusters and gerrymandering, none of that was forseen by the founders, but the general principle, the house is subject to the whims of the people, the anti  Masonic party the Tea Party whatever, they get in there. They pass crazy bills that should never work and they're allowed to do that because that's what the people want and then it goes the Senate and the Senate doesn't do anything. And that's exactly the way the whole system is supposed to work. The Senate is supposed to be the branch of government that stops anything from ever actually happening. And today we view that as a bug we think that's a bad thing we want our government to be really much more efficient. The way you see parliamentary systems working in most the world. But our government is not set up to be efficient. It's set up to be inefficient. It's set up to make sure that no big change can actually happen unless the voters for years on end, four six years all are voting in support of this and all three branches of government are in accord with it. It's really easy to kill a law. It's almost impossible to pass one.


Hannah McCarthy: I’ve never considered that inaction could be a comforting thought.

Nick Capodice: Me neither, and sometimes I need to be reminded that this machine has human hands at the wheel

Hannah McCarthy: Yeah

Nick Capodice:Well, before we go we have our snapshot midterm from us history, delivered by none other than Brady Carlson, former NHPR reporter, current afternoon host at Wisconsin Public Radio, and the author of Dead Presidents.


Brady Carlson: Today we’re talking about the midterm of 1894. It’s not a very well known midterm, but if you wanna talk about a wave election, this was the wave election to end all wave elections. Up to this point, the democratic party had majorities in both the House and the Senate. They had won back congress in the 1892 election when Grover Cleveland had won back the White House from Republican Benjamin Harrison. This is when Grover Cleveland became the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms, so this was his moment with destiny.


A week before Cleveland came back to the presidency, there had been a financial collapse in the railroad industry. And that sort of tipped off the domino train. A number of key industries fell and the market fell as a whole and this is what was later known as the Panic of 1893.


So the Democrats have just returned to power, they’ve got the White House, they’ve got majorities in congress, and the economy falls apart. People were calling on the president to do something about the panic, there was even a march on Washington. Grover Celeland saw himself as what’s sometimes called a Guardian President. His thinking was Congress steers the ship of state, the president really only steps in to administer the laws and to stop congress when they go too far, so he didn’t really think it was up to him to get in the way of the economic cycle and intervene in the economy.


The catch was that a lot of the people who had put him back in power were workers, immigrants, farmers, the people who were being hurt by the panic. And at the same time in 1894 there was a very prominent railroad strike, the Pullman Strike in which hundreds of thousands of railroad workers walked off the job. They had had their wages cut and they were protesting. And this is the time where the president thought he should step in, so he sent Federal troops to break it all up and that got plenty of pushback, though as a conciliatory gesture he proposed  the holiday in honor of workers that we now call Labor Day.


So it was sort of a way to get everybody to feel like they had been heard even when they maybe quite hadn’t been.


In the midterm of 1894 Cleveland and the democrats had 220 seats in the House and they lost 113 of those. The biggest loss in history. And then they also lost enough seats in the Senate, not nearly that many, but they lost enough in the Senate to  lost majority control there, so they went from having all the power to almost none of the power, and they wouldn’t regain those majorities in congress for almost two decades. So it was really a political version of what goes up must come down.


 It was really a case where people were saying; we blame you for this and we are going to put other people in power because we don’t think what you’ve done is the right policy and the right way to handle this economic crisis.


Nick Capodice: Thank you Brady for the story of the greatest lost in midterm history. Today’s episode was produced by me, Nick Capodice and Hannah McCarthy.


Hannah McCarthy: Our staff includes Ben Henry and Jacqui Helbert, our Executive Producer is Erika Janik, Maureen McMurray is totally a House Gal.


Nick Capodice: Music for today’s episode comes from Blue Dot Sessions, Creo, Broke For Free, Jahzzar, and Electric Needle Room. Special thanks to one of the NICEST greatest member stations out there, WOVV in Okracoke


Hannah McCarthy: More midterms prep is coming down the pipe, so be sure to subscribe! You can also say hi and listen to all our episodes at civics101podcast.org.


Nick Capodice: Civics 101 is a production of NHPR, New Hampshire Public Radio.





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This podcast is a production of New Hampshire Public Radio.

Midterm Edition: State and Local Elections

Midterm elections don't have the glitz or drama of presidential campaigning. They're full of aldermen and comptrollers, state senators and governors. These offices seem meager next to national government. But most of the time, it's state and local officials that have the most immediate and palpable impact on our lives and on our future elections.

In episode two of our five-part series on the midterm elections, we're taking a good look at the state and local offices that have a big-time impact on your life. 


Episode Segments

Have a civics question you want answered? Let us know in the form below and we'll try to answer it!


Midterm Edition: State and Local Elections

This transcript was created using a combination of machine and human transcribing, so there may be some typos.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:00] Nick as you know in our last episode we talked about what midterm elections are and why they matter. You know all the sweeping implications stuff how midterms can affect the country with congressional redistricting and this referendum on the president and potentially flipping the House and the Senate and infusing Congress with all of these new ideas and setting the stage for massive change.

[00:00:23] But today I want to think small.

Nick Capodice: [00:00:28] Small like what kind of small?

Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:30] Small like local small.

[00:00:33] Let's start with the town up north in New Hampshire with about 7000 residents that is small. In August I drove up to Plymouth New Hampshire. It's a little college town in a place called Grafton County really charming. There's a town green with a gazebo and old timey diner Covered Bridge of course got a covered bridge.

[00:00:54] It's very New England and across the street from the town green in what used to be a bookstore is the office of the Plymouth area Democrats.

[00:01:06] So that's the sound of people doing the wave.

Nick Capodice: [00:01:09] Which wave.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:01:09] The blue wave.

[00:01:13] There were campaign signs leading up against the wall they had a life size cutout of Obama.

[00:01:18] There was a potluck party atmosphere in the room and I was there to meet this gentleman.

Jeff Steigler: [00:01:25] My name is Jeff Steigler and I am currently the police chief in Bradford Vermont.

[00:01:30] I am currently campaigning for Grafton County Sheriff.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:01:33] Jeff lives in New Hampshire but works just across the border in Vermont.

Jeff Steigler: [00:01:37] This is the first time I've ever asked the public for their support and obviously for their vote on both the primary and hopefully the general election. Also Franklin

Hannah McCarthy: [00:04:16] This was a Grafton County candidate night. The second one that week and Jeff was there to introduce himself and to convince people to vote for him in the New Hampshire primary and to explain exactly what it is that a sheriff does.

Jeff Steigler: [00:04:29] It's actually a constitutional position stage in the state constitution. But any of your listeners could Google are say one of four and you'll see what the primary functions but at the core of what the sheriff's department has to do.

Nick Capodice: [00:04:40] So did you google it.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:04:41] Of course I googled it.

Nick Capodice: [00:04:42] What did you find out.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:04:43] Well first and foremost in New Hampshire we call laws are essays. It stands for Revised Statutes Annotated and our essays include what amounts to a job description for elected officials. For example how an elected sheriff can and ought to lay down the law. They transport prisoners deputise bailiff's.

Nick Capodice: [00:05:02] Bailiffs like bull in night court.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:05:04] Right okay there you go.

[00:05:05] Yep bull was probably deputized by the sheriff. Until I spoke with Jeff Stigler.

[00:05:10] I really didn't know what a sheriff did or frankly the difference between county sheriff and local police chief. But every time I voted for a sheriff I was voting for someone who has major responsibility and it's the same deal with everything from governor to school board members to comptroller.

Nick Capodice: [00:05:26] What actually is a comptroller by the way?

Hannah McCarthy: [00:05:27] They're kind of like a state's chief financial officer. But the point is that there are a lot of obscure offices on the ballot and they can seem insignificant next to federal candidates like who cares about the railroad commissioner when you've got some flashy Senate race going on.

Nick Capodice: [00:05:41] Oh I have a feeling that we care we care.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:05:43] This is Civics 101 a refresher course on the basics of how our democracy works. I am Hannah McCarthy.

Nick Capodice: [00:05:49] And I'm Nick Capodice.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:05:49] And today we continue our five part series on the inner workings of midterm elections. But a closer look at the local and state offices you'll be voting on this November like Sheriff judge and governor. They may go by different names depending on where you live. But either way state and local offices can have a big time impact on your life.

Cheryl Cook-Kallio: [00:06:08] The issue with midterms is that I think we train people to be very hyper focused on national elections but most elections that are local are closer to the people.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:06:18] That's Cheryl Cook-Kallio, former high school teacher.

Nick Capodice: [00:06:20] For 39 years.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:06:22] And former Councilwoman and former candidate for California's state assembly.

Cheryl Cook-Kallio: [00:06:26] Will our house in California is called the Assembly and there are different names in different states.

[00:06:31] Most of them are House of Representatives but in California it is the Assembly.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:06:35] And she says that yes of course it is important that we have good Congresspeople and good senators.

[00:06:40] But.

Cheryl Cook-Kallio: [00:06:41] But whether or not you get a stop sign at the end of your street is really dependent on the kind of city council you elect county supervisors have control over regional issues that have to do with transportation and maybe even water. And so midterms are often ignored because there is no presidential candidate but they may be even more important because there's such a low voter turnout during a midterm election.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:07:04] So think of it this way. What is more likely to affect you. Nick capital on a daily basis theU.S. defense budget or the road in front of your house.

Nick Capodice: [00:07:11] I'm going to definitely say the road.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:07:13] It's the road the.

Nick Capodice: [00:07:13] It's the road.

Cheryl Cook-Kallio: [00:07:15] One of the things that an individual can do is pay attention to those things are most important to them. In most cases that's local politics your school board your inner city council county supervisors and perhaps your state legislature depending on the size of the state.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:07:29] So many of the people who keep your city or your town running smoothly or possibly not so smoothly get elected during midterms. You've got school boards for instance they can set school policy. Decide how the money gets spent. Even decide whether or not to close a school you've got county commissioners who can be in charge of everything from assuring water quality to collecting property taxes some even control public welfare programs and Nick judges. We vote for the people who are in charge of sentencing people to fines probation even prison in many cases. It is in our hands to decide who gets to make those decisions.

Nick Capodice: [00:08:08] What about something like the Register of Deeds.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:08:11] Yes I was so curious about register.

Nick Capodice: [00:08:13] We've seen signs for that all over the neighborhood.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:08:15] Everywhere.

Cheryl Cook-Kallio: [00:08:15] Oh Register of Deeds. OK. That's probably what we would call the clerk which has to do with all the paperwork in your life that is important your marriage your births the deed to your house those kinds of things are done and usually that's controlled by someone who is elected. So there are things like this that may or may not affect you on a daily basis but they certainly control the legalities of what you do in your everyday life.

Nick Capodice: [00:08:39] Nick what gets me about all of what Cheryl is saying is that you know when we complain about government and inefficiencies and taxes and all that stuff I feel like most of us are directing that complaining that I are at the federal government. You know the whole joke. Thanks Obama.

Nick Capodice: [00:08:56] Yeah.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:08:57] You think we're mad at the president we're mad at the federal Congress. And then there's this vague sense that the people at the very top are the ones who make things good or bad for us. But a lot of the structure in our lives is controlled at the state and local level.

Nick Capodice: [00:09:11] So basically it seems like we should be paying as much attention to these smaller elections in offices as we do to day the presidential election.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:09:19] Yeah I mean powers vary from state to state. But I would say at least as much like take the sheriff candidate Jeff Stigler who we met at the beginning of the episode if he wins the midterm he'll essentially be public he appointed law enforcement for an entire county races like that probably deserve more attention than they get. But there are offices up for election and midterms that do get some real attention like Governor.

Nick Capodice: [00:09:42] But what does a governor actually do.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:09:44] Or a lieutenant governor.

[00:09:45] For that matter.

Bakari Sellers: [00:09:46] This is very difficult for me. You take somebody who just lost the lieutenant governor's race and ask him about his the job that he could have had you know not only is it difficult I want to tell you how sharp that hurt because my lieutenant governor is now governor.

[00:09:57] OK.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:09:57] That did not start well. This is Bakari Sellers, attorney and former state rep of South Carolina he was in office for eight years and ran for lieutenant governor in 2014. He lost but he had some insights on the positions.

Nick Capodice: [00:10:07] Do you think he was really offended by that.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:10:09] I don't think so. If he was you forgive us.

Bakari Sellers: [00:10:11] I know it was tough. Now Lieutenant Governor and Governor. They. They are different in every state. We now have. If I'm not mistaken two African-American lieutenant governors in the country. So we are making progress on that front. Governor of course depending on your state we have a legislative state here in South Carolina meaning that really our legislature is way more powerful than our governor is but in certain states it's the other way around although the governor has a bully pulpit right.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:10:34] So in the same way that the President is Chief Executive Officer and commander in chief of the country the governor plays that role for the state so they can veto bills just like the president appoint judges just like the president. They may be in charge of the state National Guard or have the power to pardon criminal sentences. And just like the president most governors have someone waiting in the wings in case things go south.

Bakari Sellers: [00:10:59] Lieutenant governors a lot like vice president in the most important job they have is to be prepared. And why do I say that they have to be prepared because just like the vice president of the United States the age old saying is you are one heartbeat away from being president.

Nick Capodice: [00:11:13] So governor and lieutenant governor are a little like the president and the vice president. If their powers were limited by state borders.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:11:19] Yeah and Bakari says these are really important roles to watch because the person who you elect governor in this year's midterms they might end up being on a different place on the ballot later on when you have a governor.

Bakari Sellers: [00:11:29] You have to think that your governor has only one election away from running for president the United States. In Massachusetts you've had Mitt Romney run for president the United States.

Nick Capodice: [00:11:37] Lots of presidents were governors before the presidency Thomas Jefferson Teddy Roosevelt Jimmy Carter George W. name a few.

Bakari Sellers: [00:11:43] But you see governors run all the time. You're going to have a series of governors who step out there and run for president the United States and so when you each step up that you take there's another realm of possibility.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:11:53] That's one area of the ballot that we have not touched on yet. Right. State legislators and they are really important. It varies from state to state. Who in your state legislature you get to vote for in every midterm election. But who you're voting for is really important because aside from actually making the laws that govern you at a state level those legislators are in charge of a process that can decide the outcome of elections.

Dylan Scott: [00:12:16] State elections are not only important for your health care and for your education but also 2018 in particular is important in 2020 will be important as well because next decade we're going to draw new congressional districts which will be the opportunity for to outline these new maps for the congressional districts that we'll have for the next 10 years.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:12:35] That's Dylan Scott Vox policy reporter.

Nick Capodice: [00:12:37] Quick aside. Congressional redistricting sometimes called Gerrymandering depending on who you're talking to is one of those key factors that make these 2018 midterms so important.

[00:12:47] And it's something we actually dig into our first episode five things you should know about the midterms so give it a listen.

[00:12:52] Gerrymandering is a party hand picking their voters.

Dylan Scott: [00:12:54] And so which party is in control of the governor's mansion. Which party is in control of the state legislature will be very important for redistricting starting in 2020.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:13:03] You know some states like California they do have a redistricting commission that's either bipartisan or nonpartisan. But for the most part it's the governor and the state legislature that are calling the shots.

Dylan Scott: [00:13:14] And I think any expert whether partisan or not would tell you this. One of the reasons the Republicans have the sizable majority that they do in the House of Representatives right now is that they were in control of redistricting almost 10 years ago. So not only is this important for people's everyday experience with government and whether they are eligible for Medicaid or what kind of schools their kids go to. But when you look at control Congress it's it's not much of a stretch to say as one of my colleagues wrote recently that the next decade of the House of Representatives will be on the ballot in 2018 and 2020.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:13:45] OK we get a pause here for one second. Because what he's saying is huge. He is saying that your vote in this midterm election may end up deciding who you get to vote for for the next 10 years. I mean think of the possible reverberations of that.

Nick Capodice: [00:14:00] It's more than time because the people who put in power stay in power they keep drawing districts for the next 50 elections.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:14:05] Could be the next hundred elections.

[00:14:07] Dylan also made the point that those state legislators have the power to either facilitate or block initiatives that are coming down from the federal level like theU.S. Congress can say jump in a state Congress can either say how high or they can thumb their noses and stick out their tongues at them.

Dylan Scott: [00:14:22] So under the Affordable Care Act it expanded Medicaid eligibility to cover millions more Americans than it did before the ACA was passed. But they were allowed to decide whether or not they wanted to practice debate and that Medicaid expansion in about 20 states have refused to expand Medicaid directly as a result of the Republican controlled state legislatures or or the governorship.

Nick Capodice: [00:14:44] That's some real Tenth Amendment action their 10th Amendment of course being a super complicated amendment about the division of power between the federal government and the states right.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:14:52] So the whole principle of states rights how states are allowed to govern themselves in many ways. That is a big part of what makes the midterm elections so important. Those are elected officials who are close to us who might have obscure sounding jobs. They actually have the power to make a big impact on our daily lives. It's often the state level legislature that maintains this state justice system that regulates state industry that maintains highways implements welfare decides what to teach kids in schools. And it's the state legislature that decides what a sheriff does and we get to decide who that sheriff is.

Jeff Steigler: [00:15:30] If you're looking for change or if you are thinking about keeping things the way that they are the reality of it is if you don't go out and vote don't complain about it.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:15:37] That's Jeff Stigler again our sheriff candidate from the beginning of the episode. He won the nomination in New Hampshire's primary and now it is up to the voters to decide if he will win the office.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:15:47] All right. Nick so what do you think. I mean state and local elections are kind of a big deal right.

Nick Capodice: [00:15:51] In some ways possibly the biggest deal.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:15:55] Now you're talking before we sign off we have another major midterm from the past brought to you by Brady Carlson.

[00:16:01] BRADY used to work here at NHPR as a reporter and on air host. He's now at Wisconsin Public Radio.

[00:16:07] He's also the author of Dead Presidents which is a great book. Check it out. Take it away. BRADY What midterm are we talking about.

Brady Carlson: [00:16:14] I'm talking about the midterm of 1858. The key issue in the 1950s of course was slavery and that's at the root of everything that takes place in the 1858 midterm up until the 1950s.

[00:16:25] There were two parties the Democrats and the Whigs although really there were kind of four parties because each of the two parties had northern and southern wings. And here's why that matters. While the northern states had more population and therefore more representative Congress the proslavery Southern politicians were still powerful enough that they could block candidates block bills block proposals block anything that didn't fit with their view that enslaving people was not only legal and constitutional but it was morally right and had to be protected.

Archival: [00:16:54] All we've got is cotton and slave arrogance.

Brady Carlson: [00:16:57] To the top political figures of the day rightly or wrongly we're trying to keep this very tense compromise in place and as a result of that effort to to keep the slavery debate from boiling over you have this series of weak presidents in the 1950s.

Archival: [00:17:12] Pierce of New Hampshire is what do you say Mr. Pierce or Mr. Preston Pierce just Mr. President.

Brady Carlson: [00:17:16] James Buchanan of Pennsylvania is another. The parties were deliberately choosing people for president that they thought would be very cautious would not rock the boat and that would have worked except by the 50s the boat had kind of already been rocked over and over. Fewer and fewer people were interested in setting aside this debate over slavery for the good of the country and Franklin Pierce understood that firsthand when he signed the bill to allow the citizens of the Kansas Territory to choose whether to allow slavery or not. And I came all the way from Kansas to make sure just for you.

Archival: [00:17:54] And to ensure the freedom of Negroes in this state. What do you do.

Brady Carlson: [00:17:58] And it didn't go well it turned into the violent conflict. We now called bleeding Kansas and that's recognized today as one of the key milestones on the road to the civil war. It also realigned the political parties by signing Kansas bill Pearce had undone this compromise that had stood for decades where there was a geographic line that slavery could exist south of but never north of. Now slavery could be anywhere and Northerners were very very uncomfortable with that. So when Pierce undid this compromise Northern Democrats who had been uncomfortable with the proslavery wing of the party felt like they didn't have a political home anymore.

Archival: [00:18:37] The government cannot endure permanently half slave and half. Free.

Brady Carlson: [00:18:52] The Northern Democrats decided to leave their party and join up with what was left of the old Whig Party and a group of what were known as Free spoilers people who had opposed any expansion of slavery in western territories. They all joined together in a new party called the Republican Party. There's a lot of debate as to where the Republican Party actually started. My state Wisconsin has one of the claims. The state of New Hampshire has the other. The important thing to know is that this is a very exclusively northern party. There weren't any Southern Republicans and that one of the new Republicans who was an unknown at the time of the party's founding wound up being a pretty important guy a lawyer from Illinois who had been a little known member of Congress like a decade before but was so upset about Kansas that he came out of retirement and joined this new political party Abraham Lincoln.

Archival: [00:19:43] You know who I am. Abraham Lincoln.

Brady Carlson: [00:19:50] The party starts in 1854 two years later their presidential candidate John C. Fremont only narrowly lost the presidential election.

[00:20:00] By the mid-term elections of 1858. The party was on an even bigger upswing. The debate over Kansas has flared up again. It was even hotter this time. There had also been a big economic panic the year before and the new President James Buchanan was alienating just about everybody who came in contact with. Suffice to say voters were pretty fired up and so when the votes were in for the 1858 midterm the largest party in the House of Representatives was the Republican Party which had only begun about four years earlier. And one of the most surprising stories that came out of the 1850 and that term was Abraham Lincoln who had run for a high profileU.S. Senate seat in Illinois. It's one he lost to the longtime incumbent Stephen Douglas. But he had turned so many heads with his speeches in his well-thought-out debate points.

Archival: [00:20:53] A house divided against itself cannot stand.

Brady Carlson: [00:20:53] That he became a national political figure in two years.

[00:20:57] This political nobody who belonged to a brand new unknown party would be elected president of the United States.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:21:09] That is it for this episode in our five part series on midterm elections. But stay tuned we've got more coming at you civics 21 one was produced today by me. Hannah McCarthy Nick Capodice and Jacqui Helbert.

Nick Capodice: [00:21:22] Our executive producer Erica Janik. Maureen McMurry is a local gal does good.

Archival: [00:21:26] Music in this episode by Loopez, Blue Dot Sessions, Quincas Moreira and Drew Banga.

Nick Capodice: [00:21:32] In addition to subscribing to our podcast you can give us a visit at Civics 1 0 1 podcast dot org or follow us on Twitter at Civics 101 pod Civics 101 is production of NHPR new Hampshire Public Radio.



Made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Subcribe to Civics 101 on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you get your favorite audio.

This podcast is a production of New Hampshire Public Radio.

Special Announcement and IRL2

First off, our next season of Civics 101 will launch this October with a special miniseries on the midterm elections. Each episode will better educate you on what you're voting for in November, and will include a breakdown of the wide-ranging effects of a midterm in US history.

Second, this is a rebroadcast of IRL2, our episode on the history of the American flag and the Pledge of Allegiance, focusing on times these icons were used in protest.

Have a civics question you want answered? Let us know in the form below and we'll try to answer it!


Hello Civics listeners. This is Nick Capodice

And Hannah McCarthy

And the more observant of you out there may have realized that we’re taking a pause on producing new episodes

It’s not sloth, it’s industry

We’re developing our next season of Civics 101, which will commence with a five-part series on the midterm elections, featuring the voices of politicians, professors, pages, and civics teachers from across the country.

We’re focusing on things like campaigning and voting, but also the powers of senators, representatives, and all the other people you may see on your midterm ballot.

And each episode will also feature a famous midterm from American history. So don’t miss it. The series will debut on October 2nd, well before you cast your vote. And as for today, here’s an episode we did on the flag and the pledge of allegiance. Enjoy!

NOTE: This transcript was generated using an automated transcription service, and may contain typographical errors.


Civics 101

IRL2: The Flag and the Pledge


Nick Capodice: [00:00:32] Aw it's that time again. Time for another Civics 101 I R L where we dive into the historic moments related to our regular episode topics. I'm Nick Capodice. And with me as always is Hannah McCarthy.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:48] Hey there folks.


Nick Capodice: [00:00:49] Virginia will be back for the next one. This is a supplement to our Episode 79 which is about the U.S. flag code. There was so much to talk about that we had to cut the flag in half.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:58] For my half. I'm and do history of the flag history of the Pledge of Allegiance.


Nick Capodice: [00:01:02] Yes. And I'm going to do Supreme Court cases that involve the flag and the pledge.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:01:06] Do you want to start with history?


Nick Capodice: [00:01:06] Yes please.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:01:20] So Nick do you know where the American flag comes from, who designed the American flag?


Nick Capodice: [00:01:27] I was always taught Betsy Ross sewed and designed the first American flag.


[00:01:33] That is the prevailing history. But as it turns out there is no written documentation that this is the case. The story actually comes from Betsy Ross's grandson. He goes to the Historical Society of Philadelphia and he says my grandmother designed the American flag what and all that he has is testimony from Ross family members. You know the thing is that Betsy Ross was a flag maker in Philadelphia through the late 1770s. So she was probably sewing American flags. But this idea that she came up with the design the 13 stars in a circle, there's no real evidence aside from the Rosses insisting that this was the case


Nick Capodice: [00:02:19] And they don't have that, they had no evidence to like back it up?


Hannah McCarthy: [00:02:22] No written documentation you know,.


Nick Capodice: [00:02:23] Is that true?


Hannah McCarthy: [00:02:24] That she didn't design the flag?


Nick Capodice: [00:02:26] Yeah.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:02:27] I am not going to say for sure because it's possible right? But all that you've got are affidavits from her family members. So if Betsy Ross didn't design the American flag


Nick Capodice: [00:02:38] Who did?


Hannah McCarthy: [00:02:39] That's a good question. Some historians not all believe that it was a man named Francis Hopkinson. And there's good reason to believe him but that idea that he designed the American flag is based entirely on the fact that he claimed to have designed the American flag. So once again you're running up against this. There's no written proof that this person designed it.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:02:59] The reason it's more likely to have been Francis Hopkinson is that he definitely helped to create the design of the seal for the University of Pennsylvania the seal of the state of New Jersey and the Great Seal of the United States


Nick Capodice: [00:03:14] So he's a seal man.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:03:15] He's a seal man


Nick Capodice: [00:03:16] Seal guy. He designed the U.S. SEAL and that's enough of kind of like will this guy's got some background in design and probably did this too.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:03:24] In patriotic design.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:03:25] He was a known patriot. So it seems a little more likely.


Nick Capodice: [00:03:29] And real quick you know when this was? Is this around like the...


Hannah McCarthy: [00:03:32] Oh yeah of course. This was in the late 1770ss so 1776 1777. We've got this flag that the Continental Congress is flying


Archival audio: [00:03:49] The alternate stripes indicated a dissention from the king's rule. But the Union Jack indicated a loyalty to the mother country.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:03:50] And now this flag very closely resembles our flag except for the fact that the canton which is that in inner upper left hand corner square


Nick Capodice: [00:04:00] That's called the Canton! The blue square.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:04:02] That's right.


Nick Capodice: [00:04:03] I learned something new today.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:04:04] We already had the 13 stripes and that was actually a very popular design that would be displayed on coats of arms across Europe so that there was precedent for that. The Canton that we had was actually just the British Union Jack. So we had that plus our 13 stripes representing our 13 colonies.


Nick Capodice: [00:04:24] So the many stripes was a trope


Hannah McCarthy: [00:04:27] Exactly.


Nick Capodice: [00:04:27] Yet the number 13 was because of our 13 colonies.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:04:30] It was because of our 13 colonies. We were not strictly flying that British flag we were flying or 13 British colonies flag and we were working toward independence from the British. Now although we cannot say definitively who designed our new flag that new flag on June 14th 1777 was the result of the Continental Congress passing an act that established this official flag of the new nation. So the phrasing of that resolution it is resolved that the flag of the United States be 13 stripes alternate red and white and the union be thirteen stars white in a blue field representing a new constellation. OK I like the constellation. Very nice. So initially we had this flag which had our 13 five pointed stars in a circle in the blue Canton


Hannah McCarthy: [00:05:21] Gotcha.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:05:22] And then as states joined the union we would add both stars and stripes.


Nick Capodice: [00:05:30] What?


Hannah McCarthy: [00:05:30] That's right.


Archival audio: [00:05:30] On January 13th 1794 Congress enacted the law. Giving with us the flag with 15 stars and 15 stripes.


Nick Capodice: [00:05:40] When did we stop?


Hannah McCarthy: [00:05:41] So we actually stopped just after Vermont and Kentucky were introduced we only got to 15 I think.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:05:46] And then they say they realized


Hannah McCarthy: [00:05:49] Thank god then they realized that it was going to be visual chaos on the American flag. If you know they knew that the nation was going to continue to grow they might not have known it was going to get to 50.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:05:58] But just imagine that 50 stars next to 50 tiny little stripes. So in 1818 in their great wisdom Congress passes a law stipulating that the original 13 stripes be restored and only new stars be added Of course


Nick Capodice: [00:06:14] So are there like a couple of 15 striped flags out there?


Hannah McCarthy: [00:06:17] There are. You can actually order one. They still make them. So somebody can say you know this is the flag that we had for this period of time in history.


Nick Capodice: [00:06:25] That's really cool.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:06:26] Yeah. So the flag we know today because the flag has changed so many times. It's actually the twenty seventh iteration of the U.S..


Nick Capodice: [00:06:34] OK so they didn't add a star every time we added a state they like a wait for a couple.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:06:38] Correct. OK. Because we were adding at such a rapid rate. So you have only these 27 different versions of the flag.


Archival audio: [00:06:45] Every star state every state star.


Nick Capodice: [00:06:49] Cool. That's the flag.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:06:50] That's the flag.


Nick Capodice: [00:06:51] Now the pledge is tied to the flag right.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:06:53] So the pledge is tied to the flag but it's also really closely tied to patriotism and the union. And I would say the Americanization of people in this country.


Nick Capodice: [00:07:07] Wow. Can I ask you did you say the pledge when you were in school.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:07:10] I said the pledge every single morning I believe through middle school


Nick Capodice: [00:07:16] Stopped for me in middle school too. I said it in elementary school. So what's up with the pledge.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:07:20] Yeah I'm actually going to start us before the Pledge of Allegiance because we had a flag salute before we ever had a pledge of allegiance. So the original flag salute is by Rear Admiral George Balch. He'd been at West Point he served in the civil war and then later on in his career he finds himself working for the New York City Board of Education and he starts noticing that there are suddenly a ton of immigrant children in classrooms across the city and they don't necessarily sound like native born Americans. They might not think like native born Americans. Because he's encountering these foreign born students, he wants to teach American principles and help them to develop this ritual that could foster an American identity. So what he does is he develops this pledge salute combo where children would salute the flag and speak the following. I give my heart and my hand to my country, one country one language, one flag.


Nick Capodice: [00:08:21] Wow, one language too?


Hannah McCarthy: [00:08:23] One language.


Nick Capodice: [00:08:23] So this was a straight up. This is a guy who wanted America to look and sound a certain way.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:08:30] Yes.


Nick Capodice: [00:08:30] What years are we talking about here.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:08:31] So this is in 1887.


Nick Capodice: [00:08:34] OK yes. So it actually is the height. This is like just near the height of both German and Russian Jewish immigration. The Italians are just starting to come in.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:08:45] Exactly.


Nick Capodice: [00:08:45] So this is when the face the sound of America is changing again in a big way


Hannah McCarthy: [00:08:49] In a big way.


Nick Capodice: [00:08:50] And he's like we've got to put a stop to that. We have to change that. It sounds like.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:08:54] I think there was perhaps a fear of the influence of immigrants if not the immigrants themselves; let them in but make sure they become us. I think it was kind of the idea. So not that long after this fact. We are going to come up on the pledge and this is in 1892 which I believe was the same year that Ellis Island was officially opened for business


Nick Capodice: [00:09:17] Certainly was.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:09:17] And you've got millions of people coming in through Ellis Island. It's a very visible immigration from elsewhere into the United States. Not only that but the country is only 30 years into post Civil War recovery. So this idea of national union is still kind of fragile because we almost broke up you know. So there are some who think that patriotism is kind of sinking in the country too many people who are foreign born are moving in are changing the ways that we think and we speak. And we also are totally certain that we can keep this country together if only because we came so close to losing it.


Nick Capodice: [00:09:58] Right.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:09:59] So there's this man named Daniel Sharp Ford he's the owner of a magazine called Youth's Companion and he was particularly concerned with what he saw as this you know sinking morale in this country the sinking patriotism and he wants to boost it. So one of his employees one of the people who writes for him is named Francis Bellamy. He's a minister and an author for Youth's Companion. And so he asks Bellamy to compose a pledge of allegiance to the flag in hopes that it's going to boost patriotism.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:10:34] And here's the original language of the pledge allegiance.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:10:38] I pledge allegiance to my flag and the republic for which it stands


Archival audio: [00:10:46] One nation, with liberty, and justice for all.


Nick Capodice: [00:10:48] Wow. There's a lot that's changed since then.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:10:50] There's quite a bit that's changed.


Nick Capodice: [00:10:52] I think my flag sounds a bit more inclusive. It's like sort of implying that all these new comers these new Americans you know who are coming here are part of us. That's my flag because I'm here


Hannah McCarthy: [00:11:04] Something that we probably take for granted is that there is an American flag an every classroom. A big part of the reason let's just say that they're in so many classrooms in the United States is that at the same time that Youth's Companion publishes this pledge of allegiance and these instructions for this pledge they start selling flags at cost to about 26000 schools across the country. So then the pledge became really popular and that salute became known as The Bellamy salute. I think they simplified it to just this arm straight outward. You know at a slight angle right level with the forehead which looks just like a Nazi salute. During World War II of course we are seeing photographs and film of Nazis with their arms straight out and we decide maybe this isn't what we should be doing. Hand on the .


Nick Capodice: [00:11:58] Hand of the heart.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:11:58] So that's when that transition happens then revisions start to happen to the pledge itself. So in 1923 my flag is changed to the flag of the United States. So that in 1954 we add the words under God.


Nick Capodice: [00:12:13] Fifty four?


Hannah McCarthy: [00:12:14] Nineteen fifty four. So I think a lot of people grow up thinking that this pledge is kind of as old as the country itself.


Nick Capodice: [00:12:20] I thought it had under God from the 1800's.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:12:23] It sounds like something that would have been concocted in the 1800s. You don't really think that in 1954 that they're going to add the words under God.


Nick Capodice: [00:12:33] Yeah. Like just before the 60s?


Hannah McCarthy: [00:12:36] Things were about to blow up in this country. The reason that happened was because we see communism as this huge threat to this country. Communists are considered godless. Eisenhower signs a congressional resolution to pass under God into the Pledge of Allegiance. But it wasn't just Eisenhower. It's also because of a three year campaign by the Knights of Columbus


Nick Capodice: [00:13:04] The Knights of Columbus.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:13:06] That is the initial history of the Pledge of Allegiance. That's how he got up to the language that we use today.


Nick Capodice: [00:13:12] OK. Wow. So Betsy Ross didn't make the flag


Hannah McCarthy: [00:13:15] we don't even really know who designed it, or rather we can't say for sure.


Nick Capodice: [00:13:22] You ready for this?


Hannah McCarthy: [00:13:23] I'm ready.


Nick Capodice: [00:13:24] Are you. Aren't you excited to hear about some court cases.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:13:26] I'm so excited.


Nick Capodice: [00:13:27] After all of this boring history...so here are two Supreme Court cases about saluting the flag and two about burning it. Number one Minersville v Gobitis, 1940.


Nick Capodice: [00:13:39] William and Lillian Gobitis, they're Jehovah's Witnesses. And this is really important for this story.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:13:44] OK


Nick Capodice: [00:13:45] So this is what I didn't know about the Jehovah's Witness faith. Jehovah's Witnesses view God's kingdom as a government.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:13:53] Oh


Nick Capodice: [00:13:54] Yes. And therefore they refrain from pledging allegiance to any other government.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:13:59] Oh!


Nick Capodice: [00:13:59] And like nationalist songs and dances and parties and anything that's like pro a country is anathema to them because in their faith the country of God is the only country to which they should swear allegiance.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:14:11] That's really interesting.


Nick Capodice: [00:14:13] Yeah. And we see Jehovah's Witnesses pop up again and again because of this


Hannah McCarthy: [00:14:17] Because they can't be patriotic.


Nick Capodice: [00:14:19] Right.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:14:20] It must make it hard to live anywhere.


Nick Capodice: [00:14:22] It's only fitting that these two kids the Gobitis family in Pennsylvania. They refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance and they were summarily expelled from school in 1940. Now it goes up to the U.S. Supreme Court. And it is an 8 to 1 vote for Minersville school district.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:14:38] OK


Nick Capodice: [00:14:39] So the kids were not in their constitutional rights to not say the pledge.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:14:44] On what grounds exactly?


Nick Capodice: [00:14:44] Well it was, it was almost unanimous.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:14:48] Yeah.


Nick Capodice: [00:14:49] The justice who wrote the opinion was named Justice Felix Frankfurter. He's a famed Justice who was on the bench a long time. He said that national unity is the basis of national security. So if we're going to succeed as a nation we have to say that some things are respected. And he went on to say that a pledge for the flag is secular it's not religious it's for your nation. So you shouldn't consider it like that you do of God. Harlan Stone said in his dissent of the case that quote "There are other ways to teach loyalty and patriotism which are the sources of national unity then by compelling the people to affirm that which he does not believe." So we have a Supreme Court who almost unanimously says, hey everybody should go and support the flag. .


Hannah McCarthy: [00:15:34] OK.


Nick Capodice: [00:15:35] Everybody should say the Pledge of Allegiance. What happens after me almost immediately after this decision comes out, a mob of 2500 people burned down the Jehovah's Witnesses Kingdom Hall in Kennebunkport Maine. All the Jehovah's Witnesses in an Illinois town are jailed to protect them from citizens who are rioting. Jehovah's Witnesses are lynched, publicly hanged. And one sheriff said quote They are traitors. The Supreme Court said so. Ain't you heard?


Hannah McCarthy: [00:16:07] Wow.


Nick Capodice: [00:16:07] Three Supreme Court Justices, Black Douglas and Murphy, they stated in another opinion that they'd made the wrong decision.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:16:17] Wow.


Nick Capodice: [00:16:17] So in the wake of Minersville v Gobitis, not only is there a huge surge against Jehovah's Witnesses in the U.S. but there is a surge of flag laws in the U.S. saying you have to say the pledge. West Virginia is one of them. They make it compulsory. They say that if you don't say the Pledge of Allegiance in the morning you are insubordinate. And that law is what brings us to our next case, West Virginia v. Barnett 1943. Maria and Gathie Barnett, Jehovah's witnesses refused to say the pledge, goes up to the Supreme Court but something is different. Something is different in the air of America this time. By 1943 Americans had seen a lot of footage and read a lot of stories of Jehovah's Witnesses being persecuted in Nazi Germany and sent to concentration camps for refusing to salute the Nazi flag. So that, the justices who said that they had made a mistake, all comes together to make a new decision which is a 6 to 3 decision to overrule Minersville v Gobitis. So West Virginia Barnett is a case that makes it within your constitutional rights to not say the Pledge of Allegiance.


Nick Capodice: [00:17:21] Justice Jackson wrote the decision and the famous quote from this one as he said "if there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation it is that no official high or petty can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.".


Hannah McCarthy: [00:17:42] I love that.


Nick Capodice: [00:17:44] And there's no big ones. For a while and then we go to New York City. In the 1960s.


Archival audio: [00:17:50] This is about the first case in the history of our country, where this statue was even used. When Patrolman Copeland made his arrest he did not know that he had made the first arrest in the history of the state of New York for the public burning of a flag.


Nick Capodice: [00:18:06] We're talking about street v. New York 1969.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:18:09] Street.


Nick Capodice: [00:18:10] Street is the guy's name. Do you know about this case.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:18:13] No.


Nick Capodice: [00:18:13] Oh it's such a cool case. Oh my God. I mean the coolest people get involved in Supreme court cases, the coolest stories. So cast your mind back to 1966. The case is 1969 but this happens in 1966.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:18:26] I happen to be rereading Just Kids so I'm there.


Nick Capodice: [00:18:29] Oh you're right there right there. So we're in the 60s and we're in our old friend the Warren Court from Tinker v Des Moines


Hannah McCarthy: [00:18:39] I remember Warren, oh year.


Nick Capodice: [00:18:39] So I wish I had a constitutional scholar to walk me through this and it's radio so we should have someone should say hey did somebody call my name, no but we don't have that but hey we do what we can.


Nick Capodice: [00:18:47] So in 1966 there a civil rights activist named James Meredith. James Meredith is part of a protest, he is walking from Memphis Tennessee to Jackson Mississippi and he's promoting voter registration after the, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And he's talking about and he's exposing racism across the south and he's trying to encourage African-Americans to vote , you know? And he's shot.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:19:15] Is he killed?


Nick Capodice: [00:19:16] He is not killed. It's comes over the radio across the country, James Meredith has been shot by an unidentified sniper. That comes across the radio and a guy's apartment in Brooklyn. And there's a guy named Sidney street Sidney street is a decorated Bronze Star veteran. He himself is African-American.


Archival audio: [00:19:34] He went out on an American flag with got him to his apartment two way street corner. Put a piece of paper on the street holding the flag in one hand, folded put a match to it and set it on fire.


Nick Capodice: [00:19:50] Then it starts to burn so much he can't hold it in his hand he puts it on the piece of paper he never lets the flag touch the ground.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:19:57] That is.. Anyway go on. So interesting.


Nick Capodice: [00:20:01] and this is really important. A police officer later later testified that he heard Sidney Street say if they did that to Meredith we don't need an American flag. The reason this matters is that New York State had a law had a statute at the time that you couldn't desecrate the flag by words or deed. You couldn't say bad stuff about the flag and you couldn't desecrate it physically. Sidney street is charged with malicious mischief for unlawfully burning the American flag and for saying bad words about the American flag. So this is an absolute squeaker. So what's the decision. It's a 5 4 decision. It's kind of confusing to me.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:20:45] OK.


Nick Capodice: [00:20:45] It's called, it's reverse and remand. It's kind of like


Hannah McCarthy: [00:20:50] What does remand mean.


Nick Capodice: [00:20:51] Remand means you send it back to the lower case for a retrial. Like it's the state's business or it's your business that other courts business.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:21:00] Because it was a state's law.


Nick Capodice: [00:21:01] It was but it's kind of like you guys take care of this. So they the court decides by a 5 4 vote that the law about the words about speaking bad about the flag that is unconstitutional. But when it comes to burning the flag let's just we don't. They totally kick the can on this one. It's a famous can kicking. The court does not decide whether or not it was constitutional for him to burn the flag.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:21:29] Wow.


Nick Capodice: [00:21:29] Yeah. It's kicked down 1970s, kicked down in the 1980s, and then we get to 1984 the Republican National Convention in Dallas Texas.


Archival audio: [00:21:43] It is my great privilege. To proclaim the thirty third Republican National Convention in Session and call it to order.


Archival audio: [00:21:58] We represent people who are patriotic. Who believe in our American system and love our country.


Nick Capodice: [00:22:03] Number four. Texas v. Johnson. Reagan and George H.W. Bush have been nominated for the second term and everybody at the RNC is banging gavels and getting all excited outside this convention on the steps of City Hall.


Nick Capodice: [00:22:16] There's a guy named Gregory Lee Johnson who goes by the name Joey. Gregory Johnson. And he takes an American flag and he burns it.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:22:24] I've seen


Nick Capodice: [00:22:24] And he spits on it. Yeah. Texas has a law. Texas legislature may prohibit overt physical acts that it deems offensive slash harmful to society. Texas loses the case and it keeps getting,.and Texas keeps appealing it and it goes up to the top, so Texas's name being first they lost the previous case. What is most interesting to me about this case I kinda, I found like a personal hero when I was researching this case and it's the guy who's the advocate for Johnson the lawyer named William Kunstler


Archival audio: [00:22:57] By the way talking about flags in front of the Supreme Court when I came by today. The flags were up in the rain. And under 36 US Code the leading provision there is flags shall not be displayed in inclement weather.


Archival audio: [00:23:12] Are you gonna get back to.


Archival audio: [00:23:12] Section one applies to all weather flags.


Archival audio: [00:23:17] That's an all weather flag. That could be physical mistreatment under the Texas statute.


Archival audio: [00:23:22] Mister Kunstler. Are you going to get back to the case?


Archival audio: [00:23:24] I'm going back to the case, seems we had this three weeks ago.


Nick Capodice: [00:23:28] He is very funny. And as you hear when he's arguing the case everybody's laughing, Thurgood Marshall is like can we get back to the case. He defended the Chicago Seven. He defended the Black Panthers the Weather Underground.


Archival audio: [00:23:43] Real pariahs people that could be totally hated by most of the population of this country. Well what makes Kunstler pariah bound? Well I have found that it is the pariahs when the law changes


Nick Capodice: [00:23:56] And what bigger pariah than a flag burner? In his argument he cites Street. He cites Barnett and the court makes its decision and it's another 5 4 vote. Another squeaker and the court holds that Johnson's burning of the flag is protected speech under the First Amendment. Justice William Brennan, famed advocate of the First Amendment. He's the one who writes the decision and he has the sort of money quote which is. If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment it is that government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable. And then Kunstler on the steps after the decision is read says this.


Archival audio: [00:24:41] And it tests the First Amendment whether you can see a thing like that which for war veterans who complain about, which touches a lot of people who do have certain reverence for the flag. To have that burned, desecrated in their eyes and yet protected by the First Amendment. I think it's a hard nut to swallow but it's a kind of nut that the founding fathers wanted us to swallow because they said that it's the hard words not the soft words that need protection.


Nick Capodice: [00:25:08] That decision invalidates laws in 48 states right off the bat.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:25:14] Wow.


Nick Capodice: [00:25:14] Suddenly overnight, whoosh.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:25:17] Yeah


Nick Capodice: [00:25:18] But there's one last one last bit to this.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:25:22] OK.


Nick Capodice: [00:25:23] Hannah which is Congress since Texas v. Johnson and starting in the mid 90s really 1990s has on many occasions tried to pass a new amendment to our Constitution. So we've talked before about how an amendment gets ratified into the Constitution and has to pass a two thirds majority in the house and in the Senate and then two thirds of the states have to agree as well. The actual amendment has been written. It's just waiting to be ratified. The amendment says the Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States. That's it.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:25:58] Even though it is opposed to a Supreme Court decision


Nick Capodice: [00:26:02] Yeah, Because of its amendment would change that because it be in our constitution


Hannah McCarthy: [00:26:07] That's very interesting.


Nick Capodice: [00:26:08] So from the years 1995 to 2005 this amendment passed in the House six times. And each time it lost in the Senate by a handful or two of votes. In 2006 it got to the Senate and it lost by one vote. But even though it lost by just one vote Senate all 50 states have pledged that they are for this flag desecration amendment. So if it gets to the Senate it's pretty much a guarantee.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:26:40] Is it currently for..


Nick Capodice: [00:26:43] Yeah, so the amendment right now. It was proposed in June of 2017 and it's kicked to the Senate Judiciary Committee. So it's in committee as they say, it's in committee.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:26:54] All right.


Nick Capodice: [00:26:54] Who knows where it's going to go from there.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:26:56] Seems pretty likely to happen maybe next this year. Right?


Nick Capodice: [00:27:00] Who knows.


Nick Capodice: [00:27:02] One for the ages I guess.


Nick Capodice: [00:27:05] Thank you Hannah.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:27:08] Thank you Nick.





Made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Subcribe to Civics 101 on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you get your favorite audio.

This podcast is a production of New Hampshire Public Radio.

IRL1: Free Speech in Schools [Rebroadcast]

A rebroadcast to get ready for the school year: we're digging into four incredibly important Supreme Court cases - four cases that have shaped how we interpret the meaning of free speech in public schools.  Is political protest allowed in class?  Is lewd speech covered by the First Amendment? Can school administrators determine what students can and can't say in the school newspaper? Listen in, and find out how students and schools have gone head to head over how First Amendment rights apply in a public school setting.

Have a civics question you want answered? Let us know in the form below and we'll try to answer it!


NOTE: This transcript was generated using an automated transcription service, and may contain typographical errors.


Civics 101

1st Amendment in Schools Transcript


Nick Capodice: [00:00:19] This is Civics 101, I'm Nick Capodice. If you've listened to a few episodes of our show you know that we don't have a lot of time. We try to keep these things down to about 15 minutes so they're digestible. And we can't really get into the moments of historical significance that are relevant to our episode topics like landmark Supreme Court cases actual presidential elections all that fun stuff. And that's what we're going to do today. We're calling it Civics 101 IRL. It's the real historical moments relative to our episode topics. So hope you have fun. Stick around. Last week I got this phone call from Dave Alcox


David Alcox: [00:00:54] Hey Nick this is Dave Alcox of Milford high school


Nick Capodice: [00:00:57] Mr. Alcox is a superstar social studies teacher here in New Hampshire, and a professional deejay.


David Alcox: [00:01:03] I've got a wicked great news for you. We're going to have John and Mary Beth Tinker from Tinker vs Des Moines, and Cathy Kuhlmeier from Hazelwood versus Kuhlmeier come visit us at Milford High


Nick Capodice: [00:01:15] And I didn't want to sound like a complete fool when he called me. But the truth is I didn't know who these people were, and when I found out I had to tell someone. So I grabbed producer Hannah McCarthy.


Hannah McCarthy: Yeah!


Nick Capodice: Come in


Hannah McCarthy: Ok

Nick Capodice: Do you have like five minutes?


Hannah McCarthy: I do yeah I have five minutes


Nick Capodice: Yeah, put on those headphones


Nick Capodice: Do you know who John Tinker, Mary Beth Tinker, and Cathy Kuhlmeier are?


Hannah McCarthy: I have no idea


Nick Capodice: Ok, these, it’s ok because I didn’t either, but I can promise you I will go to my grave knowing the names Tinker, Fraser, Kuhlmeier and Frederick


Hannah McCarthy: You gotta tell me who they are then


Nick Capodice: These are four people involved in Supreme Court cases that drastically, drastically change First Amendment rights in schools


Hannah McCarthy: I can’t believe I haven’t heard of this


Nick Capodice: I’m pretty shocked I haven’t heard about it either.




Nick Capodice: [00:02:08] Number one, Tinker versus Des Moines.


Archival Audio: [00:02:12] John F Tinker and Mary Beth Tinker, minors, etc. et al vs Des Moines independent community school district et al.


Nick Capodice: [00:02:21] The Tinkers name being first means that they are the petitioners. And Des Moines being second means they are the respondent.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:02:29] OK so that means that Des Moines is happy.


Nick Capodice: [00:02:32] Yes the original decision they don't want anything else to happen.


Nick Capodice: [00:02:35] Right. The Tinkers lost the previous case and Des Moines won the previous case. They're cool to stand. Mary Beth tinker, great story, Mary Beth Tinker was 13. Her brother John was about 16 I believe when this happened. Their father was a Methodist minister and he was very involved in the civil rights movement. And John and Mary Beth joined some students who were protesting the Vietnam War the Vietnam War and the United States. It's the first time that war is coming to American living rooms.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:03:05] Right through television.


Nick Capodice: [00:03:06] Yes absolutely. The horrors of war. And they were going to protest by joining some students who were wearing black armbands.


Archival Audio: [00:03:13] Specifically the views were that they mourn the dead on both sides, civilian and military in that war and they supported the proposal which would have been made by United States Senator Robert Kennedy. The truce which had been proposed for that war over the Christmas period made it open ended or an indefinite truce.


Nick Capodice: [00:03:33] Totally coincidentally two days before this big protest of wearing black armbands the principal of their school met with a bunch of other principals in Des Moines and passed a rule saying arm bands are forbidden in our school district.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:03:48] So were other kids wearing armbands?


Nick Capodice: [00:03:51] Yeah this was going to, when they heard that the principal heard that this was going to be a thing that happened. They're like look what are we going to do. Kids are going to be wearing armbands in school and it's going to be a disruption.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:04:00] OK so he tried to preempt the whole thing.


Nick Capodice: [00:04:02] Tried to preempt the whole thing but they wore them to school anyways and they were suspended. And immediately after they were suspended they started getting the threats. So yes. People called them a bunch of commies. Someone said they were going to firebomb their house. And one letter one letter that actually Marybeth still has to this day is like you're welcome to wear your armbands just do it on Saturday. You shouldn't be doing it in school. So they got in contact with the ACLU. They got a case together and through appeals it ends up in the Supreme Court and the vote is seven to two in favor of the Tinkers.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:04:40] That is a landslide. Go John and Mary Beth.


Nick Capodice: [00:04:44] John and Mary Beth. The seven justices wrote in the decision that yes their first amendment rights have been violated and they had a right to protest in school. The justice who wrote the decision is Abe Fortas. So when you have a Supreme Court case there's a decision where the majority writes the majority of it and then you can dissent. If you're someone who disagreed you can write in the dissent and Abe Fortas wrote the decision. He said "It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate." Those words are used over and over in other Supreme Court cases further down the line. It's a magnificent decision and it creates this massive blanket precedent called the Tinker Standard which is where you ask was this speech disruptive. And if it's not disruptive then it's protected in schools. John and Mary Beth Tinker case 1969. And to this day John and Mary Beth do what's called the Tinker tour. They travel the country to tell students about their First Amendment rights.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:05:50] That is very cool.


Nick Capodice: [00:05:51] Mary Beth once said, one of my favorite quotes I found of hers, it's a good way of life to speak up. To use your rights. And she says that students are particularly in a position to speak up because students have virility, students are curious, students are the next generation who are is who is going to challenge the way the previous generation had everything all set up. So later on as the years go by the Supreme Court has to decide, are there things besides disruption quote unquote that makes something protected or not in school. So we're going to shift forward in time to 1986 were there.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:06:27] You should play some music.


Nick Capodice: [00:06:28] Oh I'm going to totally play 1986 music for this. It's going to be Cruel Summer.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:06:32] Yeah.


Archival Audio: [00:06:36] It does not say one should not swear in Latin class, the rule says that obscene or profane language is disruptive.


Nick Capodice: [00:06:46] 1986 Bethel v Fraizer.


Archival Audio: [00:06:50] The Facts of this case are that on April 26 1983 Matt Fraser, a 17 year old high school senior, gave a speech to the Associated Student Body.


Nick Capodice: [00:07:00] Gave speech nominating his friend Jeff for student body vice president. It was not full of cuss words.


Archival Audio: [00:07:06] He gave a crude and vulgar speech.


Nick Capodice: [00:07:08] It was very lewd and it was it was short but it was just goofy and it was all lewd and I think I'm not going, I'm not going to say it. So if you want to read it you can just go listen to it.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:07:21] We can't stop you.


Nick Capodice: [00:07:22] We can't stop you from googling it but it to be to be honest Hannah it's like no worse than a lousy Saturday Night Live monologue.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:07:29] Okay.


Nick Capodice: [00:07:30] Yeah except it's way too short. So it's yeah it's not long enough to be about SNL skit but it's just it's just full of sexual innuendo that's all it is. So then he was sent home for that. He went to court. He went to the 9th Circuit 9th Circuit Court of Appeals which ruled in his favor saying that double entendres were protected speech in schools and then the Bethel district brought it up and got up to the highest court in the land. The Supreme Court. Bethel comes first. Bethel v. Fraser because the Bethel school district is the petitioner in the case.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:08:05] I'm a little surprised. In the 80s. That this, that a school would even bother to say no it's our right to send you home when you exhibit lewd behavior.


Nick Capodice: [00:08:19] Because it's about 1960s when Tinker happened, this is a time the height of protest, it's the 60s you know America is learning how to protest in a new way. By the 1980s this is kind of been accepted. You know kids have freedom of speech in schools. Kids are expressing themselves but can it be lewd. It was another 7 - 2 vote. And the answer is no. You cannot say lewd speech in school and it is not protected in school.


Archival Audio: [00:08:46] The Ninth Circuit we believe has misconstrued the extent of the rights a student has under the First Amendment in a public school setting.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:08:55] I was wondering because I know in middle school at least while I was still in school in Massachusetts in a public school system if a kid wore a T-shirt with a lewd slogan or image on it they had to turn it inside out or go home.


Nick Capodice: [00:09:09] Yep same happened to my school particularly in the 1980s something called the coed naked T-shirts which were really hot in 1989 1990. And because they were lewd the school could tell you to turn them inside out or if they had swear words. So they didn't have to just say swear words. But even if they were lewd it couldn't happen in school. One of the quotes from the decision was "the first amendment does not protect speech in school that is vulgar or inconsistent with the fundamental values of public school education." And it kind of makes sense to me even though I'm you know I'm not a crotchety old man but you know you're you can't just go around saying lewd stuff in school.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:09:49] Right. Yeah yeah yeah. The Queen Mab speech is very filthy.


Nick Capodice: [00:09:53] So in the case the dissent and as I've said before the dissent is always kind of my favorite part of Supreme Court cases because it's like the minority coming out being like I still stand for bippity bop. Justice Stevens John Paul Stevens wrote the dissent and he said he just quoted he said "Frankly my dear I don't give a damn. When I was a high school student the use of those words in a public forum shocked the nation. And today Clark Gable's four letter expletive is less offensive than it was then." So he says that what is considered dirty or unprotected as it were in school can change over the years. Yes so let's let it be so let it be kind of like let it be kind of alive.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:10:39] For those of you listening who don't know what that's referencing that's Rhett Butler.


Nick Capodice: [00:10:43] Oh yeah.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:10:43] From uh, um, God,


Nick Capodice: [00:10:45] Gone with the Wind.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:10:47] Yeah.


Nick Capodice: [00:10:48] Two more and they're going to be fast. So that was in 1986 we're going to go forward in time to another case and this is Hazelwood v Kuhlmeier. now so the Tinker case was cited in the Fraser case and tinker and Fraser are cited and Hazel would be Kuhlmeier. And that's what I love is like Supreme Court decisions are living. They build a top each other. Hazelwood v Kuhlmeier decided in 1988. Kathy Kuhlmeier, she worked at a school newspaper called the Spectrum.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:11:20] Alright.


Nick Capodice: [00:11:20] What a fun name this was! What a ROYGBIV name! The Spectrum. And what they did when they wrote the Spectrum newspaper is they gave the proofs of what the paper is gonna be to the principal. He looked it over and said great job kids and printed it. Principal Reynolds got the proofs. It was a May issue. And there were two stories that the principal didn't really care for. One was about teen pregnancy and the other was about divorce. So what he did was he didn't tell anybody he just removed those articles and published the newspaper. Cathy Kuhlmeier and company got their paper the Spectrum opened it up and saw these two big articles were missing and they said what what's up with that. And the principal said that's you know and he gave his reasons for it goes up to the U.S. Supreme Court.


Archival Audio: [00:12:11] Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the court. This case comes before the court to resolve the issue of whether a school sponsored high school newspaper produced and published by a journalism class is a part of the school adopted curriculum under a teacher's supervision and subject to a principal's review. It is a public forum for the purpose of the First Amendment.


Nick Capodice: [00:12:33] Can schools decide what you can and can't put in a school newspaper? So Hazelwood School District v. Kathy Kuhlmeyer. Kuhlmeier got the help of the American Civil Liberties Union. She sued. She won. Then the Hazelwood district appealed it to and went up to the Supreme Court. This vote was 5 3. It's closer than the others and the victor the Hazelwood school district. Schools do have the right to alter to say what you can and can't put in a school newspaper and this was Justice White who delivered the majority decision and he said "the question we addressed and Tinker is different from the question whether the First Amendment requires a school to promote particular student's speech. The former question addresses educators ability to silence a student's personal expression. That happens to occur on school grounds but the latter question concerns educators' authority over school sponsored publications." So this case goes on to say if it's in a newspaper if it's in a school play if it's in a thing the school does, the school has the right to decide what can and can't be done. So you could do a rude play and the school could say we're not going to put that play up and your first amendment rights are not violated. What do you think of that one?


Hannah McCarthy: [00:14:00] I remember being very upset when my school...well in retrospect I get it. We were going to do the King and I and I prepared my audition song and everything from the King and I and and they decided no it's racist we're not doing it. It is racist. They shouldn't have been doing it. But at the moment I just thought like bunch of soft-handed ninnies, like is not is not a good reaction but I don't understand it. I understand that there is an implicit like as though the school is agreeing with whatever is being put in this material because the school's name is on it.


Nick Capodice: [00:14:33] Yeah it's an interesting case and I think because it extends to all sorts of things musical performances, plays I think of all of the possibilities this decision could change and it still stands. I mean Hazelwood v Kuhlmeier stands.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:14:46] Yeah. Especially, well not especially. There's always there's always some tumult in the country. But right now I think you've got a lot of young people who feel very passionately about certain political and racial tensions. And if they want to write a piece about it and you know perhaps cite use of a racial slur or something and they want to print that and talk about that word for example and why that word is wrong and they're going to print it because it's important that you read it as it is something like this you know and the school says we're not publishing that because that's a racial slur.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:15:24] Or maybe not even quite that we're just not even going to really give you a reason beyond use of racial slur. And we're just not printing your piece. I think it couldn't leave room for let's say a hyper conservative principle to just push back on anything that offended his or her ideals.


Nick Capodice: [00:15:41] Yeah. Well I think you might be in the same bailiwick as, this is one of my favorite dissents ever written, Justice William Brennan, "the young men and women of Hazelwood east high expected a civics lesson, but not the one the court teaches them today such unthinking contempt for individual rights is intolerable from any state official. It's particularly insidious from a school principal to whom the public can trust the task of inoculating in its youth an appreciation for the cherished democratic liberties that our Constitution guarantees." You, listener. Go read the whole case. It's a fascinating dissent. It's a lot of fun full of passion.


Nick Capodice: [00:16:23] One extra point that I want to make that Cathy Kuhlmeier made about defending her article staying in the newspaper was that there was so much teen pregnancy at her school that they had their own daycare.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:16:34] Wow. I have never heard of that.


Nick Capodice: [00:16:36] Yes. You're not allowed to write about teen pregnancy but enough students are having sex and having underage children that you have a daycare at your high school.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:16:45] That takes it to a completely different level.


Nick Capodice: [00:16:48] And now we're up to our last one.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:16:49] All right.


Nick Capodice: [00:16:50] And it's never the last one because gosh there's going to be is probably one being argued right now and it's it's 2007 Morse v.. Frederick.


Nick Capodice: [00:17:00] We're going to go all the way up. Juneau what I'm talking about we're going to Juneau Alaska.


Archival Audio: [00:17:04] ...everyone has been waiting for. And here are the first two torchbearers to enter the stadium Dorothy Hamill.


Nick Capodice: [00:17:11] This is during the torch relay for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City Utah. It's so fun. A schoolhouse Supreme Court case that involves the Olympics and our neighbor to the north.


Archival Audio: [00:17:24] Respondent Joseph Frederick Sr. was late to school that day when he arrived. He joined his friends across the street from the school to watch the event as the torchbearers and camera crews passed by. Frederick and his friends unfurled a 14 foot banner bearing the phrase quote "bong hits for Jesus" endquote.


Nick Capodice: [00:17:44] Bong Hits for Jesus. And the four was the number four and it was all capital letters except for the 'i" in hits. BONG HiTS 4 JESUS. So Frederick hung up the bong hits banner and principal Morse, Deborah Morse she took the banner down and Frederick was suspended. How would you rule on this one?


Hannah McCarthy: [00:18:12] It may fall under the lewd category because it will not lewd but generally inappropriate because it's saying drugs.


Nick Capodice: [00:18:23] You have these nine old Supreme Court justices men and women talking about bong hits for Jesus. And one of them kept being like, "it was a cryptic message. Such cryptic. What did he mean in Bong Hits for Jesus?"


Archival Audio: [00:18:38] I mean that's what I actually seriously don't understand suppose the school has the following rule. By the way on our field trips you can carry around 15 foot banners they can say anything except they can't talk about drugs and they can't talk about sex and they can't talk about. I don't know. Or I'd say three things. Would that be constitutional. Well I mean I think I think a school could certainly prohibit the display of banners on a school trip or in a school or some...suppose that this particular person had whispered to his next door neighbor bong hits for Jesus. Suppose that's what had happened.


Nick Capodice: [00:19:16] How are they going to vote?


Hannah McCarthy: [00:19:20] I feel a little nervous.


Nick Capodice: [00:19:20] Is the boy and the banner protected, or is the principal in her in her rights thinking of what you know about Hazelwood v Kuhlmeier, thinking of what you know of the Tinker standard and thinking of what you know about Fraser?


Hannah McCarthy: [00:19:33] I think given what I've learned so far from this lesson. Yeah. The principal is protected.


Nick Capodice: [00:19:39] Really.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:19:41] Yeah. Because we've seen two cases where if there is objectionable material the school is in the right to say no.


Nick Capodice: [00:19:50] The court votes five to four, close one, in favor of principal Morse. You got it on the head. And who wrote the decision was the newest chief justice. Justice Roberts.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:20:02] OK.


Nick Capodice: [00:20:02] It was an early decision of the new of the Roberts, uh, of the Roberts court. He said in his decision he said "Tinker held that student expression may not be suppressed unless school officials reasonably conclude that it's going to disrupt the work of the school. Fraser demonstrates that the constitutional rights of students in public school are not automatically coexisting with the rights of adults in other settings like Fraser. If he had said those rude words outside a school th at would've been fine. But he can't say them in school and then Kuhlmeier acknowledged that schools may regulate some speech even though the government couldn't censor it outside of the school. And finally the concern here is not that Frederick speech was offensive but that it is reasonably viewed as promoting illegal drug use.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:20:54] So my biggest issue with all of this is that all of these Supreme Court judges are saying you know you've got adult rights and then you've got what happens to kids in the school in the public school system.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:21:08] And so it's it's basically saying that they aren't, children do not have the same rights as adults. In this certain.


Nick Capodice: [00:21:16] in this public school setting.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:21:18] Right. So why is it that the public school is this hallowed ground where students are stripped of something.


Nick Capodice: [00:21:25] Well do you think that students should have the right to say whatever they want whenever they want in school?


Hannah McCarthy: [00:21:32] No.


Nick Capodice: [00:21:33] Well let's talk about disruption first of all OK. Can somebody stand up and start screaming in class and disrupt your lessons.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:21:39] People do it.


Nick Capodice: [00:21:40] They do it but should they be allowed to do it?


Hannah McCarthy: [00:21:42] Well they're punished right.


Nick Capodice: [00:21:43] So should they not be punished.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:21:45] No I think they should be punished. I guess the idea is that the learning environment we're trying to teach our youth how to be responsible how to earn those rights as adults. I can yeah I can see that. I can understand that. I was also always a good kid. So it's easy for me to just imagine not to say that these are bad kids who are dissenting. Yeah but I only ever saw that it's entertaining and I never came up against sitting in the principal's office for having started an expletive.


Nick Capodice: [00:22:18] I mean I don't think it's, I'm a dyed in the wool champion of freedom of speech. I always have been. You know but all these cases like both sides make sense to me. You know something in them makes sense to me. So I can understand the court's difficulty in making these decisions. And in the dissent for Morse v Frederick it's Justice John Paul Stevens again, and his dissent by the end of it gets around to the point of basically this whole thing we've been talking about. He starts with this he says "although this case began with his silly nonsensical banner it ends up with the court inventing out of whole cloth a special First Amendment rule permitting the censorship of any student speech that mentions drugs." And then he says "the Vietnam war is remembered today as an unpopular war. But during the Tinker era during its early stages the dominant opinion that Justice Harlan mentioned in his Tinker dissent regarded opposition to that war as unpatriotic if not treason." So look where we are now. Who knows if feelings about drugs cannot change.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:23:26] We know that they can change we're seeing the marijuana laws change across the country.


Nick Capodice: [00:23:30] Absolutely. So I really like that in his dissent for for this case as he references Tinker and he says guys don't forget you know the Vietnam War. You would be just screamed at for opposing the Vietnam War. You'd get in trouble. People would get into fights with you at bars. I really like that he comes back to Tinker and he comes back in a way that's supportive of this. The Constitution is interpreted and those interpretations change over the years. These four students Tinker Fraser Kuhlmeier, Frederick. Four kids changed the ways our First Amendment rights are interpreted in schools.


Nick Capodice: [00:24:07] Well Mr. Alcox, if you're listening I'm ready now. Send me your Tinkers and your Kuhlmeiers. This episode was produced by me Nick Capodice and Hannah McCarthy. Erika Janik is our executive producer, our staff includes Ben Henry, Jacqui Helbert, Jimmy Gutierrez, Justine Paradis, and Taylor Quimby. Music is by the inimitable Peetie Wheetstraw, 1937. And Matt Oakley. The dulcet tones of Supreme Court justices past and present come from oyez.org, it's a free Law Project from Cornell's Legal Information Institute. Civics 101 is a production of NHPR, New Hampshire Public Radio.






Made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Subcribe to Civics 101 on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you get your favorite audio.

This podcast is a production of New Hampshire Public Radio.

The Death Penalty

On today's episode we're looking into a practice that sets the U.S. aside from all other Western countries: Capital Punishment. So, is the death penalty a part of the Constitution? How has the Supreme Court ruled on the issue? And ultimately, what can we learn about ourselves from the practice?

Our guest today is Carol Steiker, Harvard Law Professor and author of Courting Death: The Supreme Court and Capital Punishment.

Have a civics question you want answered? Let us know in the form below and we'll try to answer it!


NOTE: This transcript was generated using an automated transcription service, and may contain typographical errors.


Death Penalty


Nick Capodice: [00:00:00] You're listening to Civics 101.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:02] And I'm Hannah McCarthy.


Nick Capodice: [00:00:03] And today we're talking about the death penalty otherwise known as capital punishment.


[00:00:08] Now to more breaking news from Utah where a convicted murderer Ronnie Lee Gardner was shot to death by a firing squad overnight. I want to turn to one of this week's biggest stories in Oklahoma are the execution of Clayton Lockett went horribly wrong.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:22] I've heard that we're the only Western nation that still has the death penalty. I want to know if that's true and if it is why.


Nick Capodice: [00:00:33] I want to know how policy towards the death penalty has changed as we've evolved as a nation. This is an issue that doesn't seem just relegated to politics. It could also extend to broader philosophical question can we kill other people because they've done the same. So we wanted to talk to someone who really knew about capital punishment.


Carol Steiker: [00:00:57] My name is Carol Staker. I am the Henry J. Friendly Professor of Law at Harvard Law School where I also am a faculty coach director of the Criminal Justice Policy Program.


Nick Capodice: [00:01:09] So to start do we have a national policy on the death penalty?


Carol Steiker: [00:01:15] No we do not have a national policy on the death penalty because the death penalty is primarily a state by state affair. That's one of the things that makes us different from most other countries is that we give individual states authority over the criminal justice system. So we do have a federal death penalty but the federal government is really a bit player in this field of the 1300 or so executions that have occurred in the last 40 years. Only three of them have been by the federal government.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:01:47] So the Supreme Court has ruled on definitions within the death penalty. But is the death penalty addressed in the Constitution.


Carol Steiker: [00:01:56] Well at the time the Constitution was drafted. Every one of the original 13 colonies had the death penalty and used it and the death penalty is mentioned in the Constitution a number of times. So many people argue that oh well therefore it must be constitutional because it's mentioned in the Constitution. But I think that's a little too simplistic. It's true that at the time the Constitution was drafted there was not any official questioning of the death penalty is permissibility but also mentioned in the Constitution is mutilation. The Fifth Amendment says you can't be held twice in jeopardy of life or limb because there were times in our colonial period where we cut off people's hands or branded them or otherwise mutilated their bodies as punishment. I don't think that many people would argue that because that phrase is in the Constitution that that means that today there's no constitutional problem with say cutting off limbs as punishment. So let's talk about the history. How has our nation's views towards the death penalty changed since the colonial days. Well you know what's really interesting is that when you ask people today why we have the death penalty they come up with a variety of arguments they say well maybe we have to deter other people from committing heinous crimes or maybe we just have it for what are called retributive purposes that is for punishing people in proportion to their dessert. The one thing nobody today would say we have the death penalty for is rehabilitation. I mean you don't rehabilitate someone by killing them. But actually in the colonial era that was the main purpose of capital punishment. That is it was thought at the time that we were overwhelmingly Christian country and people were overwhelmingly believers and they thought that if someone was sentenced to death they could be brought to a state of repentance by the knowledge of their impending execution and therefore their immortal soul could be saved. So the point of sentencing people to death was actually to rehabilitate their souls. I don't think you'd get that argument very often.


Nick Capodice: [00:04:22] Hannah and I are both sitting here with our mouths open. I had no knowledge that the death penalty would have been considered justifiable for religious reasons at that time like you're doing you're doing them a favor. So what's the first legal language about the death penalty the first time maybe the Supreme Court got involved with this death penalty case.


Carol Steiker: [00:04:40] Well that's a really interesting question because it wasn't until the 20th century that the Supreme Court got involved. So let me just tell this story because it's a it's not a well-known one but it's very important to understand how today we understand everyone understands that the Supreme Court is the main player in America's Death Penalty drama. Like I said at the beginning of our country although all the original states had the death penalty although there were people who raised questions about it including some of our founding fathers like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. It was legal and it was practiced pretty much everywhere. But as the 19th century wore on there was a real divergence between the north and the south around the death penalty. That as a number of states in the north and in the Midwest either abolished the death penalty outright. Michigan was the first English speaking jurisdiction in the world to abolish the death penalty in the 1940s and has never had it since then. But in the American South none of the Southern states abolished the death penalty and were very very slow to restrict it in any way because after the Civil War Southern whites were petrified about the possibility of retaliatory violence from the large freed black populations that were in their myths. And they responded with really what was a reign of terror. Again blacks in the south what we now know was a 50 year period of lynching a period in which more than 4000 people were lynched in the United States. Now it wasn't lynching per se that brought the Supreme Court into the death penalty fray. It was the South's response to lynching. So Southern leaders didn't like lynching. It made them look weak. It made them look unable to control the angry mobs who conducted these lynchings in their states. And so they came up with an anti lynching policy that essentially had sheriffs standing on the front steps of courthouses facing down the mob that wanted to lynch a black person charged with a crime against a white person saying don't worry we're going to have a really fast trial and this person this defendant will be hanging by sunset. And that resulted in a kind of quick and dirty. What many people have now call a policy of legal lynching. And this is what brought the Supreme Court into the fray. Now I'm getting to specifically answering your question when did the Supreme Court start to regulate the death penalty under the Constitution. Like I said at the beginning of our country. All the original states had the death penalty although there were people who raised questions about it including some of our founding fathers like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. But the first time that the Supreme Court ever made a rule specific to death penalty cases under theU.S. Constitution was in 1932. In a famous case called Powell versus Alabama which many people today know as the Scottsboro Boys case the Scottsboro Boys case involved nine black boys and they were boys they were ages 12 to 19 who were riding the rails in the South in Alabama and two white women who were also riding the rails accused the nine boys of raping them. We now know that these charges were unfounded. In fact the state of Alabama eventually issued a complete pardon to all of the nine Scottsboro Boys The most recent was in 2013. But at the time they were tried convicted and sentenced to death at least eight of them were the 12 year old was not sentenced to death but eight of the others were sentenced to death after trials that were you know ridiculous incredibly fast and which they were essentially unrepresented by counsel. And the Supreme Court took this case and said For the first time in capital cases you have to have a lawyer. The Constitution requires that.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:09:05] So what have been some other major historic milestones involving the Supreme Court and the death penalty.


Carol Steiker: [00:09:13] Well the biggest was a very famous case in 1972 called Furman versus Georgia where the Supreme Court abolished the death penalty in the United States. Now you might say that's news to me. I thought we still had the death penalty in the United States and we do. And that's because the Supreme Court reversed itself four years later. But I'll get to that. But how did we get to a point in 1972 where the Supreme Court abolished the death penalty in the United States. And the answer is a sort of direct descendant of the Scottsboro Boys case in 1963 almost exactly 30 years after Scottsboro another black man convicted and sentenced to death for raping a white woman in Alabama. As the Supreme Court to take his case. Well there was a liberal justice on the court in the 1960s named Arthur Goldberg who was very much an opponent of capital punishment. He wrote a long what's called dissent from denial of Sir Sharara a dissent from the courts failure to take the case that basically announced to the world his thinking that it was time for the court to consider the constitutionality of capital punishment at least for the crime of rape. And it turns out that that dissent from denial of review caught the attention of the premier civil rights organization in the United States. The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund which people everyone calls LDS for short. This was the same organization that had brought and won the Brownvs. Board of Education in 1954 and desegregated America's schools. So it tells you something about the death penalty about its history that in the 1960s in the middle of the civil rights era the nation's preeminent civil rights and racial justice organization would think that the death penalty should become its most important project.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:11:17] So why was the death penalty then reinstated.


Carol Steiker: [00:11:20] That's a very good question. Well it turns out that although LDS won a big victory in 1972 it was a very fragile victory. There are nine justices on the Supreme Court. The decision was 5 to 4 and each of the five justices wrote his own opinion and none of them joined each other so it was kind of hard to know exactly what was wrong with the death penalty in 1972. But the sort of two key swing justices who had rejected such a challenge the year before but changed their minds and accepted it. And Ferman had a kind of narrow view of what was wrong with the death penalty. They said what was wrong was that jurors who did death sentencing in the United States were not given sufficient guidance on how to apply it. They had too wide ranging discretion. The death penalty was widely authorized and there were no standards to help them decide who should get it. So of course states that wanted to keep the death penalty decided to redraft their capital statutes in an attempt to provide the very guidance that these swing justices said were missing. And in 1976 the Supreme Court granted review on five of these new statutes from. And you won't be surprised by this list. Texas Georgia Florida North Carolina and Louisiana. And they upheld a new generation of statutes that provided what the court called guided discretion and the death penalty was back in business.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:12:59] Is the death penalty currently considered an effective deterrent.


Carol Steiker: [00:13:06] I don't think it is. I don't think it is fairly considered to be there. There's been a real cottage industry trying to figure out whether the death penalty deters better than other punishments. You know life without parole or long prison terms. And while other studies that come out on both sides in 2012 a blue ribbon panel of you know the National Institute of Science did a meta analysis of all the studies and concluded that there is no evidence that the death penalty deters. Now they also said there is no evidence that it doesn't deter. In other words the absence of evidence that it deters is not evidence of absence of deterrence. So we're sort of stuck in a who knows situation however just kind of using common sense there about you know 10 to 15000 homicides in the United States every year. Last year we executed around 30 people most people who commit crimes serious homicides have every reason to think that they will not be executed because even the majority of people who have been sentenced to death have not been executed. So just in terms of what you think might contribute to deterrence the way we actually practice the death penalty makes it exceedingly unlikely that it deters.


Nick Capodice: [00:14:38] This may be a strange question but seeing as we have so many people who are on death row in states that have had people on death row for years without executions, what is the justifiable point of keeping the death penalty.


Carol Steiker: [00:14:52] Well it's a really good question. I think in some of the states that keep people on death row for years and years California is case in point. They have you know 700 ish people on death row but between in the last 40 years they've executed only 13 people. I think it's it's kind of a symbolic statement by returning the sentence of death they get to say we take this really seriously but then they don't actually follow through with executions. If you want a really cool analogy to the founding era again occasionally in colonial times people were sentenced to stand at the gallows with the rope around their neck. And often they weren't told that they weren't really going to be hanged. But the actual sentence was you just go to the gallows and they put the rope around your neck. And that was your punishment. And I guess it was a symbolic way of saying what you did was really really bad. And it's enough to make that symbolic statement without actually killing you. And that's what some states I think are doing with the death penalty.


Nick Capodice: [00:16:03] So can you tell me about the arguments moral or legal or civics related against having the death penalty.


Carol Steiker: [00:16:13] Well I think the strongest argument against the death penalty is not so much about what it does to the people who are executed. About whether they deserve it. But what it says about us as a community as a society I often debate the death penalty with people who are very much for it and they always start their debate with an example of some heinous crime. So one person that I debated once started with a description of a crime I'm not even sure that this was a real crime but he described a case in which the defendant had been involved with a woman who broke up with him and he was very angry and he kidnapped her two children from a previous relationship and took those two children and staked them out alive in an alligator patch and let them be eaten by alligators. And he rhetorically said to the audience in our debate how could we think that anything less than death is what this heinous and atrocious murderer deserves. My answer to him is why would we think that a single relatively painless death by lethal injection is what this heinous and atrocious murderer deserves. Why don't we stake him out in an alligator patch and let him get eaten alive by alligators. Always a few people who think well that's a pretty good idea. But most people say no we don't do that. That's uncivilized. And once they admit or acknowledge that there are things that people might be said to deserve because of the heinousness of their own behavior that we don't do because of our civilization humanity. If you want then I think you know you're on my page. If you believe that. And you know I think death should be one of those things that we don't do because that's not what civilized societies do that we have plenty of serious punishments that take seriously wrong doing without taking the awesome step of ending people's lives.






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The Equal Rights Amendment

The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) is a proposed Constitutional amendment that would explicitly guarantee legal equality under U.S. law, regardless of sex. But almost a century after it was first proposed, the ERA has still not been ratified. What's the hold-up?

Lillian Cunningham is a journalist at The Washington Post. She's also host and creator of the podcasts Presidential and Constitutional.

Have a civics question you want answered? Let us know in the form below and we'll try to answer it!


NOTE: This transcript was generated using an automated transcription service, and may contain typographical errors.


Civics 101




Nick Capodice: [00:00:00] Civics 101 is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. I'm Nick Capodice.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:09] And I'm Hannah McCarthy.


Nick Capodice: [00:00:10] And this is Civics 101. The podcast refresher course on the basics of how our democracy works. The Equal Rights Amendment is a proposed constitutional amendment that would guarantee equality under U.S. law regardless of sex. Huh. Um, shouldn't that already be in there? Is that in there? No? Not really?


Lillian Cunningham: [00:00:32] The Equal Rights Amendment has been the most frequently proposed amendment in all of US history. There have been 11000 proposed amendments over the course of U.S. history and we only have 27 that have actually made it into the Constitution. But out of those 11000 the Equal Rights Amendment or some version of an Equal Rights Amendment is by far the most frequently proposed.


Nick Capodice: [00:01:03] That's today's guest Lillian Cunningham.


Lillian Cunningham: [00:01:05] I'm Lillian Cunningham. I am a journalist at The Washington Post and I'm the host and creator of two podcasts we have, Presidential and Constitutional.


Nick Capodice: [00:01:15] Lillian Cunningham who also goes by Lily is joining us to explain the ERA and why, almost a century after it was first proposed, we're hearing about it again in the news right now.


Archival audio: [00:01:27] You got to hear what I have to say because you know what's going to happen. Women are not given equal rights and protections under federal law.


Nick Capodice: [00:01:49] Alright, let's begin with the most basic question of all. Lily, what is the Equal Rights Amendment?


Lillian Cunningham: [00:01:54] So the Equal Rights Amendment is a proposed amendment or proposed change to the U.S. Constitution. And so the idea is that we would add a line or two to the constitution that would explicitly grant equality under U.S. law to every citizen regardless of their sex. So basically that would mean women would have the same rights and protections as men under the U.S. Constitution. The exact wording I have here in front of me the exact wording is "equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex." So you know I think most of us today this sounds pretty straightforward kind of like a no brainer that men and women should have equal protections. But there has actually been a really intense and really long battle that's taking place over about 100 years now in this country over whether we should actually put that language in the Constitution. And that battle is kind of reaching a new climax in the country right now.


Nick Capodice: [00:03:13] So this is a proposed amendment it hasn't been ratified yet. And as Hannah and I know from several different episodes it takes two thirds of all houses three quarters of all states to ratify a constitutional amendment so this is still in the works?


Lillian Cunningham: [00:03:26] So this is where it actually gets very complicated. Right. So what is clear is that it was a proposed amendment and it did at one point pass both houses of Congress with two thirds of the vote. Now what it hasn't done is it hasn't cleared the second hurdle which is that three quarters of states.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:03:51] So Lily you said that this debate has been going on for about a hundred years now. When was this thing proposed and why was it proposed.


Lillian Cunningham: [00:03:59] The backdrop here is in 1920 the country adopts the 19th Amendment which is women's right to vote and kind of on the high from that victory, Alice Paul who's the head of the National Women's Party at the time and a bunch of other female activists, they decide you know OK this is great we have the right to vote now in this country but that's only one piece of what equality looks like. Gender equality looks like. And so really shortly after the adoption of the 19th Amendment Alice Paul and some of her colleagues put forward this idea that we should have an equal rights amendment. Alice Paul is not a congresswoman. She's just a political activist. But she sort of brings this idea to members of Congress and actually at the time in the early 1920s a nephew of Susan B Anthonys was a congressman and he and one of his other colleagues in Congress decide that they are going to actually officially propose this Equal Rights Amendment and they do that in 1923. It doesn't get enough votes though to pass and they try again the next year and the next year and every single year from 1923 onward an Equal Rights Amendment is proposed in Congress. But it just doesn't have enough momentum to get anywhere. Until about 1970 and that's then when the story changes and we suddenly see 50 years after its first proposed we finally see it pass both houses of Congress.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:05:51] So what is going on in the early 1970s why does the story suddenly change after 50 years?


Lillian Cunningham: [00:05:58] So it kind of interestingly it's another moment in the nation's history where we're obviously really debating and trying to reconcile our history of inequality. So Sort of out of racial inequality protesting comes some of these attempts to also fix gender inequality gaps. And so that's why we sort of see this turning point where there's just a lot of political pressure on Congress to pass this equal rights amendment that's been sitting there languishing and it becomes kind of a symbol of the country's commitment to solving these inequality issues.


Nick Capodice: [00:06:44] So it makes it out of committee, miraculously. It gets two thirds of the House two thirds of the Senate. But what happens in the States in 1970?


Lillian Cunningham: [00:06:54] So Congress does something with this amendment that they haven't done with a number of other amendments. And what they do is they pass it but they write that it has a seven year deadline to get those state ratifications. So that means that thirty eight states need to ratify or you know basically sign off and say they want this amendment to be in the Constitution. They need to do that by a deadline of March 22nd, 1979.


Nick Capodice: [00:07:29] So what are the arguments against the ERA. Because with our 2018 glasses on it seems a little strange to have this argument. But were there arguments against it in the 1970s and 80s?


Lillian Cunningham: [00:07:40] There were. There were arguments about it all the way back to the 1920s when it was first proposed you know some people say we don't actually want the same treatment for men and women and it doesn't mean we want worse treatment for women.


Lillian Cunningham: [00:08:00] But you know a lot of the people actually who opposed the Equal Rights Amendment were other women. In the 1920s there were women who had been fighting really hard to get new labor laws passed so that in this like new industrial age where women were joining the workforce in numbers that they hadn't before they were pushing really hard to pass laws where there were limited work hours for women or where you know you could say like if a woman goes on maternity leave she should maybe have different treatment than a man does in the workplace. And then there are of course also some people who are just in the camp of like ah, we already have a 14th Amendment that's sort of more broadly guarantees equal protection for every citizen under the law. And you know we don't really need this amendment.


Nick Capodice: [00:08:54] More on the ERA and the iconic activist who by some accounts is the single reason the ERA didn't pass in the 1970s. That's after the break.


Nick Capodice: [00:09:06] Welcome back to Civics 101. We are here with Lillian Cunningham, journalist for The Washington Post and host and creator of two of their podcasts, Presidential and Constitutional. I'm Nick Capodice here with Hannah McCarthy.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:09:18] So in the 70s and the 80s who was leading the charge against this equal rights amendment?


Lillian Cunningham: [00:09:25] So the main figure is this woman Phyllis Schlafly and she is she is a lawyer and she's also a conservative political activist and she is one of these women who very much felt that women should be treated differently under the law.


Nick Capodice: [00:09:48] Yeah and we've actually dug up some audio here of Phyllis Schlafly speaking about her views on the ERA.


Phyllis Schlafly: [00:09:54] My youngest daughter became 18. And I realized that what these people really wanted was to take my five 5 foot 2 little girl and treat her just like a man and draft her and put her in basic training and teach her to kill and send her out into our country's wars just like the men. Yes I do get emotional about that.


Phyllis Schlafly: [00:10:17] That brought about a very cutthroat censorship of elementary school textbooks, so that they eliminated ego pictures of women in the home and women with babies. Now I believe that strong nations depend upon strong families, and that child care should not be primarily a governmental function.


Archival audio: [00:10:34] Mrs. Schlafly in a well organized and financed campaign has been flying around the country inspiring opposition groups such as this one in Dade County, and the anti amendment mail started coming in.


Lillian Cunningham: [00:10:48] At least in the kind of simple telling of the story she's kind of the main reason why everyone who supported the ERA feels that they weren't able to get the 38 states they needed by the seven year deadline. You know for every pro ERA campaign that was mounted there was Phyllis Schlafly with the anti ERA campaign competing against state and cutting into its momentum.


Nick Capodice: [00:11:19] So I have two questions about where the amendment stands now, and the first is what would be the tangible effects if it were to be ratified?.


Lillian Cunningham: [00:11:28] So there are people who say at this point the ERA is more symbolic than anything else, that it's important for us to put it in the Constitution because it's important for us to acknowledge as a country that we have gender equality, but that in practice you know we've already kind of set up a legal system that can you know account for and protect women so that some people say not much will change.


Lillian Cunningham: [00:11:58] Other people of course the ones who are you know out there right now advocating for it they say it could have an effect on things like equal pay in the workplace for women. It could mean that women or actually men couldn't be charged different insurance premiums, health insurance, car insurance things like that. You know just based on their gender. It could have some kind of future effect on parental leave. So we don't really know all of the ways that it might play out. And that's you know, we won't know even if it does eventually make it into the constitution and we won't have an answer right away of course because all of that sort of thing gets set over time in Supreme Court cases kind of set the precedent for how they're going to how they're going to read that constitutional amendment.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:12:55] It strikes me that it's it's hard to overturn what the Constitution says but it's not quite so hard to overturn what a law says.


Lillian Cunningham: [00:13:06] Absolutely. You know with the exception of prohibition where we put that into the constitution and then repealed it eventually no other constitutional amendment in our history has been repealed. And it is the most permanent way we have of fixing something into you know the governing structure of our country. So it kind of buffers it from the winds of any particular political climate or you know President in office or Congress leaning this way or that way. Absolutely. Yeah that I think is one of the strongest arguments there is for why it would make a difference if we put it in the Constitution.


Nick Capodice: [00:13:55] And I guess the biggest question for me is what's going on right now with equal rights amendment. Why why is it coming into the news as we speak?


Lillian Cunningham: [00:14:03] That's the kind of curious and exciting and interesting thing right now is that the deadline the original deadline Congress set was 1979. And by 1979 35 of the 38 states that needed to ratify it had ratified it. So there were three states away from getting it officially into the Constitution. So Congress decides they're going to extend the deadline by three years until 1982 and give some of these straggler states a chance to ratify it so they can get the three more that's needed which was a controversial move at the time. So that second 82 deadline comes along. There are still 35 states. And it's you know kind of just pronounced dead. Like Congress doesn't extend another deadline. And the idea is that OK if we want an equal rights amendment we now need to go back to square one. It will need to be proposed in Congress again passed by Congress again sent to the states all the states again. So there are people today who say the ERA is actually dead. That's it. It's done. Well. Other people say you know I don't think so I think if we still get three more states we could go to Congress and say hey we have the 38 states we finally need. If Congress had the right to put a deadline on it in the first place and put an extension on the deadline then you have the ability kind of after the fact to go back and say OK we're going to sort of waive that original deadline and we're going to honor the rest of the state ratifications.


Lillian Cunningham: [00:16:00] So there are people who have since 1982 been kind of quietly pushing to get the other three states to ratify it so that we know as a country could then have to sort of force Congress's hand to decide you know what are they going to do. And what's happened is that last year Nevada kind of out of the blue passed it. Or they ratified it. Their state legislature decided to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. And that meant there were 36 states and then just recently Illinois decided to do the same thing. So that's now 37 states that have said they want this amendment in the Constitution. So there is a huge question mark right now. Like can we get a 38th state? What state would it be. And you know the big question which is what in the world happens if we do get 38 states and Congress then needs to decide whether it's going to honor this. Even though the deadlines expired. So that's where we stand right now. It's a question again without an answer. We have no idea what Congress would do.


Nick Capodice: [00:17:36] Lillian Cunningham is a journalist with The Washington Post and the host and creator of Two sensational podcasts, Presidential and Constitutional. Do yourself a favor and listen to them. Presidential is a podcast about each of our presidents and onstitutional is an in-depth look at the stories of the people who framed and reframed the Constitution and our nation. Today's episode was produced by Justine Paradis with our executive producer Erika Janik. Our staff includes Ben Henry Taylor Quimby Jimmy Gutierrez and Jacqui Helbert and it's hosted by Hannah McCarthy and me Nick Capodice. If you have a question about this grand old American experiment. Send it to us.


Nick Capodice: [00:18:16] You can e-mail us at Civic's 101 at NHP dot org or tweet us at @civics101pod. Civics 101 is a production of new Hampshire Public Radio.






Made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Subcribe to Civics 101 on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you get your favorite audio.

This podcast is a production of New Hampshire Public Radio.

The Affordable Care Act

On today's episode, we tackle a defining law from the Obama administration, the Affordable Care Act -- better known as Obamacare. Some people love it, others hate it, but what did the law really do? Is American health care actually more, you know, affordable? And why is there so much talk of repealing the ACA? Our guide today is Julie Rovner, Washington correspondent for Kaiser Health News

This episode was recorded on 6/11/18.

Have a civics question you want answered? Let us know in the form below and we'll try to answer it!


Nick Capodice: [00:00:05] I'm Nick Capodice.

Ben Henry: [00:00:06] I'm Ben Henry.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:06] I'm Hannah McCarthy.

Nick Capodice: [00:00:07] And today we're talking about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Ben Henry: [00:00:12] Otherwise known as Obamacare.

Nick Capodice: [00:00:13] We're talking about Obamacare!

Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:14] Obamacare, yeah that's how I know it.

Ben Henry: [00:00:17] So guys the reason I wanted to talk about this is I saw this graph in The New York Times a couple of weeks ago and I found it shocking. What the graph shows is it lays out the amount of money that the United States spends on healthcare per person compared to our life expectancy. How long we live in general you know is a measure of how healthy we are.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:38] Yeah I'm looking at it right now it looks like our life expectancy is like seventy nine.

Ben Henry: [00:00:43] Yeah this graph shows that we spend way more money on health care than other developed nations and we don't live longer because of it compared to those other nations. We're kind of somewhere in the middle of the pack in terms of life expectancy.

Nick Capodice: [00:00:57] But we are way ahead of the pack in terms of how much we spend.

Ben Henry: [00:00:59] Way ahead--we're spending all this money and it's not clear what we're getting out of this. And the reason that this article was crazy to me is because the takeaway from the whole article is that we don't really know why. We're not sure why the cost of health care is so high in this country.

Nick Capodice: [00:01:18] I'm very keen to have Obamacare explained to me because I know sort of what it is but I have no idea how the nuts and bolts bolts all work together for it.

Ben Henry: [00:01:27] So we're talking to Julie Rovner. She's a Washington correspondent for Kaiser Health News and she also hosts a podcast for them and she is a veteran healthcare policy reporter. And guys, no question is too stupid.

Nick Capodice: [00:01:41] Oh good.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:01:42] Thank God.

Ben Henry: [00:01:43] We're going to figure out health care.

Nick Capodice: [00:01:50] Julie welcome to Civics 101.

Julie Rovner: [00:01:53] Thank you for having me.

Nick Capodice: [00:01:54] So set the stage for us it's 2008 Obama comes into office. What are the problems that he and his administration see in the U.S. health care system?

Julie Rovner: [00:02:04] Well there are two big problems in 2008. One was the very large number of people who did not have health insurance and some large percentage which could not get health insurance if you didn't get health insurance through the government or on the job and you had to buy your own. If you had a preexisting condition if you had ever basically used the health care system you might not have been able to even buy health insurance at any price if you could buy it it might have been prohibitively expensive.

[00:02:32] At the same time health care costs were rising rapidly they still are by the way. And there was an effort by basically all of the stakeholders everybody involved in healthcare delivery, purchase, consumption, who wanted to do something about the rising cost of health care.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:02:50] So with the Affordable Care Act what were the major provisions in the act? What were they trying to solve?

Julie Rovner: [00:02:57] The main two pieces of the Affordable Care Act that we tend to talk about were, one, the insurance reforms requiring insurance companies to sell to people with preexisting conditions to sell to them at the same price and to not charge women more.

[00:03:14] But also the requirement for most people to either have health insurance or pay a fine. Those were all the things that sort of went together to try to shore up that individual market where about 20 million people buy their own coverage.

[00:03:27] And the other major piece was the expansion of the Medicaid program. Previously Medicaid was available to people with low incomes. But you had to be low income and something else you had to be low income and a child low income and a pregnant woman low income and someone with a disability or low income and a senior.

[00:03:46] Basically what the Affordable Care Act said was you really just had to have a low income and then you could be eligible. Originally that was a requirement all states were going to have to expand Medicaid. In 2012 the Supreme Court ruled that the Medicaid expansion was coercive to the states and it had to be voluntary. So now we have most of the states doing it because the federal government is paying the vast majority of that cost. But there's still 18 states I think that have not yet decided to opt into that Medicaid expansion.

Nick Capodice: [00:04:17] So how did it do in solving those two problems.

Julie Rovner: [00:04:21] Well I think the consensus is it did better at covering people than it did at lowering costs. And there's a variety of reasons for that. But certainly millions of people have joined Medicaid under the states that did expand the people who were getting help paying for their coverage.

[00:04:39] There are a lot more of those people, some other people for complicated reasons have been priced out of that if they make too much to get help from the government. So it's been sort of a give and take in the individual market but yes many more people overall have coverage than had coverage before the Affordable Care Act was passed on the cost side.

[00:04:59] There were a lot of changes to Medicare and they were all intended to be experiment. So some of them have worked better than others of them. Healthcare spending went down rather dramatically in the years following the enactment of the Affordable Care Act. There was a very lively debate amongst analysts and economists about whether that was because of the law or because of the the the Great Depression the recession that still not clear I think the consensus was it was sort of a combination of the two.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:05:28] So you said that it didn't necessarily lower costs but Affordable Care is built into the name of the act. Are you able to explain in a not too complicated way why it did not lower the costs of the cost of health insurance?

Julie Rovner: [00:05:42] One of the big pieces of the Affordable Care in the Affordable Care Act was helping people who didn't have job based insurance or didn't have government insurance afford private insurance and it has done a very good job at that. Previously if you earned thirty thousand dollars a year and insurance costs two thousand dollars a month that just wasn't going to work for you. But now there are subsidies that will help you know people really with a family of four up to about 90000 dollars. Help them afford insurance.

[00:06:07] So in that sense it did make insurance more affordable for the people who were getting help. What happened was the people who weren't getting help were having to pay increases that were very large.

Nick Capodice: [00:06:20] Can you tell me about some of the major criticisms of Obamacare then when it went through and even up to now?

Julie Rovner: [00:06:25] Well Of course the biggest criticism came from Republicans who voted against it unanimously in the end which is that they just didn't want more government involvement in the health care system. Government is already depending on how you look at it either covering or paying close to half of the nation's health care bill. So there's already a lot of government in the health care system and this was seen as perhaps a step to a fully government paid system ... Obviously Republicans would like more market and less government.

[00:06:59] There was also a concern that particularly the requirement that people have insurance or else pay a fine sort of offended the libertarian streak that runs through many Americans of both parties. I mean that was that was just an ideological line that people didn't want to cross. Interestingly enough that the idea of that individual mandate requiring people to have some responsibility for health care that they were likely to consume whether or not they had insurance was originally a Republican idea. It started in the early 1990s when President Bill Clinton was proposing a much more government focused system. That was the Republican's response. They kind of backed off of it later. But then of course they did do it, the first individual mandate in the United States was in Massachusetts in 2006 under then Republican Governor Mitt Romney.

[00:07:48] So it was always sort of kicking around as a Republican idea. But when the Democrats adopted it the Republicans decided they wanted no part of it and indeed it has traditionally been the least popular part of the Affordable Care Act with the public.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:08:01] Why should there be an imperative against not having health insurance? Why Does the government believe that we should?

Julie Rovner: [00:08:08] Well the argument is that almost everybody's going to use health care regardless of whether they're insured or not. So if you're not insured and you get in an accident and you're taken to the hospital and you're treated that's going to cost a lot of money and without insurance you're probably not going to have enough money to pay for that. What happens. The health care providers have to write that off and therefore raise prices for everybody else. So those people are considered free riders. They're basically getting something for nothing. There is an argument that people should have the responsibility for something that is likely to occur i.e. that you're likely to use health care at some point. That is sort of the the moral and societal argument for it.

[00:08:46] The obvious you know personal argument for it is that if you end up needing health care and you don't have insurance you are likely to go broke. So there is there's something to for yourself to having health insurance. But there are people who just simply don't want it. And that was in the law it said OK if you don't want it you're going to pay this fine. And frankly the fine is still lower than the cost of health insurance in almost every case.

[00:09:10] So the idea was that those people would pay what was referred to sometimes as a free rider penalty they would pay that penalty and it would go to help offset the health care costs of people that didn't still have insurance.

Ben Henry: [00:09:29] There's one other component of the ACA that I'm curious about which is the requirement that all health plans include a certain barebones set of benefits in the plan. Can you talk about why that was part of the ACA and what the idea is there?

Julie Rovner: [00:09:43] Yes this was one of the most difficult parts of the ACA for the people who put it together which was what constitutes adequate health insurance. What does a minimum package of benefits have to look like. And it came from a lot of research that showed many people had insurance but they were under insured that things that were likely to happen were things that they wouldn't be covered for maternity care was a really big one. You know many many families not just women because it's usually a family that's having a baby in terms of the finances. Many individual policies didn't cover maternity was something that people were sometimes expected to pay for themselves these days having a baby costs in the tens of thousands of dollars not an amount that most families can comfortably handle.

[00:10:29] Many insurance policies didn't cover mental health or substance abuse issues something that we know is very common. So this was sort of an effort to try to reach that balance. But that's you know this is a question of what as a government do you want to actually mandate for people to have in terms of health insurance.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:10:49] So why is it so expensive? We were sitting here in the studio right before we called you saying you know we get these bills you know from an MRI for example 200,000 dollars and I only have to pay a portion of that. But why on earth would a quick procedure cost that much money? Is that an accurate representation of what it's costing the hospital or whomever?

Julie Rovner: [00:11:12] Well it depends who you ask and this is the continuing debate. Why does health care costs so much. Actually why does the United States spend so much on money that we think has been pretty definitively answered and I quote the late Uwe Reinhardt, Princeton health economist: "It's the prices, stupid." In the United States, there is no government control of prices for prescription drugs. There is within the Medicare program and within the Medicaid program but in the private sector the government does not control how much health care practitioners and suppliers of healthcare things can charge. And so they basically charge what they can. There are libertarians and market driven Republicans who argue that one of the problems is people with insurance because they don't see the bill so that the insurance company will pay it. The patient has no skin in the game therefore people charge more. It's not entirely clear why prices are so much higher in the United States than in other industrialized nations. But prices are so much higher in the United States than they are in other industrialized nations.

Nick Capodice: [00:12:20] And how do we measure up against other industrialized nations in terms of healthcare and prices?

Julie Rovner: [00:12:25] Not very well. We certainly pay the most, but when you look at outcomes you know how healthy our population is. Americans are less healthy than those in many other advanced nations that's who we tend to compare ourselves to. And that is you know for again it's not just the health care system it has to do with other social supports that other countries have. You know with income and the inequity of income in the United States with to some extent how big we are. But yes we spend the most and don't get that much back for it. That's pretty clear.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:13:04] What happened in terms of public perception of the Affordable Care Act? Because I know it didn't start off so hot but then things seemed to balance out a little bit.

Julie Rovner: [00:13:14] Yeah from the beginning the Affordable Care Act was popular among Democrats and unpopular among Republicans. So the most important determine of whether you like the health law or not was what party you identified with. You know when things went wrong support dipped when things went well support rose in general. It was really only last year when Republicans started you know going after the law in a serious attempt to repeal it that more than half of the public suddenly decided that they liked it. And that had mostly to do with independent voters turning more strongly in favor of the law.

[00:13:48] But indeed there's a famous Jimmy Kimmel's sketch that I tend to show when I go out and talk to people. He asked people on the street did they which did they prefer Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act. And everybody he talked to said Oh they preferred the Affordable Care Act they didn't like Obamacare even though of course they were the same thing. So there is something to the words that you use to describe it.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:14:12] So as someone who has covered health care for so long, what is your personal opinion do you feel that the Affordable Care Act protected patients and made health care more affordable across the board for Americans?

Julie Rovner: [00:14:24] You know one of the things I've seen in my now more than 30 years of covering health policy is what tends to happen is that Congress passes a big law, they see what works and what doesn't and they fix what doesn't work. That really hasn't been able to happen with the Affordable Care Act because the Republicans took over the the house right after it passed before it was implemented by the time it was implemented fully. Republicans were in charge of the House and the Senate so they didn't want to fix anything.

[00:14:53] And of course now Republicans who say they don't like the law are in charge of the House the Senate and the White House. So there really has been no chance to go back and tinker with the things that didn't work so well. Will there be we will have to see.

Nick Capodice: [00:15:07] Are there any other countries you think we could look to for guidance for. Is there a better way to do this that you've seen?

Julie Rovner: [00:15:13] Well everybody every other country is struggling with health care costs. Health care is expensive. It gets more expensive. We have dramatic breakthroughs and the people who create those dramatic breakthroughs want to be you know reimbursed for their intellectual work. And I think most people agree that they should be.

[00:15:32] The question is at some point can society and I'm talking about society in general not just the U.S. not afford these things. And you know so some some countries decide to sort of hold down costs by creating queues as they say making people wait. If it's not you know urgent maybe you'll have to wait longer. Americans don't like to wait.

[00:15:53] There are you know Canada has basically what would be what the U.S. could understand as Medicare for all. It's a government paid system but not a government run system. The United Kingdom has what more like the Veterans Administration year it's both the government paid system and a government run system. But Germany and Switzerland and the Netherlands all have hybrid public private systems with government funding and private insurance. Not that dissimilar from what we have and yet they pay considerably less than we do because they have a much more government structured private market than we do.

Ben Henry: [00:16:29] Julie what do you think we can expect going forward? Are there really viable alternatives to the ACA that people are advocating for? Do we think is it going to go away entirely and we'll just have an open market? I mean what do you expect like might happen in the next couple of years?

Julie Rovner: [00:16:46] Well there's a huge spirited debate in the Democratic Party on whether to try to fix what's wrong with the ACA or whether to scrap it and go to a Medicare for all type single payer plan. And there is growing support for that. But people haven't, we've not really debated what that would mean in terms of tradeoffs in terms of much higher taxes in terms of do you really you know people love Medicare do you really trust the government though to basically handle Medicare for you know 325 million people rather than the 55 million people who are on Medicare that it's hard to know what the result of that debate would be, but I would guess that fewer people would support it than than support it at first blush.

[00:17:27] Republicans would like to get rid of the Affordable Care Act but they don't agree on what to replace it with either some of them would like to just give a chunk of money to the states and let the states figure out what they can do. Some of them would like to go to just an entirely market driven system. Basically people are kind of at loose ends figuring out exactly what they would like to see if not the Affordable Care Act.


Made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Subcribe to Civics 101 on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you get your favorite audio.

This podcast is a production of New Hampshire Public Radio.


Today on Civics 101, Ron Elving takes us through Tariffs. What are they? What are the pros and cons of taxing goods that enter our country? What is the effect on the consumer? And finally, how do trade wars end?

Have a civics question you want answered? Let us know in the form below and we'll try to answer it!


NOTE: This transcript was generated using an automated transcription service, and may contain typographical errors.




Nick Capodice: [00:00:02] I'm Nick Capodice.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:02] And I'm Hannah McCarthy.


Nick Capodice: [00:00:03] And today on Civics 101 we answer question for Sara Mottaz of Seattle.


Sara Mottaz: [00:00:08] Well I've been interested in tariffs lately because they've been in the news so much.


Archival audio: [00:00:11] The Foreign Ministry then clarified and confirmed that China in fact did retaliate with its own tariffs... midnight eastern time, the U.S. raised tariffs on 34 billion dollars worth of Chinese goods.


Nick Capodice: [00:00:24] It's one of those things that whenever I used to hear about tariffs. I would just say oh god I'll learn about this later.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:29] Right.


Nick Capodice: [00:00:29] I can't learn about this now.


Sara Mottaz: [00:00:31] I know! I know, that's why I asked the question. We've always had tariffs in place but I don't really understand how they came about to begin with and what changes we're making to tariffs now and how they affect our country and the world economy.


Nick Capodice: [00:00:44] To learn about tariffs we interviewed Ron Elving.


Ron Elving: [00:00:47] I am the senior editor and correspondent on The Washington desk at NPR. I'm also part of the faculty of the School of Public Affairs at American University.


Nick Capodice: [00:00:57] It's worth noting we interviewed Ron before the trade war with China. However we did want to know the basics of what is a tariff. Why do we have them.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:01:04] And how does a trade war end? Why don't we start off by defining a tariff.


Ron Elving: [00:01:12] A tariff is simply a tax that is imposed on goods that are being imported into ones country. So if the United States passes tariffs, we tax the goods of other countries as they arrive in the United States and countries impose tariffs on our goods and those taxes have to be paid by the owner of the goods when they enter someone else's country.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:01:34] So it's the person who is providing the goods who is paying the tariff?


Ron Elving: [00:01:38] That's right. It's the manufacturer who is responsible for that particular tax it has to be paid to the government of the country that is governing the docks in the port or the airport where your goods are arriving.


Nick Capodice: [00:01:52] Now is this just a way to make money or is there another reason we've always done this?


Ron Elving: [00:01:57] Oh it's certainly both. It is magnificently a way to make money and for much of American history it was the main way that the United States federal government made money. There was no federal income tax until the 20th century with a brief exception during the Civil War and the federal income tax as we know it today is really a creation of the WWI period. So the big source of income for the United States government and many other governments was taxing goods that came in from other countries. But that was only part of the reason. That's pretty good reason in and of itself of course. And by the way that the first Tariff Act passed by Congress was the second bill that Congress passed. The very first session of Congress in 1789 right after they passed a bill for oaths of office and after they'd gotten that little formality out of the way they started passing tariffs. That is how important and fundamental it was to the original United States government. You could even argue that to some degree the American Revolution and then later a civil war had a lot to do with tariffs and the conflicts between the United States and Great Britain. The conflicts between the regions of the United States were largely tariff driven. So there were a lot of other purposes besides just raising money. For example trying to provide some money so that America in its early days could build up the kind of industries that might eventually compete with Great Britain. And keeping those goods from Great Britain expensive so that new manufacturing enterprises in the United States could make cheaper goods and sell those to their fellow Americans and get a good start in the world of commerce. Otherwise it was difficult to compete with everything that was coming over the Atlantic.


Nick Capodice: [00:03:43] So it's a good way to start. And yet here we are in 2018. Why do we still continue to be raising tariffs and increasing tariffs?


Ron Elving: [00:03:50] At this point. It's a bit of a throwback. What's going on with a Trump administration right now is very much a throwback to another era because the United States after having been a leading protectionist power if you will of high tariffs and other kinds of restrictions and other people's goods all through the 1800's, half of the 20th century, after 1945 after the destruction of Europe by World War II. There was a sense that we needed to help the rest of the world get back on its feet. So of course we had the Marshall Plan in the late 1940s but probably even more important than that, the United States really switched after World War II to being a free trading power. That doesn't mean we had no tariffs.


Ron Elving: [00:04:33] Not by any means but we changed the emphasis in our trade policy and our foreign policy to be not so much isolationist as we had been before World War II as to be a world leader as to be the country that made sure the entire world was working on the same sort of currency system. We largely set the value of currencies under a system that was devised largely by the United States and we were very generous in letting other countries sell their goods into America. China, Japan, certainly the countries of Europe, other countries around the world, got a good deal by selling their goods into the United States and we were far far less protective than we had ever been before. And we had long since turned to other sources of revenue to actually run our federal government. So in 1945 was a huge watershed year. Now more recently as we have seen more trade protectionism grow up around the world this has become more complicated. And Donald Trump feels that we have been progressively taken advantage of over the last several decades and that even when we negotiated what seemed like a kind of fair deal such as the North American Free Trade Agreement known as NAFTA that goes back to 1994. Even when we got something like that done with Canada and Mexico that it was a better deal for Canada and Mexico than for the United States. That is debatable. There are certainly lots of people who defend NAFTA but Donald Trump found a lot of political payoff if you will he found paydirt by arguing that NAFTA was a bad deal for us that the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership was a bad deal for us and that our relations even with the European Union perhaps our closest economic allies in at least a geo political sense posing them against Russia were also not in our best interest and that we were getting ripped off. In his view.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:06:31] So what is the intent of the tariffs now? Are we trying to make more money or are we trying to protect our industry?


Ron Elving: [00:06:38] It's really to protect our industry and to, I'm going to give an opinion here, but I believe that the real intent here is to some degree to make a show of punishing some of our trade partners who are also our military allies NATO North Atlantic Treaty Organization which is largely the same group of countries as the European Union. President Trump feels that these folks have been taking advantage of us. That Japan for example which we have included under our nuclear umbrella ever since World War II we have protected Japan we have been their military big brother that they have then turned around and profited from selling us their cars, but restricting what we could sell there and that now hour into the same kind of relationship with China although we certainly are not their military ally. We take a lot of their goods and they are more restrictive about what they were let into their country and all of this while it reflects that role that the United States has been playing in the world for the last 70 some years. While it reflects that role, Donald Trump says it's a bad deal for the United States and that our prosperity has actually been lessened by our efforts to increase the prosperity of the global economy. So we get this contrast between America first, we should just be taking care of our own interests and no one else's and the concept of globalism which is that a rising tide lifts all boats and all world economies doing better is better for the United States as well.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:08:12] So what does this mean for the consumer in either country when you've got these retaliatory tariffs going back and forth. Is that just jacking up the price globally?


[00:08:22] Yes it is because some of the money is not going to the company that has the goods to sell, it's going to the governments. The United States government when we impose the tariffs, the governments of China or Japan the governments of the European Union are collecting these taxes and they're coming from the consumer and they pay them at the exact same time they buy the goods. So this has been the great argument against tariffs over the years is that governments should not collect their revenue or get their revenue in this sort of subterranean way or slightly sneaky way by making it be part of the price that you pay for goods. Now in Europe they also have something called a Value Added Tax which does the same thing. Some people have argued for that in this country. But when you charge people more to get their goods into a country where they're going to be bought and sold, you are adding to the cost of the goods, adding to the cost to the consumer without actually giving the consumer any more value and without giving the company producing the goods any more revenue. The government interposes itself. And that's why philosophical libertarians, people who are political libertarians, people who believe in a free market, do not like tariffs; see them as just another form of taxation and see them as a kind of beggar thy neighbour approach to world trade.


Ron Elving: [00:09:46] If you think world trade is the single greatest driver of the rising of the human species from our earliest origins hunting and gathering to agriculture etc etc. including cultural improvement all over the world and eventually greater political understanding, if you see world trade as the key to all that then tariffs are a mortal enemy.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:10:10] We hear about Trump imposing tariffs. Does the president impose the tariffs does Congress impose the tariffs who makes the decision?


Ron Elving: [00:10:17] The Congress can pass tariff acts and impose tariffs. The president can also do it when Congress gives him the authority to do so. And Congress in recent years, particularly in the most recent decade or so, has been quite willing to give the president wide latitude particularly when a particular tariff can be portrayed as being a measure for national security. So for example with the steel and aluminum tariffs that really got this trade war going, this was justified by the Trump administration which did it just by fiat as a national security measure. In other words if we allow our steel and aluminum industries to get smaller and smaller eventually we will not be able to make our own weapons with our own metal here in the United States. And if we can't do that then we can't win a World War II. We can't be a world superpower unless we can make our own weapons with our own metal. And that has to mean a steel and aluminum industry here in the United States that is second to none. All right that's an arguable point. That's certainly something that someone could make a case for.


Ron Elving: [00:11:27] And Congress has basically stood back and said oh gee if it's national security then fine of course the other side the free traders will argue that there's no evidence that our defense capacity has been in any sense diminished. There's no evidence that our current arrangement for some imported steel and aluminium to be part of our defense industry is making us less safe. There's certainly no evidence that Canada is going to deprive us of whatever metals we might need for our national defense assuming of course that we still see ourselves as allies of Canada and we might very well see the North American continent as our true home and military strategic terms. So there could be questions about this national security justification by the current Congress, which is Republican controlled in the House and Senate, is in no mood to challenge President Trump on this particular issue. Now they may at some point rise up and challenge him on some of the other ramifications of this trade war. And there certainly are many people in Congress who are most disturbed at at least the retaliation in the trade war, for example Republican congressmen and senators from farm states. And there are many. The Republicans dominate in the farm states and they have many people on the ballot this fall who are worried because they see for example soybeans suddenly being the subject of tariffs in Asia and Asia eats a lot of our soybeans and we sell a lot of our soybeans to Asia. So if suddenly that trade is inhibited, not necessarily stopped of course but just cut back a little bit, that means a lot of farmers in the United States are going to be stuck with a lot of soybeans they can't sell. They've overproduced. They're going to take a loss. In some cases it may be a highly significant loss. And those Republican members of Congress and senators might just be feeling that even as soon as the midterm elections this fall.


Nick Capodice: [00:13:24] So you use the word trade war several times. How do trade wars end?


Ron Elving: [00:13:29] Trade wars can only end really with new agreements between the participant countries to cut it out. Now this can be done in a multilateral way. We have had over the years a series of meetings that went on not just you know a week or a month but for years where countries had delegations that would go to international locations for example Montevideo Uruguay was the site of some of these negotiations for a number of years it was called the Uruguay round. There was also a round of such negotiations back in the 60s that was known as the Kennedy Round because it had been initiated by John F. Kennedy when he was president and these negotiations work out elaborate and extremely detailed schedules of tariffs between countries. Or they just eliminate those schedules and say we're going to have free trade in this particular commodity, free trade in this particular manufacture. More often they're working out the details of the actual tariff schedules and those can lower tariffs or raise tariffs. And usually you're getting together to agree on lowering tariffs so as to have more trade so as to increase worldwide commerce. That's what these negotiations have been. And there is an organization there is a working document that's known as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. GA T.T. often referred to as GATT and you'll hear people talk about GATT negotiations.


Ron Elving: [00:15:01] So that's how tariffs are lowered over time. That's how they're brought under control. Or you can have free trade agreements such as NAFTA the North American Free Trade Agreement or the Trans-Pacific Partnership that was negotiated with a number of Asian countries, not China. China was not part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. In fact one could say TPP was intended to oppose Chinese efforts to impose its trade hegemony or its its domination of the economies of Asia and any anyway TPP was negotiated over the last several years and the first thing he did practically within his first week in office was Donald Trump withdrew US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:15:46] Ron thank you so much.


Ron Elving: [00:15:48] Thank you Hannah. Thank you Nick.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:15:49] That was Ron Elving the senior editor and correspondent on The Washington desk at NPR.


Nick Capodice: [00:15:54] If you want to hear more Ron Elving you can check out our episode of the Electoral College at civics101podcast.org. There you can listen to all our old episodes and you can get transcripts.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:16:04] This episode of civics one on one was produced by me Hannah McCarthy.


Nick Capodice: [00:16:06] And me Nick Capodice.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:16:09] Our executive producer is Erika Janik, our team includes Ben Herny, Jimmy Gutierrez, Taylor Quimby Justine Paradiz and Jacqui Helbert. Music In this episode is by Ryan Little.


Nick Capodice: [00:16:18] Civics 101 is a production of NHPR, New Hampshire Public Radio.






Made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Subcribe to Civics 101 on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you get your favorite audio.

This podcast is a production of New Hampshire Public Radio.

Contest Winner: Unconventional

Presenting the winning submission for our first ever student contest! Adia Samba-Quee wrote, narrated, and cast a mockumentary about the arguments surrounding representation at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. 


Check out some behind-the-scenes shots from our taping at the Springfield Renaissance School.

adia hannah nick.jpg

Have a civics question you want answered? Let us know in the form below and we'll try to answer it!



Adia Samba-Quee: [00:00:00] Civics 101 is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.


Nick Capodice: [00:00:06] Welcome to civics I'm a Nick Capodice.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:07] And I'm Hannah McCarthy.


Nick Capodice: [00:00:08] And as some of you may recall this spring we had our first ever student contest.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:12] So we asked high school students across the country to submit their idea for a civics radio piece and we got some really cool submissions.


Nick Capodice: [00:00:19] But the winner, Adia Samba-Quee from the Springfield Renaissance School in Springfield Massachusetts.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:25] Adia pitch says this radio play. She wrote the script, she cast a bunch of her friends and then we drove down to the Springfield Renaissance School to help her tape it. Couple of things you should know about Adia. First of all she's 15. And not only did she write this incredible script she ended up being a great collaborator and in our estimation would make a great radio producer one day.


Nick Capodice: [00:00:45] We were the lucky ones to be able to work with her. This play takes place in Philadelphia Pennsylvania in 1787 when the Articles of Confederation had been our governing document for about ten years and they had an awful lot of problems. So without further ado Civics 101 is honored to present Unconventional by Adia Samba-Quee.


Adia Samba-Quee: [00:01:05] Civics -- civics - civics -- 101!


Nick Capodice: [00:01:09] Nailed it.


Adia Samba-Quee: [00:01:10] Thanks.











By Adia Samba-Quee



NARRATOR: Adia Samba-Quee

KING GEORGE III: ~Aijah Davis~

AMERICAN #1: Brian Vo

AMERICAN #2: Lawrence Thompson

AMERICAN #3: Marcus Jean-Mary

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN: Michelle Santiago

DAVID BREARLY: Breanna Gushman





JAMES MCHENRY: Karla Rebollo



LUTHER MARTIN: Diana Asamoah


ROGER SHERMAN: Rashel Vargas

CALEB STRONG: Pamela Ciano






Narrator: When you've never truly been free, and then you later wage a whole war for the sake of freedom, you're going to need to figure out how to define freedom on paper, and then making sure it applies to each and every imaginable situation you're about to face as a newly-liberated nation. Farmer George didn't take the whole "revolution" thing well.

KING GEORGE III, audibly upset: You're lost without me! Lost!!

NAR: But America didn't immediately become the young, independent nation that don't need no motherland she wanted to be. For example, ahem. The Articles of Confederation.

AMERICAN #1: We don't really have to pay your taxes, only state taxes.

AMERICAN #2: We're about to get into a land war with Indians without your permission.

AMERICAN #3: We're going to make it impossible for anyone to try and fix this document.

NAR, talking directly to Americans: I thought you all hated this document.

AMERICANS, hesitant and not at the same time: Mmyes.

NAR: *sigh* The federal government suffered a decade of this. Fifty-five delegates, the most *high pitched* white and male *normal voice* citizens were cordially invited to indulge in the privilege of re-birthing government right here in the Philadelphia State House. And like actual labor, it was painful. This brings us to Talking Point #1.

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN:   B. Franks in the building!

*cheering from Framers*

*talking head*

Nar: B Franks, is indeed, in the house. Large Benjamin, how would you describe your approach to proposals during the early days of the Convention?

FRANKLIN: What’s with the surveillance device?

NAR: My… camera?

FRANKLIN: Yes, that thing.
NAR: Oh, I’m just recording a little documentary about the beginning of our American Constitution! I thought it’d be sorta neat to archive all the debates and decisions here!

FRANKLIN: You’d rather spend your day listening to a bunch of old jabronis ramble about rules and regs? That’s really sad.

NAR: *dejected sigh, clears throat* How would an old jabroni like you describe your approach to proposals during the early days of the Convention?

FRANKLIN: Obviously, I would describe it as calm, cool, collected. The sorta levelhead   ed wisdom and guidance severely lacking in our current government.

*end talking head*

FRANKLIN: Supermajority? Sucks. One-House Congress? Sucks. The Articles of Confederation? Sucks. How are we going to change the AOC if even the method of amending it sucks?


DAVID BREARLEY: We... keep the Articles of Confederation and work hard to improve it?

NAR and FRANKLIN simultaneously: And you are…

*talking head*

BREARLEY: David Brearley of New Jersey. That's spelled B-R-E-A-R-L-E-Y. I believe that… Maintaining a union is going to be difficult, no doubt. But no one guaranteed governing was easy.

*end talking head*

FRANKLIN: Well, David Barley?

BREARLEY: *sigh* Yes?

FRANKLIN: You're incorrect. We burn the Articles of Confederation. And put a new Constitution in its place.

BREARLEY, to self: Burning it seems to be easier than governing.

FRANKLIN: Any questions?

CHARLES PINCKNEY: What if we create a new constitution and it fails?

FRANKLIN: Then I guess I'll see you in another ten years, CHARLES PINCKNEY. Any more questions?

NAR: Jonathan LANGDON of New Hampshire raises his hand.

LANGDON: Where's Rhode Island?

FRANKLIN: Listen, kid. I may but eighty-eight years old, but I know a thing or two. If Rhode Island was afraid of a powerful federal government, let her be a coward in the comfort of her own home! We’ll be the ones with a legacy.


*talking head*

NAR: JONATHAN LANGDON, why did you choose to say something so controversial… yet so brave?

LANGDON: Well, what had happened was I… didn’t know what body of water surrounded Rhode Island, and I was concerned the delegates didn’t catch a ferry in time. But I guess it’s a misnomer. No island. *sigh* Just a state. Tell FRANKLIN and I’ll hurt you.

*end talking head*

FRANKLIN: Aight. If we ignore what LANGDON just said, I think we can call it a wrap. All those in favor of revising the Articles of Confederation?

*eight Ayes and four Nays*

 See ya tomorrow.

*tap, tap, tap, snap, snap, clap*


R: Talking Point #2

NAR: While we were gone, George Washington proposed a way to prevent the federal government from acquiring too much power.

*talking head*

GEORGE WASHINGTON: I serve as a general in one war. Just one. And now whenever I walk into a room, those guys address me as sir. Someone called me His Excellency last night. I'm not as excellent as they think I am. Or maybe not as excellent as they think I think I am. Anyway, I'm trying to get three equal branches of government to keep each other in check all the time. Only thing is the executive includes a President. And if those fools elect me, I swear I'm gonna flip.

*end talking head*

WASHINGTON: Do you know how much federal government accomplished under the AoC? That's right, nothing

BREARLEY: But we di-

WASHINGTON: Nothing! Instead of one single stick, we all get three branches- stay with me, stay with me- of government. One branch is the Legislative, who writes up laws of our nation. Once we work out what Congress is actually made up of,those representatives will be responsible for proposing new laws. The executive branch ensures law is being carried out in the country. The *lowers voice* President is the head of this branch, along with his Cabinet. Finally, the judicial branch interprets the law passed by Congress. Each branch has the ability to override the actions of another; no branch is more powerful than the other.


VARIOUS FRAMERS: WASHINGTON for President! *clapping and cheering* Nothing but respect for His Excellency! I can’t believe WASHINGTON invented equality!

WASHINGTON, flustered: Stop this right now! Stop this! I just want to rest!

PATTERSON: He’s not excellent.


PATTERSON: That's a terrible plan. (WASHINGTON: Alright, let’s calm down!) It smells like monarchy.

WASHINGTON: If my plan was so terrible, then why did it just pass eight to four?

PATTERSON: It did? *pauses, counts to self* Ah, damnit.

*transitional sound*

NAR: The delegates also tried? to turn the 9/13 state votes needed to fix the Constitution.

WASHINGTON: If there was supposed to be a takeaway, it died.

NAR: The voice of the People. Did anyone tell you you’d make a good-

WASHINGTON: Knock it off.

NAR: Yessir.

*talking head*

Uh, CHARLES PINCKNEY of South Carolina, what do you hope to accomplish in order to soothe the rocky process of passing laws? *clapping* Hello? PINCKNEY?

PINCKNEY, startled: Huh? What?

NAR: You asked for an interview. I'm giving you an interview.

PINCKNEY: Oh. Yeah. Sorry, I'm a little nervous. *awkward giggling*

NAR: *forced pity laughter* Just answer the question.

PINCKNEY: What was the question?


PINCKNEY: We all thought supermajority was a good choice 6 years ago. I was like, "9 out of 13 states? We get along pretty well, this won't be too bad. We'll regularly see at least 9 of us in Congress agree to a law in order for it to pass." And then they were like, "Um, being difficult is so funny, let's do it for 6 whole years." And I was like, "No, don't do that, stop." And they were like, "Whatever loser, that's why no one loves yo…" *clears throat*

NAR: PINCKNEY, you should probably talk to someone about that.

PINCKNEY, sounds zoned out: Probably.

NAR: Can we edit that out?

*end talking head*

PICNKEY: We need to allow laws to pass with a majority vote.

FRANKLIN: Simple majority enough! Get it guys? The majority… bah. All those opposed?


FRANKLIN: Damnit, Langdon !

LANGDON: Under PINCKNEY dookie proposal, (PICNKEY: JONATHAN, that's not really funny) 51% would be enough to pass a law. What if almost all of us disagree with a law? You expect me to tolerate it because it's a fact of life not everyone is going to agree with me?

PINCKNEY: That would be nice.

LANGDON: *mocks Picnkey's voice* That would be nice. Disgusting. That doesn't ring true with my understanding of freedom.

NAR: Gag.

LANGDON: We will not be ens-

PINCKNEY: LANGDON tried to say the S word!

 *stir of chatter from the delegates*

WASHINGTON: Chill bro, chill chill chill Jon just chill.

FRANKLIN: Do you patronize your wife with that mouth? *retches* Strike that comment from the record, MADISON.

MADISON: *draws line on paper*

WASHINGTON: I am so sorry you all had to hear that.

NAR: Rule number one of the Convention- don't ever say the S word.

Talking Point #3: Making the new constitution easier to amend. Here comes Maryland's JAMES MCHENRY, standing his ground.

MCHENRY: If we don't make this new Constitution into something that can be fixed or change, we're going to find ourselves in the exact same place in a few years. I am not perfect, DAVID BARNEY is not perfect, WILLIAM PATTERSON is a mess, along with the entire state of New Jersey (WILLAIM PATTERSON says "Hey!" in the background), so we are okay with the fact this constitution won't be perfect. I call for the amendment process to be changed!

MADISON: How, exactly.

MCHENRY: I don’t know, JAMES MADISON. Something with fractions, maybe?

JAMES MADISON, scratching quill to parchment: *condescending chuckle* Fractions… based on his oration skills and overall unremarkablilty-ness, I am most certainly the superior JAMES.

NAR: Yes, JAMES MADISON has declined any interviews with me from now until "he's ready" because he wants to take notes for himself about the various delegates. Nerd.

Nar: MADISON rises from his seat. He finally has something to say to me.  

*talking head*

Nar: What kind of things would you want the audience to know about you, M adison?

MADISON: A magician never reveals his secrets.

Nar: …you're not a magician, you're just a Framer.

MADISON: …A framer never reveals hi-

Nar: Listen, are you gonna tell us your proposal or not, because we have plenty of delegates behind you who'll be willing to share.

MADISON: *pause, gets uncomfortably closer to the microphone* Basically-

Nar: You don't have to be this close to the mic.

MADISON, ignoring the NARRATOR: You know how Virginia is the biggest state in the country?

NAR, irritated: Sure.

MADISON: Well, when Congress is voting for legislation to be passed, our votes should count for much more than like, Delaware. Because, well, Delaware.

NAR: Delaware was the first state admitted to the Union.

MADISON: That's their only bragging right.

NAR: (beat.) Fair

MADISON: I simply believe representation in Congress should rely on population alone. Bigger state, bigger voice, bigger choice.

NAR: That'll be, uh, interesting to witness.

*MADISON's footsteps, signifying he left the confessional room, also, end talking head*

The room's reaction was, to say the least, interesting. Here is Talking Point #4.

MADISON: Fellas, I have an idea. Does anyone know how many people Virginia ha-

WASHINGTON: 747,000. Give or take.

MADISON: Right. And how many people live in your state, BEDFORD?



NAR: -represents the *hesitation* state of Delaware. He declined to explain his overall goal here at the Constitution, which leads one to assume he has no overall goals here. According to MADISON's notes, that is.

BEDFORD, with difficulty: 58,000.

MADISON, unknowingly being a butt: 58,000 and?

BEDFORD: *mumbles* 94.

MADISON: In what world should we be represented by one single Congressman when we are 12 times larger?

*Agreement from the larger state delegates*

MADISON: I'll tell you what world- England.

*more snaps and contented vocalizations*

MADISON: In *stomps foot* this nation, in this *weird, exaggerated pronunciation* constitution, states should be represented fairly *interrupted by almost-comical reactions from larger states, maybe church-y organ playing behind* which means representatives should reflect state populations.

BEDFORD: What you're trying to say is, Delaware should have one representative-

MADISON: -and we should have twelve.

*The larger states begin to chant ‘we should have 12' about four times, James yells over them and tries to explain that the twelve only applies to Virginia, not the rest of them, yadda yadda yadda*

NAR: This is the most smoothly I've ever seen a decision go down. I'm actually impresse- *WILLIAM PATTERSON jumps out of seat and startles NARRATOR*

*talking head*

Uh, sir, SIR! You interrupted me!

PATTERSON: Permission to speak?

NAR: *sucks teeth* Permission granted, or whatever, I don’t even care anymore.

PATTERSON: Hey hi, it's New Jersey's very own WILLIAM PATTERSON and I'm calling bull. This is not okay? Who thinks this is okay? Like, seriously, is that what chanting does to the Foolish?

Nar: I… can't answer any of those questions.

PATTERSON: I don't expect you to. This is not the spirit of our system. I thought the whole point of us coming together as a union, was that we're all going to be equal parts of our country. I've had enough New Jersey slander.

Nar: Oh, brother.

*end talking head*

PATTERSON: Gentlemen!

Nar: A hush blankets the crowd.

PATTERSON: Virginia only wants representatives to be decided by population size because it means states like them would suddenly have more power. My state of New Jersey is just as important as any other state, as even Delaware! We should have just as much as a say in the government as they do.

BEDFORD: Can- can you all leave Delaware out of this?

MADISON: Yes, you should have just as much a say in the government! But clearly there's something important about my state, so it's sensible for our votes to be prioritized. We're doing something right.


NAR: That indifferent ‘meh' was Luther Martin of Maryland, recipient of the ‘least rhythmic-sounding name in the English language' award.

MARTIN: Perhaps MADISON is right, MCHENRY. Some of the greatest leaders in our short history- looking at you, General.

WASHINGTON, sheepishly: Oh, stop.

MARTIN: Leaders come from these populated countries. Influence is about status, after all.

MCHENRY: See that door over there, Martin?

MARTIN: It's a finely constructed door.

MCHENRY: Could you show us how it works, please?

MARTIN: Certainly. *gets up to turn door handle* You simply rotate this knob and push *door sounds* open, and then close it and now I'm locked outside the room.

MCHENRY: Now you're locked outside the room, do you know why you're locked outside the room?

MARTIN: *silence*

NAR: *Whispers* For being the dissenting opinion within-

MARTIN: Oh, for being the dissenting opinion within my own group.


*talking head*

MCHENRY: *beat* I only kicked him about because he agreed with the other James.

*end talking head*

NAR: Tensions are at an all-time high.

LANGDON: Excuse me, but as a proud New Hampshirean-

NAR: Hampshirean is not a real word.

LANGDON: -I stand with New Jersey's Plan. If you are from a small state and you are okay with representation based on population, you are willingly giving up your speech in this nation. New Hampshire cannot and will not accept this if the proposal is passed. All the large states are going to do is gut our power and leave us unable to make decisions. In fact, we can become our own country, and not ally with you in any way. So, ha.

HAMILTON, knowingly being a butt: What if that happens?

MCHENRY, PATTERSON, and BEDFORD, JR simultaneously: Come again?

FRANKLIN: Get ‘em, Alex.

WASHINGTON: Why does everyone here enable gross behavior?

NAR: It’s the 80s.

HAMILTON: Perhaps we’re doing this to get rid of the weak links. Natural selection taking its course. To a point where the only states worth listening to are the populous ones. *slow and deliberate* What are you going to do about it?


What can we do about it?

PATTERSON: I… don't know.

LANGDON: What do you mean you don't know, you're the one who came up with this idea!

PATTERSON: I didn't think I'd get this far!

BEDFORD: We're very much outnumbered. If we do a vote now, there goes our Congressional representation. But, I have an idea. *whispers unintelligibly, accompanied with audible responses from PATTERSON*

PATTERSON: *to rest of Convention, as awkward and uncoordinated as humanly possible* If this proposal passes, our alliance will implode. BOOM. That's the sound of our alliance. All of us small states will leave. Maybe we'll be our own countries. Maybe we'll ally together. But we will not stay a part of a country that does not treat us like equals.

NAR: The room begins to descend into chaos, when, lo and behold.


*talking head*

SHERMAN: My name is Roger Sherman and I represent the beautiful state of Connecticut. I was doodling on my parchment because this Constitution stuff gets a little stressful for the old noggin, but I was like, "Why don't we incorporate both ideas."

NAR: You seem excited to announce this compromise.

SHERMAN: It's a Great Compromise. I'm quite proud of it.

*end talking head*

SHERMAN: Let's Make a Compromise! *triumphant sound effect* How about a two-house legislature? One house will follow the Virginia Plan and will give each state a number of representatives based on population size. We can call that the House of Representatives. And then we will have a second legislature called the Senate. That one will allow each state to elect 2 representatives, regardless of size. That means each "house" of Congress will have to vote on a proposal before it becomes a law.

*a collective wave of ahhhs follow*

CALEB STRONG: *passive-aggressive laughter*

*talking head*

NAR: This is CALEB STRONG of Massachusetts. First of all, are you okay, STRONG?


NAR: May I ask why?

STRONG: *deep breath* I'm going to have to say the s word.

NAR: Dear lord. Good luck out there.

*end talking head*

STRONG: Excuse me? Uh, hi, thank you for your hard work but I hate this. Are you telling me in the House of Representatives, slav-

NAR: STRONG is cut off by wailing and hollering. I love my job.

BLOUNT: He said the S word! Do not say the S word! That is not okay.

STRONG: But isn't that what y'all do? Partake in the slave tr-

WASHINGTON: Boy, what is wrong with you?

PINCKNEY: Did we not say we weren't going to use the S word? So can someone tell me why I'm hearing the S word?

NAR: STRONG attempted to bring up slavery at the Constitutional Convention. South Carolina has the largest domestic slave market in the United States. You can see the problem now.

PINCKNEY: It's not truly *with great disgust* sla-ver-y per se, it's more of a nonconsensual farming.

*Framers assent to PINCKNEY's synonym for slavery*

STRONG: Are you telling me that in the House of Representatives, *emphasis* slave states *audible wince from few delegates* are going to have a lot of power in the government because they are counting their *more emphasis* slaves as citizens they are representing? They should not be able to control other human beings.

NAR: He's on the right track. We could finally prohibit slavery in America.!

STRONG: Slaves cannot be counted as part of a state's ‘population of citizens, -‘

NAR, anticipation: Caleb, yes!

STRONG: They must be counted as property!

NAR, horror: Caleb, no!

*brief, loud chatter between slave and non-slave states*

BEDFORD, above all the chaos: We're gonna leave again!

*chaos increases in volume ever so slightly*


NAR: Woah.

SHERMAN: *resorts back to sunny disposition*

Let's make a compromise! *distorted, off-key triumphant sound*

*delegates begin to grumble*


*pause* Thank you.

BEDFORD, PATTERSON, BREARLY, LANGFORD, I totally get that you're upset. I'd be too. Why don't we agree slave states can count 3/5ths of their slaves towards their population? They can count most of their slaves, but not all of their slaves towards how much power they get in the House of Representatives.

FRANKLIN: I don't see a problem

NAR: Except the whole slavery part but okay.

FRANKLIN: All those in favor?

*Unanimous aye*

NAR: *beat*…Sherman never said all of his compromises were great.

*tap, tap, tap, snap snap clap*

Talking Point #5

*talking head*

NAR: I am sitting here with undoubtedly rookie of the year, in terms of Congressional approval, ALEXANDER HAMILTON. Now HAMILTON, what exactly do you plan to do after this one-hour break?

HAMILTON: I am planning to
propose… a college, of some sort. The electoral college.

Nar: O…kay, whatever that means…
I wish you luck.

*end talking head*

WILLIAM BLOUNT: I don't know who the hell he thinks he is!

Narrator, over WILLIAM's voice:
WILLIAM BLOUNT of North Carolina.

Blount: Bastard sails in from the
Carribean, ‘cuz of some *mockingly* scary wind and water!

N: HAMILTON is getting an ear
chewing from WILLIAM BLOUNT of North Carolina. And it's called a hurricane.

HAMILTON: You really expect your average farmer in the middle of nowhere to be informed enough to always choose the best president?

Nar: He just proposed a barrier between the people and the election of the President. A college of some sort. The electoral college.

BLOUNT: Was it not the judgement of the people to bring us all here to this room to try and figure out what to do about our messed up Constitution? You didn't doubt their wisdom then?

HAMILTON: You're a messed up Constitution.

*grumbles and groans from delegates- improvisation*

Nar: Comeback game is quite strong.

*someone yells comeback game weak under narrator*

NAR: And how do you feel about ALEXANDER HAMILTON, BLOUNT?

BLOUNT: I don’t care for being told what to do by the electoral college.

HAMILTON: All we have to do is use the number we settled on for Congress to see how many electors each state gets. *Booing and jeering from delegates* Don’t boo me, I’m right.

BLOUNT: (to delegates) No he’s not. (to Hamilton) What we need is to trust the will of the people, since that is what it means to be a true democracy.

HAMILTON, increasingly frustrated: No, no no, you're not listening. What if the people choose an immoral, uneducated, or unprepared candidate who would lead this country off a cliff?

BLOUNT, incredulously: If we're lucky enough, maybe we'll elect a man who's all three.


PINCKNEY: Guys—let's compromise!

NAR: And why are you so eager to offer solutions?

PINCKNEY: I just want to see a real nice country come together. And if compromises are the way to do it, then why not?

BLOUNT: Yes, because the last Compromise went so smoothly.

NAR: Ouch.

PINCKNEY: I hate BLOUNT. He is very mean to me, and I don't like it.

NAR: Welcome to America.

BLOUNT: Electoral college? More like a safety school!

*gasps from delegates, a nice, crisp WORLDSTAR*

HAMILTON: You Yankee. *silence, unsettling shuffle of feet and pens… quills…*

Brearley: Is… is this the opposite of a filibuster?

NAR: Silence? I could live with that.

NAR: 3 whole minutes of silence passed, and I discovered I couldn't live with that. Luckily, neither could they.



HAMILTON: Tell Blount I'm going to run a vote and he's going to have to put up with it, and that he's a coward.


BLOUNT: I heard. Your Excellency-


BLOUNT: Tell HAMILTON I'll rest my case as long as he agrees to never look in my direction for as long as he lives.

NAR: It won't be too long.

FRANKLIN: Are you boys done?
Because I'm about ready to secede from this room. Have we come to a decision?

believe the electoral college is an integral part of democracy and we would be dunces to let this idea slip between our fingers.

BLOUNT: Hey, wait a-

FRANKLIN: Hope this doesn’t backfire. All those in favor of an electoral college?

*various ayes and nays, one particularly bitter aye from BLOUNT*

FRANKLIN: Oh goodie! I pronounce this Convention- convened! Go forth and be merry.


*chatter and background noise*

NAR: If you had one word to describe this experience, from May to August, what would it be?

HAMILTON: Fulfilling.

BLOUNT: Pathetic.

STRONG: Spicy.

WASHINGTON: Complicated.

MADISON: Exciting.

PATTERSON: Insulting.

MARTIN: Brief.

LANGDON: Mediocre.

BEDFORD, JR: Satisfying.



ELSWORTH: Disrespectful.

SHERMAN: Cooperative.

PINCKNEY: Stressful.

HOUSTON: Boring.

BREARLEY: *beat* Unconventional.

NAR: Unconventional.

BREARLEY: See, men from div-

NAR: No, thank you, Brearley.







Made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Subcribe to Civics 101 on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you get your favorite audio.

This podcast is a production of New Hampshire Public Radio.

The Draft

Do you believe in the power of an informed citizenry? Click this link to support Civics 101 today: https://goo.gl/84YFPi

When you hear 'the draft' you might think about the Vietnam War... but the history of compulsory military service goes all the way back to before the Constitution was written. In this episode, we start from the beginning: How did conscription change over the years? When was the first national draft law? Who was most likely to be drafted? And the big one: Will the draft ever come back?

Answering those questions and more is Jennifer Mittelstadt: professor of history at Rutgers and the Harold K. Johnson Chair of Miltary History at The U.S. Army War College. 

Have a civics question you want answered? Let us know in the form below and we'll try to answer it!


Draft Announcer: [00:00:19] September 14th. September 14th, 0 0 1.

Nick : [00:00:21] I'm Nick Capodice.

Hannah: [00:00:22] And I'm Hannah McCarthy.

Nick : [00:00:23] And this is Civics 101, the podcast refresher course on the basics of how democracy works.

Hannah: [00:00:27] And today's episode is:

Nick : [00:00:29] The draft

Hannah: [00:00:30] The draft.

Draft Announcer: [00:00:30] April 24. April 24 is 0 0 2.

Hannah: [00:00:37] What dp we want to know about the draft?

Nick : [00:00:39] I want to know when it started and when it stopped. And what can cause it possibly to reinstate it again.

Hannah: [00:00:44] Yeah and I want to know how you can get out of it if you can't get out of it.

Draft Announcer: [00:00:48] December 30th 0 0 3.

Nick : [00:00:53] Who can say it starts up again? Who can start up the old draft engine again?

Hannah: [00:00:57] Oh yeah, and does it have to be the president?

Nick : [00:00:59] And if we do start it again will women be included?

Hannah: [00:01:04] That's a good question.

Hannah: [00:01:08] So to learn more about the draft we got in touch with Jennifer Mittelstadt, she's a professor of history at Rutgers and the Harold K. Johnson chair of Military History at the U.S. Army War College.

Nick : [00:01:19] And you know what we learned?

Jennifer Mittelstadt: [00:01:20] Yeah I actually I have a chair. They actually gave me a chair, like an engraved chair.

Hannah: [00:01:26] All right so let's get started.

Nick : [00:01:27] So when I turned 18 I did what all males living in the U.S. have to do and this is native born, immigrant, documented and undocumented, which is I went and signed up for the Selective Service. Can you tell me what I did?

Jennifer Mittelstadt: [00:01:41] Yes I can tell you what you did.

Nick : [00:01:44] Ok Good.

Jennifer Mittelstadt: [00:01:44] That it's actually the product of a law passed in 1980 by President Jimmy Carter and the Congress, which sort of reinstituted the Selective Service after the suspension of the draft in 1973. And what that asks young men in the United States 18 to 25 to do is to upon reaching age 18 sign up for the Selective Service. And we do not currently have an active draft but with the Selective Service Act of 1980 does it make sure that there is a plan in case there is a need for a large mobilization that the U.S. government knows where those 18 to 25 year old males are, that they are signed up and they can be mobilized in case of an emergency.

Nick : [00:02:28] OK. And I have so many questions about how we got here. And I have questions about words like conscientious objection, the draft lottery, draft cards, what it means when someone's number comes up. And in my mind those are all tied to the Vietnam War. But to get there I guess you might make sense to take us from the beginning of the draft in America. Could you do that?

Jennifer Mittelstadt: [00:02:49] There's always been some form of compulsory military service even if you go back all the way to the settlement of Jamestown and the Plymouth Colony, eligible able bodied males were required to perform some kind of military service if necessary and they were required to train for that as well. What happens during the Revolutionary War is that for the very first time, with a Declaration of Independence Americans are forced to consider what compulsory military service might mean in the context of a new nation.

[00:03:22] What are the obligations of citizens not sort of to their local fellow citizens. But what does it mean to the nation. And it won't be until the civil war that we really see a national draft law.

Hannah: [00:03:37] What were the compelling factors. I mean I'm presuming simply not enough men to fight. But what did that look like? Why did they make that decision?

Jennifer Mittelstadt: [00:03:46] Well that's right. As a military leader one of the things that you have to think about is how can I best win this conflict and of course having a fully staffed, fully manned army is one important consideration. So in 1862 in the Confederacy they instituted a draft and in 1863 Lincoln did in the north, they were wildly unpopular however.

Nick : [00:04:11] On both sides or just the...?

[00:04:13] On both sides they were wildly unpopular. They were unpopular in the Confederacy and the union for some of the same reasons. And this brings us to one of the other major questions besides what do citizens owe their government that surrounds the draft and that question really is is the draft fair. And so in both the Confederacy and the union in the 1860s you were permitted to buy your way out or purchase a substitute. And much of the fighting fell to those and we might think of as sort of the lower sort. That might have been the term at the time will be today might think of as the working classes agricultural classes...

Nick : [00:04:54] And foreign born as well right?

Jennifer Mittelstadt: [00:04:57] Yes there are still even today being foreign born does not preclude you from military service. Indeed the draft riots which were which took place in New York City in 1863 were some of the most violent episodes in the history of the draft. And there you were actually looking at foreign born Irish and German immigrants to the city whose sentiments against the war and actually against African-Americans had been stoked since 1859 1860 by anti war Democrats in the city when the draft law was passed in 1863 they erupted in riots both against the draft officers but also against African-Americans across the city.

Hannah: [00:05:38] So when people were buying themselves out of the Civil War was it considered at the time unpatriotic to get yourself out of the draft?

Jennifer Mittelstadt: [00:05:46] It was not. I mean if you recall with the founding of the nation only propertied white men were able to vote for many years and it wasn't until the Jacksonian era that the vote was sort of spread out to non property holding white men. So allowing for that out wasn't necessarily considered at that time to be unpatriotic but it was resented by though it was resented nevertheless by by the working and lower classes.

Nick : [00:06:16] So how did things change in World War One, The War To End All Wars?

Jennifer Mittelstadt: [00:06:20] World War One is really when the modern national draft takes form. So in 1917 Woodrow Wilson reluctantly passes what we will call the 1917 Selective Service Act and there are a few things to note about that. So first of all the world draft, the word conscription, the word compulsory, is nowhere really in the title or description and that's by design. The Selective Service Act is meant to sort of bring a national draft but avoid as much political controversy as possible. So what happens, that means there are no more substitutions an d buyouts allowed.

[00:07:03] It means that there will not be the national government or the military making the decisions about who's in and who's out but rather those decisions about who will be drafted or deferred to 4000 local Selective Service boards. So they're looking for men who are of what we would think of as sort of sort of prime fighting age. They are trying to avoid married men. These people need to be able to meet basic health requirements they can't be too sick they can't be disabled they also can't be criminals.

Nick : [00:07:40] But it sounds like it sounds like a mess Jennifer, 4000 different draft boards? Like how on earth can you police that there's fairness going on and each one of these?

Jennifer Mittelstadt: [00:07:48] That's a really good question and I don't know how except for that the members of the board are sworn to uphold the standards of the of the National Selective Service Act. But I think you might be right to wonder about the kind of discretion that might have operated at the local level and that might get us into the territory of people who are openly saying at the local level. I do not wish to serve. So for the very first time in 1917 the law allows for conscientious objection. That basis however is on religious or moral grounds and you have to have a very strong case for it. It can't be on political grounds. It can't be on philosophical grounds.

[00:08:33] So I think there are cases that we could look at at the local level where someone might have presented themselves in one locale and said I object to this war and the local board may have allowed for an exemption on the basis of conscientious objection. That may not have been allowed in another local board.

Hannah: [00:08:54] So were things looking approximately the same come World War II? Was the draft looking the same were these conscientious conscientious objectors looking the same?

Jennifer Mittelstadt: [00:09:03] Yes that law was looking very much the same. But what's really interesting about World War II is that the scope of the mobilization. I mean just the vast need to bring people into military service very very quickly makes that period of time probably the period in which the draft operated in its most fair manner. In fact in which military service operated in its most representative manner... So one thing you might do is just look at the numbers. World War 1 didn't require the same mobilization the Selective Service Act eventually mobilized around 3 million people in World War 1. Well in World War II, 16 million. Of those 16 million 10 million were purely drafted.

Hannah: [00:09:54] Are you saying that that's what made it fair? That there were just fewer conversations about well this guy gets and this guy doesn't get it it's sort of like y'all got to go?

Jennifer Mittelstadt: [00:10:03] Yes. You just couldn't use as much discretion to maybe let out you know the nice kid who was already in college or the kid who is about to take over the family business. Most people were pressed as far as they could into military service because there wasn't the leeway to allow them out./.

Nick : [00:10:24] Who orders the draft? Is it the president, is it the president with the Congress who makes that decision?

Jennifer Mittelstadt: [00:10:29] It's the president with the approval of Congress. Who initiated the Selective Service Act.

Hannah: [00:10:35] Okay this is probably a good time to take a quick break. Civics 101 we'll be right back.

Hannah: [00:10:40] Welcome back to Civics 101. Today we're talking about the draft with Jennifer Mittelstadt.

Nick : [00:11:00] So we started this episode by going back to the beginning of American history and the draft. So let's talk about the era that most people probably associate with the draft. My father was drafted went to Vietnam, Hannah's uncle was drafted to Vietnam. How did the draft operate during the Vietnam War?

Jennifer Mittelstadt: [00:11:17] So the Vietnam draft is the product of the reinstitution of the draft. It went away for a brief year from 1947 at the end of World War II to 1948 when the U.S. decides to reinstitute it because of the advent of the Cold War and concerns that the U.S. might have to mobilize for another war. So during that period the U.S. does need a large standing army but not nearly as large as what it needed in World War II. So the Selective Service Act actually starts to encompass these provisos and limitations on who will actually be drafted and who won't. So it's saying for example if you're in college and you're on your way to becoming an educated citizen who can then go into the workforce or go into education and helped protect national security through educating children well then you might be exempt from the draft. So when the Vietnam war expands during late 1964 and especially 1965, those sort of channeling programs have actually made it so that the people who are most likely to be drafted by that time are those who are not in college.

[00:12:36] Those who have high school diplomas in fact those who are working. Working class jobs. And so that period of the draft in the beginning the first three years of the Vietnam War actually witnesses the kind of reintroduction of a less fair basis of selective service. So in 1968 this all comes to a head. And of course that's an election year. And every single candidate running for office that year comes out in opposition to the draft and as a result what you see upon the eventual election of Richard Nixon in 1968 those exemptions start to fall away and the U.S. turns instead to a basic lottery. You cannot be exempted based on your education based on whether or not you're married. The Vietnam draft really does reach out to those beyond the working class and into the middle classes.

Nick : [00:13:43] Wow. So it seems that in this unpopular war and this unpopular idea of a draft in 1969 we kind of get to the most fair so far?

Jennifer Mittelstadt: [00:13:51] Well I think World War II if we look at the demographics still stands ultimately as the most representative period. But after 1969 with the institution of the lottery those inequities in the overrepresentation of African-Americans and the sort of gross overrepresentation of working class Americans are largely eliminated. Interestingly enough though once the white middle classes realized that they really will not be exempted from this. This is when the serious pressure to end the war is amped up and the war is brought to a close. So it is precisely the thing that makes the draft fairer that makes the war more unpopular than it ever was.

Nick : [00:14:41] Can you tell me about that 1969 lottery? I Remember something was on live TV. How did that work?

Jennifer Mittelstadt: [00:14:47] What they did was more or less pick out of a... I guess it wasn't a hat. I guess it was um...

Nick : [00:14:55] A glass jar, I saw a video of video of blue easter eggs in a glass jar, 366 easter eggs.

Jennifer Mittelstadt: [00:15:02] Little blue balls. Right. And you know much the same way what we now think of of you know money lottery. Right.

Nick : [00:15:12] Or Bingo, yeah.

Jennifer Mittelstadt: [00:15:13] Bingo. Right. They reached in and they picked out a ball and that ball had a date on it. So when someone said their number was up what they meant was either that their birthday had actually been chosen on that initial blue ball or that their birthday was very close to that. And so going in chronological order their birth date would be one of the next ones that would be called in order to fulfill that particular draft need at that particular time.

Nick : [00:15:46] So I'm picturing a truck going to Fort Bragg and everybody's on got the same birthday. Isn't that strange? Think about it.

Jennifer Mittelstadt: [00:15:53] I guess, I guess that might be right.

Hannah: [00:15:57] So where are we today in terms of the draft. As Nick said when he turned 18 he had to register for selective service. Is it lying dormant right now? And what would it take to bring it back?

Jennifer Mittelstadt: [00:16:09] Well the unpopularity of the draft during Vietnam is one of the things that led to the end of the draft in 1973. So Richard Nixon upon election not only sort of gets rid of the exemptions and switches over to a lottery but he also puts the U.S. on the path toward the end of conscription. He creates a commission on what he will call the all volunteer force. And what that commission argues is that a draft force is antithetical to concepts of us liberty and it will be eliminated. And from that point on the U.S. will staff its military fully through recruitment and voluntary enlistments. And so since 1973 that is in fact what the U.S. has had. It was that 1980 law that Jimmy Carter put in place that reinstituted as a backup as a sort of safeguard the selective service in a sort of just in case mode. But at the same time that has never been activated. So Nick might have registered but Nick and no one like him who's registered has ever been called into service since then.

Hannah: [00:17:28] Is there any chance that women would have to be a part of the draft in the future if we entered another huge war?

Jennifer Mittelstadt: [00:17:35] So because the combat exemption has been lifted for women it is likely that women in the not too distant future will be required to register for selective service. Indeed before Trump was elected there was a bill working its way through Congress that was going to require women to do just that. After Trump's election that was pulled. But I believe that there are people who have tried reintroducing it since then and it's an open question as to what will happen.

Nick : [00:18:08] Do you think the draft could ever happen again in America?

Jennifer Mittelstadt: [00:18:12] Well I think historians are really bad predictors of the future. So I'm I'm really not sure what will happen but I would not put it outside of the realm of possibility. If you think back to the beginning of the nation and you think about that debate that sort of went on about whether or not compulsory military service was sort of I guess the essence of citizenship something that in a free society you owe to your country or whether or not it's the kind of opposite and compulsory military service is this sort of tyrannical imposition against the liberty of free citizens. I think for many Americans the switch to the all volunteer force sort of settled that question and the answer was You don't owe anything and there are people who will volunteer. But I think in fact those who are still thinking about national service whether in the military or in the military and in other places are sort of still asking that question saying that perhaps you know one measure of citizenship is the degree to which you serve fellow citizens and the nation itself.

Hannah: [00:19:26] That was Jennifer Mittelstadt a professor of history at Rutgers and the Harold K. Johnson chair of military history at the U.S. Army War College.

Nick : [00:19:34] If you haven't gotten a chance to watch the video of the Vietnam lottery you should. It's pretty wild. It's got some blue easter eggs. We'll post a link in the show notes and at our website Civic's 101 podcast dot org. This episode was produced by Taylor Quimby our executive producer is Eric Janik Our staff includes Jimmy Gutierrez, Justine Paradis, and Jacqui Helbert. Music in this episode by Sara Alfonso and Silicon Transmitter. Civics 101 is a production of new Hampshire Public Radio.



Made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Subcribe to Civics 101 on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you get your favorite audio.

This podcast is a production of New Hampshire Public Radio.

The Federal Register

Show your support for Civics 101. Click here to donate:

Today a listener opens up a rabbit hole, and we immediately jump down it. We're learning about the Federal Register, a dense, cryptic document published every single day that records all the activities of the Executive Branch. It's a lot. Joining us is Oliver Potts, the director of the Federal Register, along with Kevin Kosar of the R Street Institute and Nick Bellos of the Regulatory Review. 

Have a civics question you want answered? Let us know in the form below and we'll try to answer it!


 NOTE: This transcript was generated using an automated transcription service, and may contain typographical errors.


Civics 101

Episode 127: The Federal Register  



Nick Capodice: [00:00:10] Hey, is this Jennifer?


Listener: [00:00:10] Yes!


Nick Capodice: [00:00:11] Hi, this is Nick calling from Civics 101.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:14] Hey Jennifer I'm on the line too, this is Hannah.


Nick Capodice: [00:00:18] So Jennifer you sent us an email asking us about a certain civics thing can you tell us what that is?


Listener: [00:00:25] Yeah it's the federal register. And I was wondering, what is the Federal Register, who uses it, how, and why?


Nick Capodice: [00:00:34] So I've done a little research on the Federal Register and I'm still in the dark.


Listener: [00:00:38] I looked at the Web site and it just says, the journal for the government and I don't know what that means. Are they writing down. Oh I saw senator so-and-so talking to senator so-and-so today? What is it?


Nick Capodice: [00:00:54] Do you think there is like an advice column in there. Ask Melania.


[00:01:01] So we're going to try to get to the bottom of this and try to find someone who knows about the Federal Register and maybe somebody who reads it every day.


Listener: [00:08:34] That sounds great.


Ben Henry: [00:08:34] Hey guys. Before we talk about the Federal Register I have a gift for you.


Nick Capodice: [00:08:38] What is it.


Ben Henry: [00:08:38] Why don't you open it up?


Nick Capodice: [00:08:38] It's a slim volume... It's our very own Federal Register! Look at the color of these pages.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:08:38] It's that very thin paper that you should be able to rip out and hand over to a teacher. My goodness what's in it.


[00:08:44] So this thing is printed every single day.


Nick Capodice: [00:08:46] Every day. 30000 subscribers in print but much more on digital. Despite literally holding this thing in my hands, I'm still struggling to figure out what it is and why the government publishes it every day.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:08:56] Yeah I find it totally perplexing.


Nick Capodice: [00:08:58] Now I have a couple of experts who can hopefully illuminate this beautiful document. One of them is Oliver Potts. He just happens to be the director of the Federal Register. He's in charge of the whole shebang. So first off what is this document in my hand?


Oliver Potts: [00:09:11] The Federal Register is a publication in print and digital format and it's the official source for government regulations.


Kevin Kosar: [00:09:19] And it basically tells you what the executive branch of our federal government is doing and what it's planning to do.


Nick Capodice: [00:09:25] That's Kevin Kosar. He's vice president of policy at the R Street Institute, a think tank. And he said any time the executive branch wants to create any kind of new regulation they have to announce it in the Federal Register.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:09:37] Ok so I wonder if we could just take a quick tour through the federal register itself like what's actually in it.


Oliver Potts: [00:09:43] Well I brought one too. So the first documents in it are presidential documents. And so there is a proclamation here. We also have executive orders. You might have read in the news about the president making it easier to fire federal employees. So there's that executive order, the official text of it is also here with the president's signature and the date.


Nick Capodice: [00:10:02] Now this is crucial, presumably, for anyone who's keeping tabs on what exactly the executive branch is up to nowadays. Here's Nick Bellos. He's managing editor of a publication called the Regulatory Review.


Nick Bellos: [00:10:13] When I think there are a lot of headlines about how executive agencies federal agencies are perhaps doing or trying to undo the policy measures by the Obama administration the Federal Register is actually going to show you just how the executive branch is doing that.


Oliver Potts: [00:10:28] And then there are proposed rules and public notices and final rules.


Nick Capodice: [00:10:33] Now here Hannah is the real meat of the Federal Register. These are all the new regulations that the government is thinking about.


Oliver Potts: [00:10:41] The proposed rules are put into the federal register because the federal government is required to let the public have input into the rulemaking that they're doing.


[00:10:50] And so there's a notice and comment process in the Federal Register is an important part of that.


Nick Capodice: [00:10:55] To clarify everything that's in the Federal Register is coming out of the executive branch which is not as I once thought just the president and the vice president.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:11:04] OK. I thought that too.


Nick Capodice: [00:11:05] Yeah the executive branch is also all of the agencies, we're talking the EPA, the USDA, the Department of Education. Those also fall into the executive branch and that's what's in the register.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:11:13] OK. So no wonder it's so long and complicated. It's dealing with all of those agencies


Nick Capodice: [00:11:18] So it's not the Congress and it's not the judicial branch. Those guys have their own records. The next thing I wanted to know from Oliver Potts is who actually reads the Federal Register.


Oliver Potts: [00:11:25] It sort of boils down to lawyers and lobbyists. If you're an attorney practicing before a regulatory agency if you have a business that's regulated by a federal agency then you're very interested in what is being published in the Federal Register. It is however geared towards any citizen being able to participate in the rulemaking process.


Nick Capodice: [00:11:44] Now I know for a fact that our listeners have opinions about the government and yes we read every e-mail that you send to us. The Federal Register is designed for you so that you can comment directly on regulations while they are still being made.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:11:56] Oh that's really cool. Honestly I thought a lot of this was kind of happening in the shadows. So it's really cool to hear that there is this publicly accessible document that allows us to be involved.


Nick Capodice: [00:12:05] Yeah it's like. Well you can complain about something on Twitter or leave a comment on Facebook. You can just comment on this policy that's just about to happen.


Oliver Potts: [00:12:11] I pulled a couple of examples of things where people might want to be involved directly. Here's a notice from the Department of Energy about an open meeting and if you look a little further into the supplementary information there's a bullet list of what they're going to talk about at the meeting. And I just highlighted update on Radioactive Waste Management complex. If I lived in Idaho where this board meets and where it has jurisdiction that's something I might be interested in. This is a hands on direct way that people can avail themselves of their rights.


Kevin Kosar: [00:12:39] And what's wonderful about it is that when you are commentating these comments are being listened to by the people who are making policy. And as part of the process you can see the federal register they will actually respond to your comment.


Nick Capodice: [00:12:51] And can anybody leave a comment. Could I write in and say hey I feel X about this certain thing.


Kevin Kosar: [00:12:55] Yeah. Yeah. So I mean they get 500 people saying the exact same thing which often happens when interest groups or activist groups you know ask people to comment on a rule. They won't list everybody's name and everybody's same comment, they'll lump them together and then they'll respond.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:13:10] Do you think that the Federal Register makes engaging with our federal government much easier than it would be without it? What Would it be like without the Federal Register?


Kevin Kosar: [00:13:19] It would be like life before 1935.


Nick Capodice: [00:13:21] 1930s, FDR is in office. The three R's: relief reform recovery, the new deal on the way in, the Great Depression slowly on the way out. And in the process we passed a lot of new regulations.


Oliver Potts: [00:13:32] And so if you were in a let's say a business that was being regulated by the federal government it was sort of hard to figure out what the current regulation that applied to you was. It certainly was difficult to know what was on its way. They weren't proposed regulations at the time. They could just go into effect so it was required at the time that they be displayed before they were published in the Federal Register. There were people who made their living coming to the Federal Register to the public reading room to actually see what was on display being proposed to go into the Federal Register.


Nick Capodice: [00:14:00] Ever since then the Federal Register has been very quietly chronicling every single teeny little regulation and rule change that the government makes. And this is the whole big thing. Regulation, which is all the minor nuts and bolts that tell us how to follow the laws, that is the foundation for all the big flashy political ideas that we talk about.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:14:17] So these are the kinds of things that lobbying groups and politicians are going to be really interested in because that's their fodder. Right? That's what's guiding what their platforms are and what decisions they're going to make in the future.


Nick Bellos: [00:14:28] Yeah I mean you actually look at the text of these of these bills these laws even though they're really long oftentimes they're not very detailed. Good example is like the clean air act for instance. You know there's a provision in there that says that the EPA must protect public health with an adequate level of safety. Which sounds legalistic and formal but then if you if you think about it like oh well what's the public health with an adequate level of safety. In many ways Congress is pointing to somebody else kind of filling the gap.


Nick Capodice: [00:14:49] And this happens over and over again in our government. Congress punts to the executive branch. So Congress says hey we got this big idea. We think it's a good idea but you all figure out the details.


Nick Bellos: [00:14:59] There are a lot of pros and cons to the way our system is set up where unelected regulators and bureaucrats we have a lot of control of it. On the one hand it's great because we want specialists like technocrats people who actually know what they're doing to set those standards. The criticism would be you know we didn't elect those scientists. How much how much can we trust them. Who's holding them accountable?


Hannah McCarthy: [00:15:14] But I guess in response to that I would say well whoever it is that's ordering the federal register, all these thousands of people are having the Federal Register delivered to them every morning and combing through it online, people like Nick, are the people who are holding them accountable.


[00:15:26] Well that about wraps it up for Civics 101 today. Check out the federal register yourself. Go to Federal Register dot gov. Today's episode of civics on one is produced by the inimitable Ben Henry. Our executive producer is Erika Janik. Our staff includes Justine Paradise, Jimmy Gutierrez, Jacqui Helbert, and Taylor Quimby, Civics 101 is a production of New Hampshire Public Radio.




Made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Subcribe to Civics 101 on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you get your favorite audio.

This podcast is a production of New Hampshire Public Radio.

National Institutes of Health (NIH)

Remember the Human Genome Project? The massively complicated international undertaking that aimed to map the entirety of human DNA? It was funded and coordinated in large part by the NIH, or National Institutes of Health.

The NIH is a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and is the nation's foremost government funded medical research agency. So how does it work? What do they actually do? Do politics influence their research? To find out, we turn to  Dr. Carrie Wolinetz,  Associate Director for Science Policy at the NIH. 

Have a civics question you want answered? Let us know in the form below and we'll try to answer it!



Nick: [00:00:16] I'm Nick Capodice.

Hannah: [00:00:17] Hannah McCarthy.

Nick: [00:00:18] This is Civics 101.

Hannah: [00:00:20] Today.

Nick: [00:00:21] Yes.

Hannah: [00:00:21] Our episode is on the NIH.

Nick: [00:00:24] The National Institute of Health.

Hannah: [00:00:25] The National Institutes of Health.

Nick: [00:00:27] The 'tutes'? OK, so what does that mean?

Hannah: [00:00:29] That means that within the NIH there are other institutes that are doing specialized research.

Nick: [00:00:34] OK. And so how and how are they a Civics 101 topic?

Hannah: [00:00:37] Well we pay for the research done by NIH institutions and the institutions that the NIH funds.

Nick: [00:00:46] So who is going to explain it to us?

Dr. Wolinetz: [00:00:48] So my name is Dr. Carrie Wolinetz and I am in the office of the director at the National Institutes of Health, where I serve as both the Associate Director for Science Policy as well as the acting chief of staff to the NIH director.

Hannah: [00:01:01] So why don't we just start very basic... What is the primary role of the NIH in the United States?

Dr. Wolinetz: [00:01:10] So the mission of the National Institutes of Health is to seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and then we apply that knowledge in order to enhance health, lengthen life, reduce illness and disability. So essentially we are a research funding agency whose goal is to improve the length and quality of human life and health.

Nick: [00:01:34] And when you say Institutes of Health, Hannah told me that the N IH institutes, not institute. How many institutes comprise the NIH?

Dr. Wolinetz: [00:01:41] So there are 27 institutes and centers which range from institutes that are disease focused, so for example the National Cancer Institute, to institutes that are more focused around organ systems, like the National Heart Lung and Blood Institutes, to institutes that are really about engineering fundamental discovery and the research pipeline itself for example our National Center on Advancing Translational Sciences.

Nick: [00:02:10] And where does the NIH get the money for all these institutes?

Dr. Wolinetz: [00:02:13] So we are a federal agency, so we get appropriations from Congress and the institutes and centers each get their own congressional appropriation and so that funding comes directly from Congress and the American taxpayers.

Nick: [00:02:30] Can you tell me about how much money the bridge gets, year to year?

Dr. Wolinetz: [00:02:34] So our current appropriation is right around 37 billion dollars. But importantly between 1998 and 2003 there was a significant investment in the National Institutes of Health, the budget of the research agency doubled at that time and that was a reflection of a strong bipartisan support in Congress that remains to this day.

Nick: [00:03:00] So when something like an Ebola outbreak happens in the US, you know we did an episode actually on the CDC, and I think of that as the organization that takes care of an infectious outbreak. But it sounds like the NIH is the institution conducting the research, so how does that work? Are you are you guys developing the the vaccines, the medication, the new information?

Dr. Wolinetz: [00:03:24] That's exactly right. So there are a couple of roles and I might play depending on the shape of the outbreak. Certainly we are very involved in working closely with the CDC for the next stage of developing medical countermeasures, and those might be vaccine,s they might be medications, they might be diagnostic technologies. In addition, if it is a emerging virus or or a disease that we don't know much about, for example when S ARS first became a public health issue, NIH might be involved in some of the very fundamental identification and characterizing of whatever that infectious agents or disease causes.

Nick: [00:04:11] So is the head of the NIH appointed, is this a political appointee by the president, like the heads of other agencies?

Dr. Wolinetz: [00:04:18] Yes so NIH has two presidential appointees and only two, the head of the National Institutes of Health is a presidential appointee and so is the head of the National Cancer Institute.

Nick: [00:04:30] I'm also very interested in what extent politics can guide the kind of research that you're doing. Let's take something slightly controversial like stem cell research, or maybe research for the opioid crisis. How do politics play into the kind of funding you get?

Dr. Wolinetz: [00:04:45] I think certainly NIH has been very fortunate in that we are a largely apolitical agency and that we do have this strong bipartisan support. But certainly if you look at how things rise to sort of the level of national consciousness, like the opioids crisis, that can be translated into additional funding for the agency. Sometimes, as in the other example you mentioned stem cells, that becomes a policy conversation where we think about the framework and the terms and conditions we might put on our researchers about the kinds of research that that we fund. But for the most part I would say the NIH tends to stay outside the political fray. And we've been very fortunate to have this widespread support to really focus on our mission of science and improving human health.

Hannah: [00:05:41] So I'm curious how the public does benefit from the research that the NIH funds. Can you point to any specific discoveries or advances in medical science that have come out of NIH funded research?

Dr. Wolinetz: [00:05:55] Oh sure, some of the rapid improvement we've seen in death rates from cardiovascular disease were they're down significantly can be traced back to things like the use of statens for control of cholesterol, which stems directly from NIH supported fundamental research. Recent cancer therapy is like the cutting edge immunotherapies, CAR-T cells are a term you may hear a lot... The antiretroviral therapies that have really transformed HIV-AIDS from a sort of death sentence terminal illness to a chronic condition to which people are living to a normal lifespan... All of those discoveries have the roots in NIH supported research.

Hannah: [00:06:42] We're going to take a quick break. But stay tuned for more NIH. Coming up on civics 101.

Nick: [00:06:52] Welcome back to Civics 101, we're talking to Dr. Carrie Wolinetz about the NIH. So are there any fun new projects that the NIH is working on that we should keep her eyes out for?

Dr. Wolinetz: [00:07:02] Well certainly we're very excited about the new opportunities presented by gene-editing technologies and the ability to create the next generation of gene therapies to cure genetically based diseases. So for example, sickle cell anemia, which was one of the first diseases identified from a molecular level. It's Been a century now that we've known the cause of sickle cell anemia. We are almost at the cusp of actually being able to cure that disease through gene therapy.

[00:07:37] And you know we hope that within the next five maybe 10 years or so we will actually see a cure for sickle cell anemia or other similar diseases that we could potentially approach with a new gene editing technologies.

Nick: [00:07:52] So I'm so curious, when there are all of these research studies going on, and for example with sickle cell anemia you say that you're getting close to a cure, where are these results going? And are private sector institutions accessing these results and then furthering those studies, getting you even closer?

[00:08:10] Yes, so the way it essentially works is most of the money the NIH gets does not actually reside at NIH. So 80 percent of our budget goes out from NIH to research institutions, universities, academic medical centers all over the country. And it really is the best and brightest scientists from all over the United States and all over the world who are using that money to address research questions to help us understand the fundamentals of disease, and how to how to use that knowledge to actually lead to therapies and treatments and cures for those diseases. There is then a often a hands off to the private sector who essentially depends on that federally funded publicly supported research to be able to move the ball forward and develop whether it's vaccines or drugs. A lot of that is facilitated by the research funded by NIH.

Nick: [00:09:15] So who has access to this sort of open source information? Do I, does Hannah? Can we go to a website and see this research?

Dr. Wolinetz: [00:09:22] Yes. So NIH is a very transparent agency. Certainly all of the projects that we fund are available on our website through a site called NIH reporter, and you can get as into the weeds on those projects as you want to get. And some of them are very weedy indeed. In addition we require all of the publications that come out from NIH funded research to be available to the public through our National Library of medicines pub med sites.

Taylor Quimby: [00:09:54] I've got a quick question I'm sort of curious about, do you guys mind if I jump in?

Nick: [00:09:58] Oh go ahead.

Taylor Quimby: [00:09:59] OK. So I just remember a few years ago when then Vice President Joe Biden, he had lost his son and he made this big call for the sort of moonshot of cancer this idea that there is going to maybe be this huge injection of funding. And I read, I think I read an article back then that sort of talked about this grant based-process and that it makes it hard in some ways to maybe have this big coordinated push and I'm just wondering are there any downsides or limitations to that sort of funding model where you're you know you're putting lots of different ideas and projects out there and you're funding lots of different things. But it's maybe a little bit scattershot, right?

Dr. Wolinetz: [00:10:35] So. So the cancer moonshot is still going strong. So let me start with that but you know it's a little bit like managing your investment portfolio. It's making sure that you've got the appropriate balance of both soliciting from kind of the best and brightest scientists across the country, their original ideas on kind of a grant by grant basis, while at the same time as a agency and an institution that has this overarching view, paying attention to when the time is right to put in a big bolus of funds. So it's really making sure we've got this balanced portfolio of sort of big centralized initiatives, like The All of Us research program, like the cancer moonshot, like the brain initiative which we didn't talk about, with that portfolio of really bright individual ideas from scientists across the country.

Nick: [00:11:36] So how important do you think it is this public handoff? How important do you think it is that this is a public biomedical health research institution?

Dr. Wolinetz: [00:11:45] Incredibly important. I think one of the reasons that NIH has been fortunate enough to have such strong public support is because there has been long recognition that the government plays a critical role in supporting basic research discovery and fundamental science that is frankly too high risk for the private sector to necessarily get involved in. Because you don't know where it's going to lead you at the end of the day, although history shows us that in fact that basic research is ultimately what leads us down the road to medical advancements. But it is really a sort of critical government role to be able to support that fundamental research and build that foundation of knowledge that can then be taken by private industry and turns into the next generation of therapies and technologies and approaches to really improve human health.

Hannah: [00:12:51] That was Dr. Carrie Wolinetz, Associate Director for Science Policy at the NIH. Today's episode was produced by Taylor Quinby, our executive producers Erika Janik. Our team includes Jimmy Gutierrez ,Justine Paradis, Ben Henry and Jacqui Helbert music in this episode is from David Hilowitz.

Nick: [00:13:08] We don't have more than one institution but we do have lots of past episodes to check out. They do tend to pop up on the news cycle don't they?

Hannah: [00:13:15] They do don't they.

Nick: [00:13:16] You could set your watch watch to it. So if you're ever feeling especially bamboozled by something you've read the headlines check out our list of previous topics at Civics101podcast.org. Or you can leave us a question and we'll see if we can get to the bottom of it pronto.

Hannah: [00:13:30] I'm Hannah McCarthy.

Nick: [00:13:31] And I'm Nick Capodice.

Hannah: [00:13:32] Civics 101 is a production of new Hampshire Public Radio.




Made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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Norm Stamper was a past-Chief of Seattle's Police Department and an officer with the San Diego PD. He's also the author of two books including To Protect and Serve: How to fix America's Police. He joins us to talk about the history of modern policing, the role of police today, and how to make sense of controversial police killings.

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NOTE: This transcript was generated using an automated transcription service, and may contain typographical errors.


Civics 101

Episode 125: Police


Nick Capodice: [00:00:01] My knowledge of the police growing up in a very white New Hampshire town was that the police were friendly and they came to school and I did DARE. And I would watch Abbott and Costello routines. There were like hey if you're ever in need of need help give me a hand go ask a policeman. They're going to help you out.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:16] I know I went to DARE too. But I think that that was my only experience of ever speaking face to face with a cop. I still haven't to this day.


Nick Capodice: [00:00:26] So what do you want to know about the police?


Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:28] I want to know who governs what the police are allowed to do? Are there federal regulations? Are there state regulations? Is it just you know units of policy by municipality who makes these decisions where does the money come from and how has the police force in this country changed over the years?


Nick Capodice: [00:00:53] We're talking today with Norm Stamper. Norm was the past chief of Seattle's police department and an officer in San Diego. He's also the author of two books first To Protect and Serve: How to Fix America's police, and Breaking Rank: A Top Cop's Exposé of The Dark Side of American Policing.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:01:14] So I guess let's start with brass tacks here what is the official role of the police department in the United States?


Norm Stamper: [00:01:23] Well the whole purpose behind policing is to help achieve public safety and neighborhood health so police are identified properly as a crime fighting agency. But they also provide many many other services that are associated with quality of life issues in any given neighborhood.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:01:43] And is a police force constitutionally mandated? How did we decide that we needed to have one?


Nick Capodice: [00:01:52] No there is no mandate for policing anywhere. And in fact one of the interesting phenomenon of American policing as it we have 18,000 law enforcement agencies in this country and each is pretty much a stand alone agency fairly independent from tiny rural police departments to big urban NYPD has got 35,000 police officers. Most police departments have a handful if not just one or two officers and there are no federal regulations that are you know universal amongst all 18,000.


Nick Capodice: [00:02:28] Are they completely on their own?


Norm Stamper: [00:02:31] One of my favorite themes here is as we do have these 18,000 law enforcement agencies but we have one Constitution and every single police officer are nearing 1 million in this country. And all of those agencies are duty bound to abide by the Constitution. And yet we have no national standards very different from the British after whom we model ourselves. But it's it's very problematic I think and if you're looking at Civics 101 approach to policing it's important to point out that each of these police departments operates with its own its own basic policies and procedures.


Nick Capodice: [00:03:11] Well let's go to about how we started. Where did we get this notion of how we run our police departments?


Norm Stamper: [00:03:19] Before industrialization, before the Industrial Revolution, communities, neighborhoods had kind of a hue and cry approach to public safety. Somebody notices that a barn is on fire clangs a bell runs through the dirt roads of a little community and arouses people and gets them out there to help fight that fire or chase down somebody who's rob somebody. And as we moved from from an agrarian and rural environment to an urban industrialized environment we began to organize and the early organizing efforts were fraught. There were there were a lot of problems associated with that and we learned about the British. The British in 1829 through the Metropolitan Police Act created the very first Western democracy organized police force. Representatives from New York and Philadelphia and Boston and other big East Coast cities and Midwest cities traveled to Great Britain to study the Metropolitan Police Act and they came back with you know a skeleton vision really of how to structure a police department. But they failed to include some safeguards that turned out to be a pretty glaring omission that caused from the very beginning of a life of this institution a lot of problems.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:04:50] So what were the safeguards that the United States failed to include in their idea for a police force?


Norm Stamper: [00:04:57] Well Sir Robert Peel who was the home secretary took seven years to convince a reluctant parliament to go along with the idea of an organized police force. During those seven years of political maneuvering the Home Secretary and parliament went back and forth on what we need to do to make sure that our police force doesn't come across as tyrannical as militaristic as aloof or distant from the community. So they built in safeguards to ensure that that would not happen and the Americans essentially were bad students. They think they came back to this country and they created almost overnight a political spoils system where nepotism ruled. If a mayor appointed a police chief and gave that chief the authority to select police officers very often it was brothers or sons or cousins or uncles and so forth and corruption developed almost immediately in most of those big city law enforcement agencies.


Nick Capodice: [00:06:06] Moving into the current day, I'm curious about how we're training officers and there's been a lot of talk about the militarization of police recently. How does the training differ between the military and the police?


Norm Stamper: [00:06:18] I think it's very important that your listeners understand that training does play take place in a classroom of course that takes place in a variety of other settings where we set up mock scenes and do simulations and the like. But it also takes place in the front seat of a police car and it takes place in the locker room. And by far the more powerful form of instruction takes place informally always has been the case probably always will be the case. Military training on the other hand starting with basic training is all about learning how to follow orders and obviously to engage in tactical operations to become familiar with equipment and weapons and the like. But the distinction is so terribly important for an American police officer. The training ostensibly is about helping police officers forge these true partnerships with the community an emphasis on interpersonal communication on listening skills on developing patience and restraint on learning how most effectively to defuse tense situations and particularly when weapons are involved. One of the distinctions we can't draw is that between the military and the police is that the police in our society tragically are surrounded by guns. There are more guns than people in this country. So we have a responsibility to equip our police officers to handle everything from a home invasion robbery to a drive by shooting them one minute and two trying to console parents who have lost a child overnight to a crib death. It's no exaggeration to say that from one minute to the next police officers can go from one very different kind of task duty or responsibility to another.


Nick Capodice: [00:08:17] And are police officers currently trained in the sort of de-escalation tactics?


Norm Stamper: [00:08:22] They are. But I think it's important to point out that a recent study revealed that the average police officer gets about eight hours of what some might call de-escalation training. It could be as simple as interpersonal communication but without the real emphasis on de-escalation. That's a whole body of knowledge. It implies a set of skills. It takes a lot of practice. But they spend much more time firing their weapons and undergoing defensive tactics training. And they do de-escalation. Not that the former is a bad thing. That's a very important necessary thing but it's also vital that we teach police officers how to slow things down how to calm things down when they arrive at a scene. You've probably seen YouTube footage of police officers literally screaming at the top of their lungs sounding like they're out of control. Now what they're trying to do of course ironically is to achieve control is to bring stability to that chaotic scene. But too often they're actually escalating tension and creating a more dangerous situation.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:09:40] Now what kind of culture is cultivated within the police force between this kind of disproportionate type of training that happens and then this schizophrenia on the job experience?


Norm Stamper: [00:09:52] That's a really vital question that police administrators and civic activist and civic leaders and rank and file police officers are all asking especially these days in light of recent events. The culture of American policing as a product I'm convinced of the structure paramilitary bureaucratic top down to many agencies in my view treat their frontline professionals like dependent or delinquent children. The disciplinary system is very primitive and very black and white and oftentimes insulting to police officers who engage in such sensitive and delicate and demanding work. So we need to look at that and we need to understand how this sort of rigid top down communication decision making system within the paramilitary bureaucracy affects attitudes and behavior of police officers. So I look at it this way the structure produces that culture and then the culture gives rise to the behavior. And if we're not happy with the behavior I think we what comes to my mind as the Laquan McDonald shooting in Chicago, the Walter Scott shooting in North Charleston South Carolina, or Philando Castile and Minnesota a number of controversial police incidents typically resulting in death are are... It just seems to me that we need to look at those events study those events investigate certainly those events and draw conclusions and let the chips fall where they may. But we shouldn't just fixate on the individual event. We should ask ourselves where does that behavior come from. Why is it that the police officer is shouting and screaming at an individual whose attention he wants. But who is more likely than not escalating and inflaming passions. And what is it that we can do systemically to produce different kind of behavior.


Nick Capodice: [00:12:05] We wanted to look at one specific incident which was to look at something such as Ferguson what happened with Michael Brown in Ferguson and if you could tell us how did we get there. But it sounds like you're saying we shouldn't be isolating these specific incidents but we should be looking at the culture at large?


Norm Stamper: [00:12:21] I suppose what I'm really saying is yes of course we must look at the individual events but once we've sealed up that investigation has now been completed we need to ask ourselves what led to the tragic outcome what led to in this case an 18 year old young man dying at the hands of police. Is there a way that that could have been prevented. And to my way of thinking almost all almost all controversial police shootings that we've been exposed to in the last several years could have been prevented. Now look at the Michael Brown incident where we have an 18 year old kid who talks back to a police officer who tells him to get up on the sidewalk. Profanities are exchanged. Wasn't just one sided and the officer gets hooked. He's been provoked. So he puts his car in reverse and backs up at a very reckless rate of speed circles around an entraps himself with Michael Brown and his companion standing right next to the door. The driver's side door this police car. And then Darren Wilson tells the grand jury later that he felt that he was trapped and that he felt that he was being assaulted by I think he used the word demon. He said he he looked like the Hulk but he was sitting behind the wheel of his car trapped in his vehicle. He had his gun out. Having not seen a gun but fearing for his life nonetheless because of Michael Brown's menacing demeanor and and his proximity which he the officer had actually brought about felt that as he put it to the grand jury that his life was in danger and the consequence of course was another one of these controversial police killings. One thing we don't look at nearly enough is the tactics that the officers used that set up this fatal outcome. And that's critically important because every time we break down one of these incidents we critique it, we debrief it, we place it into the larger context of our training or supervision and our tactics, we have the opportunity to prevent next one. And I think what we learned in Ferguson was that we had a an entire police department indeed an entire city that was engaged in systemic discrimination. There was raw racism. We saw that and some exchanged e-mails and some notices and so forth that circulated within the organization and city home. And we saw that that police officers were engaged in what's commonly called policing for profit. And the Department of Justice report for anyone interested in this aspect of policing would do well to read the report says that the city manager indeed supported by the City Council was putting pressure on the police department to generate more revenue. How do you how does the police department generate revenue? Tickets and arrests. So that's that's an unholy alliance between the police department and the city fathers and it's also sending exactly the wrong message to police officers.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:16:05] Given the current aggregate climate of the nation's police departments, What do you see as the reasonable foreseeable future?


Norm Stamper: [00:16:14] There are a lot of practical intermediate steps that can be taken and they're still fairly ambitious. One recommendation I've made we need to have a set of unifying standards that will help us answer the question what's a professional law enforcement agency, what's a professional police officer? And on the strength of those standards we ought to certify agencies and license cops. And if you can't or won't play by the rules then you're going to lose your certification or your license. The police officer who shot and killed Tamir Rice in Cleveland Ohio had been fired by the Independence Ohio Police Department 19 minutes away by car a couple of years prior to the time that Cleveland picked him up. And why did they fire him? Because he fell apart on the on the pistol range because he was an emotional wreck. He may have been a nice guy. The deputy chief who wrote up his termination package essentially said we regret that you didn't make it but you're not police material. We can't afford you the community cannot afford you. And so they fired him. And yet Cleveland hired him and then a short time later he shot and killed a lonely 12 year old boy on a snowfield in Cleveland. Those kinds of images ought to haunt us because not only has that 12 year old been denied the rest of his life, not only has his family been torn apart and the community reduced to collective grief, we have a situation in which easily that controversial shooting didn't didn't need to happen could have been prevented. So we need to set the standards and we need to enforce them. And you can't lose a job in Ferguson and get hired in New York or San Diego and hired in Seattle or wherever.




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This podcast is a production of New Hampshire Public Radio.

Infrastructure – Water!

Drinking water in the United States is, according to the EPA, among the world's "most reliable and safest supplies." Its delivery involves a complex infrastructure of pipes, treatment facilities, aqueducts, dams, and reservoirs, and it operates on a local, state, and federal level. How did we get here? How is the U.S. public water system legislated? And, how is "potable" actually pronounced?

We spoke with James Salzman, author of Drinking Water: A History. He is also a professor of environmental law at the UCLA School of Law and the Bren School of Environmental Science at UC Santa Barbara.

This episode is part of our occasional series on American infrastructure. Listen to our first installment on roads.

Have a civics question you want answered? Let us know in the form below and we'll try to answer it!


NOTE: This transcript was generated using an automated transcription service, and may contain typographical errors.

Nick Capodice: [00:00:08] Is it potable or potable?


James Salzman: [00:00:11] I say potable. .


Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:12] OK So do we. I feel good about that.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:14] But I also say potato.


Nick Capodice: [00:00:15] Well, let's just call the whole thing off.


James Salzman: [00:00:20] Touche.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:21] you're Listening to Civics 101. I'm Hannah McCarthy.


Nick Capodice: [00:00:23] And I'm Nick Capodice.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:24] And On today's episode water.


Nick Capodice: [00:00:26] Yes. How and why is the government involved in delivering water in the United States? .


Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:30] What Is the infrastructure involved. What are the policies?


Nick Capodice: [00:00:33] And how did it get that way?


[00:00:38] [Montage: Water is Life! Water is Life! By Diverting the river from its course we have lost the Colorado Delta. Flint still doesn't have clean water.].


Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:42] To Answer these questions. We spoke with James Salzman who wrote the book Drinking Water: A History. .


Nick Capodice: [00:00:53] James Salzman also goes by Jim he's a professor of environmental law at UCLA School of Law and the Bren School of Environmental Studies at UC Santa Barbara and he's on the national drinking water advisory committee under the EPA. All right. All right. Jim welcome to Civics 101. .


James Salzman: [00:01:11] Happy To be here. .


Nick Capodice: [00:01:12] So I guess to start out can you explain to us what is water infrastructure what are we talking about nationally. .


James Salzman: [00:01:19] Sure. Water basically has to has two major major uses that we care about. From an economic perspective and as a third use that's important as well. The first is the drinking water. We need. We need water to survive and so that sort of municipal water generally. And that obviously has to be treated. So it's safe to drink. The second broad category is agriculture.


James Salzman: [00:01:44] In fact about 80 percent of the water that we consume the United States is used for agriculture primarily irrigation 80 percent roughly. Yeah yeah. The last category of water that's important is what's called in stream flow or environmental flows and that's the water actually that we keep in the river. And you asked me water that we use. You know why am I mentioning instream flows. Well if we take out all the water and use all of it then there's no water for the fish and the and the the aquatic ecosystems. So they all they're all part of the same mix. It's the water that we use. And ironically the water we don't use. People talk about the infrastructure crisis with roads and with bridges. It's no different than with drinking water. Let me let me give you some interesting statistic statistics. So there are over a million miles of water pipe in the country. All right there are roughly 240000 line breaks every year. Every day about 42 billion dollars of water is treated and moved around the country. The number is inexact but they think about 6 billion gallons are lost to leaks. All right so the American Waterworks Association AWWA they have basically they come with these estimates for what the investment needed to basically maintain and improve the infrastructure of the next 25 years. And their numbers come close to a trillion dollars. .


Nick Capodice: [00:03:15] Is this because our infrastructure is getting old and breaking. Or is it because. Do we have the technology and the money to just create a new this old infrastructure?


James Salzman: [00:03:24] Well the technology is not that hard it's pipes right. The problem is I mean in D.C. there are some pipes that were laid right after the Civil War. Right. Drinking water is very much out of sight out of mind. .


Hannah McCarthy: [00:03:36] All Right. Is That because it would just be totally unfeasible to place whole systems around a municipality for example?


James Salzman: [00:03:44] Well it depends how much you want to pay. So there are. Get ready for this. One hundred fifty one thousand public water service providers in the country. A small number of those provide the vast majority of the water are those municipal water systems. But the fact is there are you know close to 100000 systems that serve 8 percent of the population. These are very small systems and they're poor in the sense that many of them are in poor areas or they're underfunded. It's a big challenge .


Nick Capodice: [00:04:16] When We're talking about drinking water. We're talking about the water that comes out of our taps. We're talking about water fountains. We're talking about all that stuff and Hannah had a story actually that's sort of related to that I wonder if you could. .


Hannah McCarthy: [00:04:29] Yeah so I was in the hallway filling up my water bottle at the water fountain here at the station and someone walked by .


James Salzman: [00:04:36] Very virtuous


Hannah McCarthy: [00:04:38] right. And he said Well you know you're really brave to be filling it up with the water fountain we've got filtered water in the kitchen. And I thought to myself oh well I thought you know that's ridiculous. The water has to be safe to drink. It has to be potable but then I kind of second guessed myself. I don't know for sure whether or not the government or a municipality is obligated to provide potable drinking water. Are you able to answer whether or not they are?


James Salzman: [00:05:07] I am I am drinking water is my thing. So here's how it works. So there is a law called the Safe Drinking Water Act was passed in 1974. And it's a nationwide law this centrally sets the standards and obligations for how water is provided to any system that essentially serves more than 25 people. So clearly the tap water you were using in essentially the drinking water system we have in the U.S. is sort of triple redundancy. The most of the work is actually done locally by the water treatment plant. They're the ones who actually treat the water make sure it gets to you. They're the ones who are testing the water on a required periodic basis. They're supervised by the state, equivalent to the state EPA who are supposed to look over them and make sure they're actually complying with the laws and the standards so that the Safe Drinking Water Act the federal EPA sort of looks over the shoulder of the state. They said what are called the maximum contaminant levels for roughly 90 different classes of contaminants and those are the standards of local treatment plants need to meet. And so the fact is that I can go anywhere in the United States and drink water from the tap without being concerned about it. That certainly is not the case in many parts of the world and frankly 100 years ago that wasn't the case anywhere. Now I have to add the Flint story is deeply disturbing at a lot of levels because essentially the triple redundancy broke down at every single level.


[00:06:39] The local producer screwed up. The state screwed up and the EPA screwed up. .


Nick Capodice: [00:06:44] What Is what. How could this happen in Flint?


James Salzman: [00:06:47] My view is that essentially the public agencies lost sight of who the public is. It is a very disturbing e-mail that came out from a FOIA request a public records request of the regional EPA where the EPA officials said something along the lines of I'm not sure Flint is the kind of community we want to go out on a limb for. And so it really it's a very disturbing very disturbing episode because as you mentioned earlier in this podcast you don't know that the water coming out of your tap is safe to drink. I'm a drinking water expert and I don't know. You have to trust utility to do the right thing. And in my view you know more than 99 percent of the time that actually happens. I have a lot of faith in the integrity and the performance of public utilities around the country in terms of drinking water. But Flint is a very serious reminder that you have to be vigilant.


Nick Capodice: [00:07:42] Do you have any hope for the future of when Flint will get clean water how that can happen?


James Salzman: [00:07:47] Yeah I mean the government the federal government has pumped in tens of millions of dollars to replace the lead service lines. And there was all kinds of bottled water that was provided as well. It's an infrastructure issue because many parts of the country have lead service lines. In fact the irony is that blood service lines were actually required by law in Flint until the 1980s.


[00:08:08] The challenge is it's going to cost 20 to 30 billion dollars to replace the lead service lines around the country. And this is part of a larger thing you want to talk about which is that you know money is short when it comes to drinking water infrastructure. .


Nick Capodice: [00:08:30] So I guess now will be an OK time to get to. How did we get here in terms of water infrastructure nationally since we were created as a country. How did we get to where we are now?


James Salzman: [00:08:41] Sure so the drinking water issue obviously has been of central importance ever since we've had settled cities that settled communities communities not gonna last very long if people are getting sick all the time. Seriously sick all the time from the water. So the approach basically New York City having tells the best example settled by the Dutch. The English come in and they started basically taking use of some shallow wells in this place called the collect which is about 32nd andt Broadway that got quite polluted. Over time as New York City urbanized. They basically realize that the water was getting polluted and it was insufficient and then the turn of the century you get this crazy story where Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton the Broadway stars they team up and they formed something called a Manhattan Company. And Aaron Berg goes up to Albany to the legislature and convinces them to give the Manhattan company monopoly to provide pure and wholesome water to New York City. And the idea is that they're going to pipe water in from the Bronx.


[00:09:46] It turns out that Aaron Burr was a scoundrel as comes out in the musical and he had no intention of getting water from the Bronx he basically just piped water in from this gross place called The Collect. And instead what he did was the charter gave him the authority to raise two million dollars in funds. He wanted to start a bank without the strictures of a bank charter and so he basically raised the two million dollars and then lent it out at interest in this company. Over time became a Chase Manhattan Bank. .


Hannah McCarthy: [00:10:16] So The whole water thing was a construct was a racket in a way he did provide water but it was just a way for him to ultimately create this bank. .


James Salzman: [00:10:25] That's Aaron Burr .


Hannah McCarthy: [00:14:02] He is a scoundrel. .


James Salzman: [00:10:28] And So the basically 1830s the state and city finally step in and have been a public water. And so essentially by the 19th century mid 19th century all of the major cities in the U.S. had public water systems. But even into the early early 1900s, it's not uncommon for people to die of typhoid cholera or other waterborne diseases. And so the big shift is with the chlorination of water. OK. In the early 90s hundreds and that's done through the Interstate Commerce Commission. They basically passed this rule that all interstate common carriers buses trains ferries have to have chlorinated water. And so basically any where any of these transports stopped any of the towns they had to have chlorinated water so they could basically provided for the interstate carriers. And that was sort of the backhanded way that we got water chlorinated in the U.S.


Nick Capodice: [00:11:26] And What about water rights in the West versus East?


James Salzman: [00:11:29] Think of the thing that's that that's key in talking about water on the East Coast where on the west coast is agriculture and big cities. There was enough water for drinking on the west coast but there wasn't enough water for large urbanization and large agriculture. And the story starts essentially in the mining towns in the 1840s, 1850s, where the folks who were doing the mining after the gold rush were practicing something called hydraulic mining where they literally would get these high powered hoses and blast away whole mountainsides. So an East Coast the legal tradition was called riparian rights and what it means is if your own property alongside the river or the body of water you are right period Holder. That gives you the right to use the water that doesn't work with mining camps. You want the right to use the water if you're actually quite distant from the water source and so this new system is basically created in the mining camps it's known as prior appropriation and the basic rule is first in time first in right. And so basically these early sort of agriculture agricultural settings farms districts they used a lot of water. And one of the downsides to prior appropriation is this notion of use it or lose it. So if you stop using as much water for a period of time after several years your water right is reduced and so the system actually encourages inefficient use of water. .


Hannah McCarthy: [00:12:55] Are We currently in that situation?


James Salzman: [00:12:58] We are more or less. You know people say we're running out of water in the West. People who study the issue that's not really what's going on. We have a water crisis in the West but it's a water management crisis. There's enough water to go around. The problem is we don't manage how we move it very well. We're growing alfalfa and cotton in water scarce areas and they do it because they can. .


Hannah McCarthy: [00:13:22] What Do you see as challenges to our water system. Aside from the breakdown of this infrastructure itself in terms of increasing scarcity or maybe the way that we're currently treating water how fracking may influence our water sources what do you see as the the major possible problems?


James Salzman: [00:13:40] Yeah that's it's important it's an important question and I think there are three categories of things we need to be really watchful for are going forward. The first one is what you mentioned which is infrastructure. All right we are under investing in our water infrastructure and we're paying for it. The second concern is contamination of source waters. You mentioned fracking. There are other potential containment sources as well. Fracking is a fairly complicated story and it's regulated S.A. at the state level rather than the federal level. There was a, Dick Cheney lobbied for an amendment in 2005 that prevents the EPA effectively from regulating fracking around drinking water. But it's not just fracking that poses a challenge. There are whole classes and this sort of moves into the third the third category. There are whole classes of contaminants that are in drinking water right so any water you drink whether it's bottled water or or from the tap is going to have 40 to 60 different medications in them. They're extremely low concentrations. Right the equivalent of an eye drop within three or four Olympic swimming pools. But it's there.


[00:14:58] And you know if we as a society do not want to have you know traces of meds in our drinking water we can get them out. But it's expensive. And the question is is that is it worth paying for that. I mean I do want to emphasize that I feel like a lot of my answers are ending with you same kind of Obama don't think that way. Right. The first that we have for drinking water are the United States is a modern marvel. Our drinking water is so much safer than it was just 100 years ago. I mean it really is unprecedented in human history that a population of over 300 million people has access to safe drinking water. I mean very very very very few people get sick or seriously harmed drinking tap water in the United States. And that is a historical achievement. I mean literally historical.


Nick Capodice: [00:15:49] That was Jim Salzman author of Drinking Water: A History. .


Hannah McCarthy: [00:15:57] Music This week comes from broke for free. .


Nick Capodice: [00:15:59] Our Old friend. If you want to learn a little bit more about water and its history in the U.S. You should check out our newsletter, extra credit where we dive every week into the ephemera trivia historic moments. Regular topics. I have a feeling this time it's going to be a lot about the Croton Aqueduct and the Collect Pond, Hannah! Sign up on civics101podcast.org. .


Hannah McCarthy: [00:16:20] This Week's episode was produced by Justine Paradis. Our staff includes Ben Henry, Jimmy Gutierrez, and Taylor Quimby. Erika J anik is our executive producer. Civics 101 is a production of New Hampshire Public Radio.




Made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Subcribe to Civics 101 on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you get your favorite audio.

This podcast is a production of New Hampshire Public Radio.

Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)

On today's episode: What exactly is the Freedom of Information Act, better known as FOIA? Can anybody use it to get their hands on... any public documents? What kind of government secrets have come to light as a result of FOIA? We talk shop with Jason Leopold, a senior investigative reporter for Buzzfeed News. .

Have a civics question you want answered? Let us know in the form below and we'll try to answer it!


Nick Capodice: [00:00:08] This  is  Civics  101,  I'm  Nick  Capodice. .

Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:10] And  I'm  Hannah  McCarthy  and  today  we're  talking  FOIA.  .

Nick Capodice: [00:00:13] Now  Hannah,  you  went  to  journalism  school. .

Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:15] I  did  indeed  go  to J-school. .

Nick Capodice: [00:00:17] FOIA  is  something  that  if  you're  not  a  journalist  does  not  probably  feature  into  your  everyday  life.  But  if  you're  a  journalist  it  does? .

Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:24] I  Think  it  does  if  you're  a  certain  kind  of  journalist.  Do  you  know  what  FOIA  stands  for? 

Nick Capodice: [00:00:27] I  Believe  it  stands  for  freedom  of  information  act. .

Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:30] Yes.  Basically  it  allows  you  to  access  federal  documents,  public  documents.

Nick Capodice: [00:00:36] Can  anybody  do  it?

Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:45] Yeah  anybody  can  do  it...  You  want  to  do  it? .

Nick Capodice: [00:00:40] Yeah  let's  do  it...  Okay  government  agency,  let's  do  ATF. .

Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:49] So  this  is  easy  right.  We're  on  FOIA  dot  gov,  F-O-I-A  dot  gov.  So  whose  email  should  we  request? .

Nick Capodice: [00:00:57] Who's  the  head  of  the  ATF...Oh  Here  it  is.  Click  the  button  Hannah...  Success!  "Your  FOIA  request  has  been  created  and  is  being  sent  to  the  Bureau  of  Alcohol  Tobacco  Firearms  and  Explosives."

Hannah McCarthy: [00:01:09] So  we're  going  to  hear  back  in  the  coming  weeks,  all  right.  All  right. .

Nick Capodice: [00:01:14] So  who  we  going  to  talk  to  today  about  FOIA? 

Hannah McCarthy: [00:01:17] Today  Is  Jason  Leopold.  He  is  an  investigative  reporter  for  BuzzFeed,  and  I  hear  he's  like  the  king  of  FOIA.

Nick Capodice: [00:01:25] Oh  I  can't  wait...

Nick Capodice: [00:01:31] Do  you  have  sort  of  a  rough  estimate  of  how  many  FOIA's  you've  done  in  your  time?

Jason Leopold: [00:01:35] Yeah  I'm  at  up  to  a  little  over  3500.  Yeah  it's  a  lot  that's  over  the  course  of  let's  see  about  nine  years.  I've  sued  the  government  about  more  than  50  times. .

Hannah McCarthy: [00:01:50] Can  We  just  start  by  asking  what  the  purpose  of  the  Freedom  of  Information  Act  is? 

Jason Leopold: [00:01:57] Sure.  The  Freedom  of  Information  Act  is  now  a  more  than  half  century  old  law  that  allows  anyone  anywhere  in  the  world  to  petition  the  U.S.  government  various  U.S.  government  agencies  for  documents.  It's  essentially  just  to  keep  a  check  on  the  federal  government  on  what's  going  on  behind  the  scenes.  What's  great  about  the  Freedom  of  Information  Act  is  that  you  can  ask  these  federal  government  agencies  for  any  type  of  record.  They  don't  have  to  give  it  to  you.  But  you  get  to  ask  for  it  and  to  they  have  to  justify  the  withholding  of  some  of  these  records  if  they  decide  not  to  give  it  up  to  the  requester. .

Nick Capodice: [00:02:41] Is  there  one  big  FOIA  office  or  does  every  agency  have  their  own  FOIA  office?

Jason Leopold: [00:02:45] Every  Government  agency  has  its  own  FOIA  office  correct.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:02:49] So  Who  in  the  government  can  be  FOIA'd  and  who  cannot  be  FOIA'd? 

Jason Leopold: [00:02:54] You  Can  pretty  much  FOIA  everyone  who  works  for  the  government.  I  mean  every  agency  will  try  to  get  away  with  you  know  redacting  the  names  of  certain  people.  The  White  House  is  exempt  from  FOIA.  Congress  is  exempt  from  FOIA.  At  The  NSA  and  the  CIA,  there's  something  known  as  the  NSA  Act  and  the  CIA  act  and  that  is  essentially  what  that  means  is  that  those  agencies  are  virtually  exempt  from  FOIA  because  everything  that  they  do  is  classified. .

Hannah McCarthy: [00:03:20] What  is  the  process  on  the  government  side  when  somebody  submits  a  FOIA  request.  What  do  they  do  next?

Jason Leopold: [00:03:27] It's  a  good  question  and  it  was  difficult  to  tell  exactly  what  happens  and  so  it  wasn't  until  I  filed  a  what  I  like  to  refer  to  as  a  meta-FOIA  which  is  filing  for  the  processing  notes.  So  I  wanted  to  know  what  happens  after  you  receive  my  FOIA  request.  And  what  happens  is  is  that  the  you  know  the  analyst  gets  the  FOI  request  they  send  it  out  to  the  appropriate  --  First  they  try  to  interpret  it  right.  They'll  try  to  interpret  and  that  can  be  kind  of  dangerous  if  your  request  is  not  crafted  clearly.  They  will  try  to  figure  out  what  exactly  it  is  you  want  where  those  records  would  be  stored.  Once  they  retrieved  the  records  then  they  have  to  then  review  those  records  to  determine  you  know  if  there's  any  classified  information  or  any  information  that  should  remain  private. .

Nick Capodice: [00:04:17] So  The  burden  of  proof  is  on  the  government  agency  to  prove  that  what  they  would  release  would  endanger  the  nation  as  opposed  to  you  having  to  prove  that? .

Jason Leopold: [00:04:25] It's  essentially  not  the  burden  of  proof  they  can  simply  just  say  it.  The  government  agency  can  say  this  will  interfere  with  law  enforcement  proceedings.  This  will  reveal  sources  and  methods  and  they  don't  have  to  say  anything  else  but  the  requester  can  then  file  an  appeal.  There  is  a  process  by  which  you  know  you  can  go  through  various  steps  you  can  appeal  you  can  you  go  through  the  appeals  you  can  tell  that  the  agency  I  want  you  to  do  another  search  you  know  or  you're  providing  them  with  additional  information  and  essentially  trying  to  get  them  to  ultimately  to  release  those  records. 

[00:04:59] A  real  incident  that  happened  this  week  is  I  got  a  release  of  documents  from  the  Secret  Service  and  in  the  disclosure  letter  the  Secret  Service  said  based  on  your  appeal  we  did  another  search  and  we  found  234  pages  of  additional  documents.  So  it's  a  tedious  process.  I  mean  all  of  these  steps  by  which  a  requester  has  to  take  to  try  and  pry  loose  records  to  keep  a  check  on  the  government  on  actual  government  activity  is  incredibly  difficult  and  painstaking. .

Nick Capodice: [00:05:36] So  Do  you  think  that  the  process  is  sort  of  Byzantine  and  labyrinthine  by  design  as  a  method  to  discourage  people  from  submitting  FOIA?

Jason Leopold: [00:05:45] I  don't  believe  that  you  know  that  any  of  these  agencies  or  any  of  the  people  that  are  involved  in  the  in  the  crafting  of  the  law  were  conscious  of  like  hey  let's  make  it  really  difficult  you  know  to  do  this.  I  do  think  however  one  way  in  which  agencies  on  the  state  level  and  on  the  federal  level  do  make  it  difficult  is  through  fees.  A  real  example  of  that  is  during  the  during  the  protests  in  Ferguson  following  the  shooting  death  of  the  African-American  teenager  Michael  Brown.  I  filed  a  request  with  the  with  police  and  with  local  government  officials  for  e-mails  and  other  records  about  their  discussions  about  Michael  Brown.  And  they  told  me  that  it  would  even  before  they  could  conduct  a  search  I  had  to  give  them  a  deposit  of  about  25  hundred  dollars.  And  we  called  their  bluff  we  said  okay  we'll  give  it  to  you.  We  give  them  twenty  five  hundred  dollars.  They  turned  over  nine,  eight  or  nine  e-mails. 

[00:06:40] You  know  they  didn't  give  me  change  from  that  but  from  that  you  know  from  that  they  justified  why  those  eight  or  nine  e-mails  cause  you  know  cost  that  much  money  so  most  people  just  don't  pay  it.  And  in  some  instances  journalists  you  know  because  this  is  such  a  tedious  process  throw  up  their  hands  and  say  I'm  not  going  to  be  bothered  with  it. .

Hannah McCarthy: [00:06:59] OK  We've  got  to  take  a  quick  break  but  then  we'll  be  back  to  continue  our  conversation  with  Jason  Leopold. .

Nick Capodice: [00:07:13] We're  Back  and  we're  talking  with  Jason  Leopold  investigative  reporter  at  BuzzFeed  News  about  FOIA. .

Hannah McCarthy: [00:07:18] Yeah  so  we  went  onto  FOIA  dot  gov  and  we  submitted  a  FOIA  request  as  we  mentioned.  So  what  we  did  is  we  said  we  want  and  you  can  tell  us  whether  or  not  we  went  about  this  entirely  the  wrong  way  we  wanted  the  deputy  director  of  the  ATF,  Thomas  Branden's,  any  emails  of  his  containing  the  words  New  Hampshire  and  Hennesy. .

Jason Leopold: [00:07:38] Okay  Yeah.  No  that's  great.  Did  you  give  a  timeframe? .

Nick Capodice: [00:07:41] No  We  didn't.  We  didn't  know  what  we're  doing. .

Jason Leopold: [00:07:44] Yeah.  Yeah.  So  normally  putting  or  trying  to  put  in  a  time  frame  is  a  good  way  to  simply  speed  up  the  process  and  that  is  really  key  when  it  comes  to  FOIA  is  that  there  is  a  backlog  and  the  reason  that  there's  a  backlog  obviously  is  that  you  have  a  lot  of  people  filing  requests  not  just  journalists.  And  to  be  clear  journalists  make  up  a  sliver  of  the  hundreds  of  thousands  of  requests  that  are  filed  each  year.  Most  of  those  requests  come  from  commercial  requesters  people  who  take  these  documents  and  resell  them.  You  know  it  could  be  law  firms  corporations  looking  for  info  on  their  competitors.  Journalists  are  truly  just  a  sliver  of  you  know  of  the  requests  that  go  in. 

Nick Capodice: [00:08:30] Could  you  give  me  a  hypothetical  of  one  of  those  corporate  interests--  What  kind  of  thing  would  a  corporation  FOIA  for  profit? 

Jason Leopold: [00:08:39] It  Could  be  information  on  say  S.E.C.  investigations.  The  FCC  actually  gets  a  lot  of  requests  from  people  who  are  looking  for  info  on  other  businesses  investigations  and  reselling  it.  Essentially  it's  it's  become  it's  own  business  in  a  way  for  you  know  for  some  for  some  investigators  researchers  who  will  simply  sell  this  to  you  know  other  corporations  sell  this  information  on  there  you  know  maybe  it's  their  competitors  maybe  it's  on  you  know  the  USDA  the  FDA  often  get  requests  from  commercial  requesters  as  well.  It  really  could  be  about  anything. .

Hannah McCarthy: [00:09:16] Now  I'm  very  curious.  Of  course  these  governmental  entities  are  law  bound  to  provide  information.  Ostensibly  Yes.  Do  you  have  any  sense  as  to  whether  or  not  a  commercial  entity  who  FOIAs  something  may  be  more  likely  to  get  that  in  a  timely  manner  than  somebody  who's  going  to  take  that  information  and  give  it  to  the  public. .

Jason Leopold: [00:09:43] It's  a  good  question.  No  I'm  pretty  confident  that  that  journalists  are  going  to  get  probably  some  precedent.  And  here's  why:  you  can  ask  for  expedited  treatment  of  your  request.  Meaning  that  you  know  dear  agency  I  want  to  get  to  the  top  of  the  pile  and  here's  why  I  have.  There  is  an  urgent  need  to  inform  the  public  about  actual  government  activity.  Commercial  requesters  can't  really  do  that.  They  can't  ask  for  that  because  there's  no  there's  no  one  for  them  to  inform.  No. 

Nick Capodice: [00:10:16] I  pretended  like  I  knew  what  you  were  talking  about--  can  you  explain  to  me  why  you  laughed  when  we  said  that  government  agencies  are  law  bound  to  respond  to  these  requests? .

Jason Leopold: [00:10:24] Because  they  never  ever  adhere  to  the  law  and  the  law  meaning  the  Freedom  of  Information  Act.  Essentially  states  that  you  know  follow  the  law.  Release  these  records.  But  there's  no  deterrent  if  they  don't.  Right.  Nobody's  going  to  be  prosecuted.  Nobody's  going  to  be  fine.  Nobody's  going  to  jail.  So  they  don't  have  to  and  they  don't.  And  you  know  some  of  the  agencies  that  are  so  notorious  for  in  my  personal  opinion  obstructing  the  law  when  it  comes  to  FOIA,  you  know  the  FBI...  The  FBI...  And  the  FBI. .

Nick Capodice: [00:11:01] Why  Is  it  so  important  though  why  is  government  transparency  so  important  to  our  democracy? .

Jason Leopold: [00:11:08] I  can  hold  up  a  number  of  stories  that  I  have  written  as  a  result  of,  thankfully  as  a  result  of  some  of  the  documents  leaked  that  I've  obtained  by  FOIA  you  know  for  example  behind  the  scenes  look  at  how  the  CIA  obtained  the  authority  to  assassinate  a  U.S.  citizen  abroad.  If  you  want  to  see  what  was  happening  behind  the  scenes  at  Guantanamo  which  was  how  detainees  are  treated  how  they're  force  fed  how  their  conditions  of  their  confinement.  It  was  thanks  to  the  Freedom  of  Information  Act.  Prior  to  that  you  know  this  information  was  classified.  How  the  Department  of  Homeland  Security  placed  agents  secretly  into  protests  in  Baltimore  after  the  death  of  Freddie  Gray.  That  was  thanks  to  you  know  the  Freedom  of  Information  Act.  Perhaps  most  notoriously,  it  was  my  Freedom  of  Information  Act  that  forced  the  release  of  Hillary  Clinton's  e-mails--

Hannah McCarthy: [00:12:04] That's  a  big  deal  Jason.

Nick Capodice: [00:12:06] That  was  you?

Jason Leopold: [00:12:07] That  was  me.  Did  you  guys  not  know  that?  Yeah.  Yeah.  That  was  me.  In  2014  November  2014  I  filed  a  Freedom  of  Information  Act  at  the  Department  of  State  requesting  all  of  Hillary  Clinton's  emails  and  other  records  and  I  did  so  because  it  became  clear  that  she  was  going  to  be  the  you  know  the  Democratic  front  runner  for  president.  And  I  felt  that  it  was  important  to  provide  the  public  with  information  about  how  our  nation's  top  diplomat  conducted  foreign  policy.  Unfortunately  the  scandal  over  the  use  of  a  private  e-mail  server  obscured  that.  And  as  such  you  know  never  really  had  that  opportunity  to  show  what  was  in  the  e-mails  and  why  they  were  so  substantive  and  important. .

Nick Capodice: [00:12:56] You're  quite  a  navigator  of  the  FOIA  process.  Do  you  think  that  it  could  be  better.  Do  you  think  that  there's  a  better  way?  Or  do  you  like  this  process?

Jason Leopold: [00:13:05] Oh  there's  always  a  better  way.  You  know  the  better  way  would  be  to  streamline  the  process  right.  It  would  be  to  hire  more  people  you  know  who  could  work  at  these  agencies  processing  these  these  requests.  Another  better  way  is  when  you  want  to  send  a  FOIA  request  to  the  CIA  that  you  don't  have  to  send  it  via  fax.  You  know  the  CIA  you  can  either  mail  it  or  send  it  via  a  fax  now.  Fax  machine!  Sometimes,  by  the  way  their  fax  machine  is  broken  and  you're  stuck  literally  finding  a  stamp  and  mailing  it. 

[00:13:42] So  with  some  of  these  agencies  it's  a  matter  of  just  bringing  them  into  the  21st  century  and  saying  accept  this  request  via  e-mail  process  it  that  way. .

Nick Capodice: [00:13:52] Is  there  anything  that  you  want  the  world  to  know  about  FOIA  that  maybe  we  don't  already?

Jason Leopold: [00:13:57] FOIA  is  an  incredibly  powerful  tool.  It  is  the  way  in  which  we  can  keep  government  agencies  you  know  on  their  toes  and  let  them  know  that  there  is  a  check  on  their  power.  And  I  think  that  more  journalists  more  members  of  the  public  should  utilize  it.  And  it's  critical  to  an  informed  democracy.  That's  my  soapbox  speech  about  it.



Made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Subcribe to Civics 101 on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you get your favorite audio.

This podcast is a production of New Hampshire Public Radio.


Space is big - like, insanely, incomprehensibly big - so it's understandable that NASA can seem divorced from the world of cabinet secretaries, White House press briefings, and presidential tweets.

Amy Shira Teitel is the host of the YouTube channel Vintage Space and author of Breaking the Chains of Gravity: The Story of Spaceflight Before NASA. In this episode, she explains how despite its lofty aims, NASA is a lot more political than you might think. 

Have a civics question you want answered? Let us know in the form below and we'll try to answer it!


Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:27] I'm Hannah McCarthy.

Nick Capodice: [00:00:28] And I'm Nick Capodice.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:29] And this is Civics 101.

Nick Capodice: [00:00:30] Today we're talking about NASA. Can you tell me Taylor how is NASA a civics topic?

Taylor Quimby: [00:00:43] Well NASA is a big government agency.

Nick Capodice: It's so strange. I feel like it's divorced from civics. I feel like NASA is a separate thing right.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:51] And I think maybe that's because NASA isn't making decisions that have to do with our daily lives right?

Nick Capodice: [00:00:57] Or our, yeah or our democracy, or the way, but I guess maybe it could maybe it is. So to understand all of this stuff we got in touch with Amy Shira Teitel. She's a space flight historian, a YouTuber, and she posts videos about things like 'why haven't we gone back to the moon' and 'why do people eat peanuts at launches'. Her channel is called Vintage space. Please check it out. And we talked to her via Skype. All right, I guess our first question is can you tell us what exactly NASA is?

Amy Shira Teitel: [00:01:36] NASA stands for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. And it is a civilian agency that what its name says is, kind of the the main body I guess in the country about dealing with all the science and technology around space exploration.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:01:51] So why exactly was NASA founded to begin with?

Amy Shira Teitel: [00:01:56] NASA was founded as a somewhat in direct response to the Soviet Union launching Sputnik on October 4th of 1957. At the time there were a number of different agencies and military groups in the United States that were starting to deal with things that would eventually become spaceflight the U.S. Air Force was starting to play around with human factors the U.S. Army was developing rockets and missiles that could double as rockets for space flight. And then there was the kind of predecessor organization to NASA called the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics that was starting to kind of look, it was really the established kind of bureaucracy around all things aeronautics. So like, if the Air Force needed a new plane the NACA would have the wind tunnel to test it. So all these things were sort of working towards the same goal but in disparate places. So it was ultimately Eisenhower, President Eisenhower, who realized in 1958 that if America was going to be able to respond in kind to this new Soviet technology in space it would need to bring together all the existing technologies under one umbrella. So that became NASA.

Nick Capodice: [00:03:02] Who does who does NASA answer to specifically? Well the administrator is appointed by the president. So at the end of the day it is only the president I think can make a decree that NASA has to act on it. The most obvious one is President Kennedy saying we're going to go to the moon and NASA saying I guess we're going to the moon.

[00:03:24] But you know at the same time because it is a civilian agency right, Eisenhower establish it as civilian not military because he really did not want space to become a battlefield for a hot incarnation of the Cold War. So it is in a way beholden to taxpayers as well although of course you end up with senators from different states looking to kind of help feed jobs in their areas, so you end up with NASA centers getting funded for different projects because it's the interest of voters in certain areas, but at the end of the day it all comes down to the president.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:03:56] And does NASA have anybody like an attorney general? Do they have somebody some secretary at the top who they have to answer to when the president isn't saying specifically, you know, time to go to Mars or the moon?

Amy Shira Teitel: [00:04:08] I think that would be the administrator or the administrator is the highest position at NASA. Anything the administrator decrees kind of trickles down to all the centers but then all the NASA centers the individual centers also have a director and then their own kind of leadership. Got it.

Taylor Quimby: [00:04:25] Can I jump in for a second?

Hannah McCarthy: [00:04:26] Oh yes of course!

Taylor Quimby: [00:04:27] What are the centers like? Is there like a moon center, Mars center. As fun as it would be if there was a moon center at NASA I know that the centers are some of them actually predate NASA were old NACA sites that were then folded into NASA, but they are the different sites that are all around the country for different kinds of research. So you have like the Kennedy Space Center is a massive site. It is where things are launched and then you have the Johnson Space Center which is another NASA site, which is where all the human missions are run from a mission control is out there. Then you have JPL, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, which is where all the unmanned missions come from. And it actually works in conjunction with Cal Tech. So it's a little bit messier there but ultimately robotic spaceflight there, and then you have centers like the Glenn Research Center, and the Langley Research Center, and the Goddard Space Flight Center which is all earth science stuff. So each one has a piece of the overall NASA puzzle, if that's sort of a clear way to think about it.

Nick Capodice: [00:05:25] Yeah I'm interested actually in sort of how NASA interacts with all these other agencies in our government, because you know I really think it's fascinating that it's kept so separate from the military. But don't they kind of work together though sometimes?

Amy Shira Teitel: [00:05:40] There there is overlap there is definitely overlap. And actually that's one of the reasons that Eisenhower was the one who also declared that the first have asked not to be chosen for military test pilots. One of the rationales for that decision was that they would have some military clearance are ready and even though NASA was civilian there would probably be some secret aspects in the early days of spaceflight especially given that it was an incarnation of the Cold War that would maybe not be, would need to be kept from the public at least in the immediate future.

[00:06:10] So yeah and you know also not to mention the early rockets like the Atlas that is still launching missions today, that came from a missile that was built with the U.S. Air Force and the redstone launch the Merkur missions came from the army as did the Saturn 5. That was an Army group that was brought into NASA. Honestly I sadly can't answer the question of how the centers interact but I'm sure it's a lot of meetings.

Nick Capodice: [00:06:32] So if legislation goes through the public usually has an opinion. This is a great idea! This is a terrible idea. I'm wondering if back in the 60s was there any public opposition to funding something like NASA?

Amy Shira Teitel: [00:06:46] Oh yeah! Huge. People have this idea that NASA was like the golden child of the 60s and that Apollo was like a happy union of everything like, Apollo had a 50 percent approval rating when Apollo 11 launched. Now people don't remembers that this is right when civil rights was getting, like dominating the national conversation. Also women's liberation, also the Vietnam War. I mean the government wasn't doing anything that anybody liked by the late 1960s and there's always this talk that Apollo 8 which was the first mission to the moon, it just orbited didn't land, that it was sort of like, it saved 1968 in a way because everything was kind of the worst. And then these three guys went to the moon and they took a picture of our planet that shows no borders and no war it's just this beautiful oasis floating in space and suddenly lik,e okay this is bigger than all of us. But it's you know it was not something that people necessarily cared about.

[00:07:44] I mean NASA was living in this bubble of crew cuts and skinny black ties and white dress shirts and people were being killed on the streets in protest. I mean it wasn't exactly a great time.

Nick Capodice: [00:07:55] I'm thinking that Gil Scott Heron's song, "Whitey on the Moon".

Amy Shira Teitel: [00:07:59] That sums it up really well.

Nick Capodice: [00:08:01] So I think my follow up question to that is... It's a big one... Which is why? Why? I'm sorry. Why space?

Hannah McCarthy: [00:08:14] Yeah.

Amy Shira Teitel: [00:08:15] I mean, I know it's it's one of those ones that's like weirdly hard to justify I think. I mean why space in the first place like, because it's there. People have always kind of been fascinated with space and I'm saying like way back when and like the eighteen hundreds and 1900's. It's sort of been kind of feeding that curiosity that the more we learn the more we realize that we don't know. And I think a lot of this stuff ultimately comes back to us wanting to understand our own place in space.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:08:44] So all of that sounds so kind of lovely and pure and a blend of Star Treky. But of course in order to do that we need to get politicians to agree to fund this, to make all this happen. How does NASA factor into politics?

Amy Shira Teitel: [00:09:03] I think everyone especially people who love space specifically people who love space would love to pretend that space is free of politics but space is nothing but politics. I had a little an 8 year old girl asked me at a talk in Australia a couple of years ago why they went to the moon.

[00:09:20] And I just thought God, how do you explain international pissing contests an eight year old in a country that doesn't learn about the Cold War? It's all politics. It always comes down to politics. It's really hard I think for people to look at something like putting a rover on Mars and understanding why their lives immediately benefit. It's hard I think for politicians to then sell their constituents on why they should vote for space things. So it's so wrapped up in politics. But it also means that it is so stuck by politics. And the other thing the other thing that that kind of becomes a bit of a mess with NASA and being kind of governed at the very, very top the president and by an administrator appointed by the president, is that every administration has something different that it wants to do. But space doesn't happen in neat little 4 year packets.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:10:10] So how has the budget for NASA shifted over the years, because things like getting to the moon did happen... But obviously, well at least I would guess that the budget a little bit different?

Amy Shira Teitel: [00:10:23] Significantly smaller. Yeah NASA's budget has changed over the years and that it's much much smaller. So at its peak in about 1966 NASA was getting a little over 4 percent of the federal budget. So 4 percent of all of your tax dollars were going to the space agency. The money NASA got started to dwindle towards the end of the decade and it's kind of gone and ups and downs that never reached that high spending again. Currently it's about somewhere around 1 cent on the dollar so for every tax dollar one penny goes to NASA.

[00:11:00] I mean I can't math but that's just a tiny fraction of what it got in its heyday. Yeah. The problem is that you have to have leaders that come in and say they want to see some big thing happen but they don't want to increase NASA's budget. But you can't do something big like go to Mars with a couple cents on the dollar. You need to kind of get that funding.

Nick Capodice: [00:11:19] But you did, you said to us that it feels like that NASA is stuck. Do you have any idea of how to get unstuck?

Amy Shira Teitel: [00:11:27] Yeah I don't I don't know. I mean I think what it what it ultimately takes is someone with vision beyond his or her term as president or administrator because what we ultimately need I mean we can't go to Mars in five years. We can't get to Mars over somebody's term as president. If someone had the vision to do something that was like for the benefit of humanity that somebody couldn't come along and easily cancel I mean. But it's hard to have that kind of vision.

Taylor Quimby: [00:11:54] Or maybe, this is the cynical viewpoint Amy, is that maybe you need another Cold War.

Amy Shira Teitel: [00:12:00] Yeah I mean, that's the that's the one that I don't like to talk about but like it could be that you know if you know if China says we're going to put people on the moon and do this, America might suddenly be like all right here NASA, take 5 percent of the federal budget again and just do it. Make it happen now.

Nick Capodice: [00:12:15] What's what's NASA up to today? What kind of stuff are they doing?

Amy Shira Teitel: [00:12:19] Yeah people have this idea that NASA ceased to exist when it cancelled the shuttle program. That's not the case at all. The most visible thing that NASA is doing that we see is the International Space Station. There's still people up there all the time. There's also a lot of earth science going on missions that are currently mapping things like water level and rising sea level which is super important for us to understand what's actually happening with climate change. And then out of JPL we still have all the deep space robotic missions. The Voyagers that were launched in the 1970s are still sending back data. We've got the Curiosity rover on Mars and that's NASA mission and that's the stuff that's kind of visible. There's always stuff happening that people don't know about.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:13:01] Is there anything else you wish we knew about NASA before we let you go, Amy?

Amy Shira Teitel: [00:13:06] The one thing I try to get everybody to really think about when it comes to NASA is how much the technology that comes out of NASA ends up back on Earth with us because I think if people understood how much NASA really does for us like medically and everything every day, you might change your tune about NASA being a giant waste of money to put fancy smart people in space. You know I mentioned LASIK coming from line of sight over orbital rendezvous but there's like new mammogram technology that's able to detect much smaller cancers came out of not the technology, the technology that keeps your drink hot or cold in a thermos came from NASA. And people don't think about the connection to NASA. But I think if they did you might kind of have a better appreciation for just just how important the space agency actually is in this country

Nick Capodice: [00:13:56] That was Amy Shira Teitel, she runs the YouTube channel "Vintage Space" and she wrote a book about the origins of NASA titled, Breaking the Chains of gravity. We're going to quick break but we'll be right back

Nick Capodice: [00:14:17] So Taylor we recorded this episode a few weeks ago and Hannah is not here today, she's out sick. But one of the main things that stuck with me is how political space is. This place that I thought politics did not exist, suddenly is everything. Space is nothing but politics and there is something you were talking with me recently, which is there's a, is it a new head of NASA?

Taylor Quimby: [00:14:39] The NASA administrator.

Nick Capodice: [00:14:41] Administrator OK. So what does that have to do with anything?

Taylor Quimby: [00:14:43] Well I think a lot of the stuff that Amy talked about about the intersection of politics and NASA and space sort of come together with this confirmation. Jim Bridenstine is a Republican member of Congress from Oklahoma. It's a former Navy pilot and he's actually the first head of NASA who is a congressman and previous administrators have been basically science professional so people who either came up the ranks through NASA or people who are scientists that sort of thing. So this was pretty much the most hotly contested and controversial confirmation of a NASA head in history.

Nick Capodice: [00:15:21] I have known what's going to be like with somebody who hasn't come up through the ranks being at the head of this very scientific organization?

Taylor Quimby: [00:15:27] Well I think for some people, that is the concern is that they just don't quite know what it means. But there's actually something pretty telling that might give us a hint of what Jim Bridnestine is going to be thinking about as the administrator. And that's because in April 2016 he put forth some legislation called the American Space Renaissance Act which he openly admits is less a piece of legitimate legislation that he hoped to pass, so much as I mean it sounds like a resume for what he thinks NASA policy should be. And there's a real emphasis on exploration and and an emphasis with that exploration on security, and some deemphasis on research especially sort of Earth Sciences Research which is a cause for concern for a lot of folks because he has hedged on climate science.

Nick Capodice: [00:16:15] One thing that Amy brought up that I had never considered is if you shift if you shift gears from say Mars to the moon you kind of got to start from scratch. You've been working on all this stuff for so long to change the mission is a huge thing.

Taylor Quimby: [00:16:27] Well well and this I think there's some interesting room for debate here because one of the things that Jim Bridenstine has talked about and that he's proposed is making the NASA administrator have a five year term to create some sense of continuity.

Nick Capodice: [00:16:40] To sort of help influence the next incoming president.

Taylor Quimby: [00:16:42] Right. And potentially to fund NASA under sort of larger multi-year project based stuff. So I think that would that would also maybe ease some of the problems that that Amy talked about of why NASA sometimes gets stuck.



Made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Subcribe to Civics 101 on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you get your favorite audio.

This podcast is a production of New Hampshire Public Radio.

The White House Press Secretary

Mara Liasson, National Political Correspondent for NPR, has reported on White House press briefings for three administrations. She tells us about the role of the Press Secretary, and how the job has changed from president to president. 

Have a civics question you want answered? Let us know in the form below and we'll try to answer it!


Nick Capodice: [00:00:35] I'm Nick Capodice


Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:37] And I'm Hannah McCarrthy


Nick Capodice: [00:00:37] and this is Civics 101 the podcast refresher course on the basics of our democracy. Today the White House press secretary.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:44] I'm really excited for this one.


Nick Capodice: [00:00:46] Our guest has been through myriad press secretaries. It is Mara Liasson national political correspondent for NPR.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:53] This is going to be great. Let's do it. All right. Well Mara thank you so much for joining us. Welcome to Civics 101.


Mara Liasson: [00:00:59] Thanks for having me.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:01:00] So I guess let's start with the very brass tacks. What is the job of the press secretary.


Mara Liasson: [00:01:07] The job of the press secretary is to communicate the president's agenda to answer questions from the press. And beyond that every press secretary has defined the job a little bit differently.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:01:19] Have you reported for several different press secretaries?


Mara Liasson: [00:01:22] I have covered three White Houses; Bill Clinton Barack Obama and now Donald Trump. I was the national political correspondent during George W. Bush. So I wasn't at the White House every day or I wasn't part of the White House rotation.


Mara Liasson: [00:01:39] But for those other three presidents I was and every one of the press secretaries for those presidents had a slightly different approach to the job. Mike McCurry who was Bill Clinton's press secretary was famous for saying his job was to be as truthful as possible and as helpful as possible to the press while also trying to communicate his boss's agenda and put it in the best possible light. Other press secretaries have seen their job as more as a combatant as pushing back against the press, demonizing the press, kind of using the press as a foil. And the communication part, the explaining the administration's agenda has been secondary to those press secretaries. So it just depends on the president and the administration.


Nick Capodice: [00:02:27] One thing I'm curious about is if you could describe sort of the scene when you step into a White House press conference because you've been to a couple of these. What's it like when you're sitting around waiting for a while?


Mara Liasson: [00:02:37] Are you talking about a presidential press conference or or just the regular press briefing?


Nick Capodice: [00:02:42] Both. What's the difference between the two of them?


Mara Liasson: [00:02:45] Well there's a couple there's a couple, there's many different ways that the president and the press secretary communicate with the press. The most famous is a presidential press conference where it's formal. The president stands there and takes questions from reporters. Most presidents did a lot of those. Donald Trump has only done one in February of 2017. One formal stand alone solo press conference. However Donald Trump does interact with the press a lot.


Mara Liasson: [00:03:13] He answers questions at what we call pool sprays we're a small group of reporters is ushered into the Cabinet Room or the Oval Office and he's meeting with someone or he's signing something and he answers a few questions on the fly. Or he's going out to the helicopter or he's coming out of Air Force One. So he interacts with the press that way. Then there's the foreign leader press conference which under Trump has become what's known as Two and Two. Each leader takes two questions from their own press corps. So the president answers two questions from American reporters and then the foreign leader calls on two of the traveling press corps that has come with him from his country. Then there's the press briefing which happens every day. That's Sarah Sanders standing in the briefing room. We've had many different press secretaries use the briefing in different ways in past administrations. They stood there until all the questions were finished sometimes it could be as long as an hour. Sarah Sanders keeps it very brief. Sometimes she eats up a lot of time at the top by reading from prepared remarks, making some announcements. But the biggest I guess the biggest sea change for me was when the daily press briefing was televised. There were many press secretaries who have come to regret that because it does lead to grandstanding by some reporters. And it's less useful and more of a confrontation.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:04:42] And in those daily briefings how does the press secretary choose who they're going to call on?


Mara Liasson: [00:04:48] In the press briefing the press secretary can call on whoever she wants. Same thing in the press in a press conference with the president.


Mara Liasson: [00:04:54] But Sarah Sanders generally, not always but generally, does what passed press secretaries have done which is starts with the front row. The wire services sit in the front row. And so do the representatives of the major television networks and cable outlets. I sit in the second row. So the first row is NBC ABC CNN FOX Reuters AP. In the second row is the Washington Post The New York Times NPR Bloomberg CBS radio etc.. So so generally she starts with the first ro but then she calls on whoever she wants.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:05:33] And in terms of that seating is that something that the press secretary decides on


Mara Liasson: [00:05:36] No the seating is determined by the White House Correspondents Association. We actually have assigned seats. My seat has a metal plaque on it that says NPR. And I am not. Let's see. I'm not exactly sure how those decisions get made but I can tell you that NPR used to have a seat farther back, way over on the left.


Nick Capodice: [00:06:01] Congratulations


Mara Liasson: [00:06:01] Yeah but during Clinton somehow or other they moved me up to the second row right in the middle.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:06:06] Not bad.


Mara Liasson: [00:06:07] Not quite sure how that happened. You know sometimes news, news organizations go out of business they lose their seat in the briefing room things get shuffled around.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:06:16] Does the press secretary play favorites at all in terms of who they're doling information out to or who they're calling on?


Mara Liasson: [00:06:22] Well first of all they're doling out information to everybody we're all sitting there it's carried live on TV. But in terms of who they call on yes there's no doubt that sometimes press secretaries will go to what they consider to be a friendly reporter just for some relief, or a reporter who's marginal or is guaranteed to ask a question totally off topic.


Mara Liasson: [00:06:43] Sure there's a strategy to this but don't forget, the press briefing even though it's the most public way that the press secretary and the and the White House interacts with the press because it's televised, is not the most important way that journalists get information from the White House because we're spending all day trying to ask questions of administration officials on background, off the record, away from the cameras.


Nick Capodice: [00:07:10] In terms of the job what kind of qualifications is good for someone to become a press secretary?


Mara Liasson: [00:07:16] An iron stomach. And a thick skin. Somebody who's unflappable. Generally someone who has a pretty even demeanor. I don't think especially for television which rewards cool over hot a hot headed press secretary would do very well. But Sarah Sanders actually has a very good personality to be the press secretary. She's very even.


Nick Capodice: [00:07:50] It seems sometimes the press secretary has a unique role that's kind of getting it from both sides. You know they have to. They're getting it from the press but also from the president. I just was watching the video of Nixon shoving his press secretary of Air Force One.


Mara Liasson: [00:08:04] Well there's no there's no doubt that the press secretary serves to mask. No well there's no doubt that some press secretaries see themselves as serving two masters. Mike McCurry certainly did. He thought he needed to serve the press and serve the president and try mightily never to lie to the press. During the Trump administration, it's a little bit different. The press secretary more or less has an audience of one. That's true of any Trump administration official who goes on television, they're communicating or performing for the president. And the president likes it when the press is excoriated or when the press secretary pushes back against the press. I think the most famous instance of this of course was Sean Spicer's very first press conference where the president literally sent him out to the briefing room to insist that his inauguration was the most heavily attended inauguration in history. Which turns out not to be true. It's important even in this post truth era that we're in with Donald Trump, it is important for the press secretary to retain their credibility and to try as much as possible to be accurate and tell the truth. That's why you hear press secretaries including Sarah Sanders often say, this to the best of my knowledge. Here's this piece of information. Or I haven't spoken to the president about that or you know I haven't asked him that question. I haven't discussed this with him. So better to be ignorant than inaccurate.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:09:31] Yeah. On that does do members of the White House staff ever lie to you or withhold information from the press secretary so that they can be ignorant and don't have to lie to the press about something?


Mara Liasson: [00:09:43] Sure. That's called plausible deniability. Absolutely. Better to be out of the loop than to be saying something that turns out to be false. Why. You know there's so much discussion now. The truth doesn't matter any more objective facts don't matter. That Trump believes that he can pretty much say whatever he wants and it won't matter. But credibility does matter. What happens when the president is asking Americans to sacrifice because of something that he has decided is important to do, he has to have credibility for that. What happens when the president is asking U.S. allies to follow the U.S. in some kind of endeavor or or military action. You know credibility is important and if you are cavalier with the facts there will come a time when nobody will believe you and you'll need them to.


Nick Capodice: [00:10:30] Are there any particularly memorable moments from those briefings in your in your tenure of reporting on them that you would like to share?


Mara Liasson: [00:10:39] Oh boy oh boy. I mean you could you could you could use the most current examples where you know the press secretary denied that the president knew about the payments to Stormy Daniels because because the president himself had denied them. I mean and then those those turned out not to be operative but I can't think of anything really off the top of my head a lot of times these press briefings are soporific and boring. And sometimes that's the goal. Not to make news.


Nick Capodice: [00:11:07] And when you're in there these are these are people with whom you've worked for a long time are you just chit chatting beforehand?


Nick Capodice: [00:11:12] Oh you mean my colleagues from different news organizations? Yes of course. Yes. And we all get along really well. And sometimes the press doesn't do a good job of following up and reinforcing each other's questions. But we try.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:11:24] And how often is the press contradicting what the press secretary is presenting as fact? Does that happen pretty regularly?


Mara Liasson: [00:11:32] Sure. Yes absolutely. It happens all the time. More and more during the Trump administration than than before. When the president says three million people voted illegally and there's no evidence for that? Sure. We will mention that to the press secretary and then he'll she'll generally say something like "Well this is what he believes". She'll find. She'll find some kind of safe lilypad to alight on where she can say something that's technically accurate, because no press secretary wants to flat out lie to the press.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:12:00] And who is giving the press secretary their information. Who briefs them before they brief you?


Mara Liasson: [00:12:05] Oh they go, they go around and they have they have a pre-briefing meeting they go around to different officials in the administration and in the White House to get the best information they can so they can transmit it. That's why it's often the press briefing is late because they're scrambling to put their talking points together.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:12:22] Yeah I think we sort of touched on, I was very curious as to whether or not being a member of the White House press corps was exciting or tended more toward the boring side of things compared to your .


Mara Liasson: [00:12:32] Well you know I used to say I used to say that the exciting part of the job starts when you walk in the gates off of Pennsylvania Avenue and the and it ends when you walk in the door to the White House because a lot of times the the life of a White House correspondent is like an animal in the zoo. You're in a cage and you can't really go anywhere you want to walk around. Occasionally they open the door and they throw in a piece of red meat, a little bit of news they shut the door and then they run like the zookeeper.


Mara Liasson: [00:13:00] But covering the White House is a peculiar kind of beat because you can't roam the halls like you do in Congress. It's more restricted and especially in this White House where they really do see themselves as at war with the press.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:13:14] How easy would it be for the president to revoke a White House press corps reporter's credentials?


Mara Liasson: [00:13:21] Well they certainly could do that. Well what they can do is they can revoke the hard pass that allows you to come into the compound. You can still cover the White House without having access to the briefings or or access to the physical space in the White House. In other words you can't stop someone from covering the White House. There are many reporters who write stories about Donald Trump and never set foot in the briefing room. What he's talking about it sounds like trying to exert some control over reporters who cover the White House and I think that would be difficult. Physically they could do that. They could definitely they could kick the entire press corps out of the West Wing and they've often talked about that in the past kind of moving us over to the Old Executive Office Building across west across Executive Drive. But getting rid of credentials that doesn't mean that the press won't continue to do its job.


Nick Capodice: [00:14:13] That was Mara Liasson. She's the national political correspondent for NPR and she's got the brass plate on the chair in the second row.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:14:19] This episode was produced by Nick Capdoice and Ben Henry. Executive producer is Erica Janik and our team includes Jimmy Gutierrez Justine Paradis and Taylor Quimby. Our music is by Asura.


Nick Capodice: [00:14:31] And you don't have to be a national political correspondent to know what's what when it comes to how American government works we are casting our net far and wide for civics teachers across the country to be guests on our episodes. So if you know a really great teacher or you or the teacher give us a call and tell us what kind of topic you'd like to do with us the numbers 2 0 2 7 9 8 6 8 6 5. Tell us your name where you teach and what kind of topics you'd like to do. Chances are we'll be right back to you.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:14:57] I'm Hannah McCarthy.


Nick Capodice: [00:14:57] I'm Nick Capodice.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:14:57] Civics 101 is a production of New Hampshire Public Radio



Made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Subcribe to Civics 101 on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you get your favorite audio.

This podcast is a production of New Hampshire Public Radio.