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UVa Center for Politics hosts Conference: Pundits and pollsters tell it as it is

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At the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, the motto is: "Politics is a good thing!"

In welcoming the Panelists and the ladies and gentlemen in the audience, for the Annual American Democracy Confernce, on Friday December 6, 2013, Dr. Larry J. Sabato remarked:

“For 15 years now this Conference has assembled America’s top political insiders, pollsters, journalists, party representatives and a wide range of behind-the-scenes strategists, to discuss the most recent elections, look forward to the upcoming political season and discuss the politics of public policy to a certain degree – we try to stay out of policy, that’s the serious stuff, we stick to the fun part, that’s politics (it’s becoming less fun over the years, but it’s still more fun than policy)."

It looks as if Prof. Sabato and his team have made some headway in mitigating the realization that politics is "less fun" these days. At the place of each of the estimated gathering of 100 or so participants at Alumni Hall, was the Emmy Award-winning documentary, "Out of Order," produced by WCVE/WHTJ and the Center for Politics.

"... The ability to discuss issues from varying points of view and then compromise on solutions appears to be fading from the American political process. Is the art of debate and compromise lost on contemporary politics in the United States? Is it possible to restore civility to Congress, and should we try? Was civility ever as dominant as current characterizations often suggest? ...

This timely documentary explores the decline in civil discourse; the news media’s role in this, including the internet; partisan gridlock; vanishing commitment to reasonable compromise; declining civic engagement; and the roles of factors such as gerrymandering, filibustering, increased showboating, scandal, and cynicism. The documentary proposes some reforms that might restore what Thomas Jefferson referred to as “the most legitimate engine of government.”

Panel I - The Virginia Governor's Race

The first Panel focused on the Virginia Governor's Race, which moderator Jeff Shapiro noted has not yet been settled at the third tier, with the recount of the results of the Attorney General's electoral tally taking place at present, in light of results which had been certified to have been won by Mark Herring by a measure of only 165 votes.

Shapiro then introduced the members of the first Panel: Kellyanne Conway, a Republican strategist of The Polling Company and Women Trend; Thomas M. Guterbock, Founder and Director of the Center for Survey Research, and Professor of Sociology at the University of Virginia; Ellen Qualls, senior adviser to Terry McAuliffe’s campaign, and former director of communications for President Obama’s reelection campaign, and top aide to Sen. Mark Warner as governor of Virginia, and senior aide to Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the House; Panelist James Hohmann -- an honors graduate in American Political History at Stanford University, and an experienced journalist, now reporting for Politico, having authored the Morning Score for nearly two years, covering both the primaries and the general election of 2012; Geoffrey Skelley a graduate of the University of Virginia and James Madison University, rounded out the Panel. He is presently the Media Relations Coordinator at the Center for Politics, assisting in the daily operations of the Center's Crystal Ball.

Panel II - 2014 Mid Terms

The second Panel was moderated by Larry Sabato, author of numerous best-selling books, including "A More Perfect Constitution: Why the Constitution Must Be Revised: Ideas to Inspire a New Generation," and his most recent offering -- for which the proceeds will go to the team at the Center for Politics -- " The Kennedy Half Century, which is also the title of the class offered by the MOOC (massive open online course) specialist, Coursera, inviting thousands of individuals to experience first-rate content through many short videos, topic by topic, over a period of several weeks, allowing for flexibility and the open access free-of-charge instruction that eliminates multiple barriers for both learners and instructors.

Dr. Sabato is also the Director of the Center for Politics , which he founded in 1998, to represent his professional mission:

“to improve civic education and the political process, and in doing so make government more relevant, more accessible, and more meaningful for the average American.”

Dr. Sabato’s Panel convened mid-morning, in a discussion on the 2014 midterms. Panelists included Christina Bellantoni, political editor for PBS NewsHour; Dahlia Lithwick, a contributing editor at Newsweek and senior editor for Slate, especially covering legal issues -- including those such as the "Hobby Lobby" case coming before the Supreme Court (Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. v. Sebelius) that will have an enormous impact on the way the Court interprets important 1st Amendment protections, such as whether corporations are to have the same rights or responsibilities as individual citizens; and whether one can conscientiously object to regulations that would violate one's religious tenets. Another Panelist was Michael Toner, former chairman of the Federal Election Commission (FEC), the regulatory body with oversight of campaign finance for United States federal elections. The last two participants on Panel II -- well-known to television audiences -- were Fred Barnes, Fox News commentator, and executive editor of The Weekly Standard; and Brit Hume, who was actually Mr. Barnes’ former roommate, while they were both undergraduates at the University of Virginia. Indeed, the two have known one another since high school, when Mr. Barnes was at St. Stephens School in Alexandria, and Mr. Hume was at St. Albans School in Washington, DC -- where he was also a schoolmate of former Vice President, Al Gore. Mr. Hume is a Fox News Senior analyst, and regular panelist for Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace, following a long and distinguished career as a political correspondent for ABC News.

Panel III - Future of the American Electorate

The third Panel of the afternoon was moderated by Kyle D. Kondik, Media Relations Coordinator for the Center for Politics. Mr. Kondik previously served as Director of Policy and Research in the office of former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, who is now the first Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and member of the Board of the FDIC.

The Panelists for Panel III included Alan Abramowitz, a Professor at Emory University and author of "The Disappearing Center," published by Yale University Press in 2010; Josh Barro, formerly a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, whose annual collective of Tweets was named by Time magazine as one of "The 140 Best Twitter Feeds of 2013," who us currently the political editor at Business Insider; Rhodes Cook, a senior columnist for "Larry J. Sabato's Crystal Ball," the non-partisan political analysis website, after retiring in the late 1990s after having worked as a senior political writer for the Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, covering both presidential and congressional elections, with emphasis on voting trends and on the presidential nominating process. Panelist Sean Trende is the author of "The Lost Majority: Why the Future of Government Is Up for Grabs and Who Will Take It," and is the Senior Elections Analyst for RealClearPolitics; and he willl co-author the forthcoming Almanac of American Politics 2014. Panelist Joe Trippi is the author of "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Democracy, the Internet, and the Overthrow of Everything," published by William Morrow in 2004, and he has worked on the presidential campaigns of Edward Kennedy, Walter Mondale, Gary Hart, Dick Gephardt, Jerry Brown, former Vermont governor Howard Dean and most recently, John Edwards.

In a follow-on Article, we'll learn what these talented and very hard-working individuals had to say about a wide range of interesting topics. For those who just can't wait, there is a complete video of the 15th Annual American Democracy Conference here.




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