Earlier this week, BPC’s Commission on Political Reform convened in Philadelphia, in view of Independence Hall where our nation’s founders drafted the Constitution 226 summers ago, to discuss public service in America.
The meeting’s agenda included the second in a series of National Conversations on American Unity in partnership with USA TODAY, moderated by USA TODAY Washington Bureau Chief Susan Page. In addition to the town hall session, former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell joined CPR co-chair Dirk Kempthorne and CPR commissioner Jennifer Granholm on a second panel for a discussion of public service in the states.
To understand where we are today, prior to the meeting BPC and USA TODAY commissioned a poll examining attitudes about public service among Americans that includes measures of interest in running for office and different perceptions about public and community service. The poll reveals that Americans are more interested in community service, such as volunteering at a place of worship or school, than running for or serving in government office, but that there remains a strong interest in serving one’s country in some capacity.
The commissioners agree that one way to bridge the political divide and to achieve big solutions to the problems confronting us today, Americans need to be engaged in the process. That starts from the bottom up. Speaking about education, CPR commissioner Eric Motley asked “How can you appreciate the power of your government to be transformative in the lives of its citizens if you don’t understand how the government works?” He called for “an emphasis on the importance of civics education, a greater campaign to awaken people’s appreciation for the role the government really plays in their lives and the difference they actually can make.”
Commissioners also spoke about engaging America’s youth and working to match them with various opportunities to serve. CPR commissioner Chris Marvin talked about creating a cultural expectation of service, “…that everybody spent a year or two years, some short-term of service, whether it was in the military, AmeriCorps, or the Peace Corps, whether it was local opportunities that were certified as bona fide national service opportunities, we would create a country where everybody served and where [CPR commissioner] John [Bridgeland] often says you could walk up to somebody in a café and say, ‘So where did you serve? Where did you spend your year of service?’ And maybe not everybody has an answer, but most people would. And I think that would lead to a better cultural view of service. And that people want to be a part of something bigger than themselves.”
Former Senator and CPR co-chair Trent Lott noted that “I was in on the high times of Congress when we got things done, and I was there during some of the low times and I worry about where they are right now. But as Solomon would say, ‘This, too, shall pass,’ if a lot of people…across this country get involved and try to do more.”
As CPR commissioner John Bridgeland puts it: “I think this millennial generation, which is showing civic habits on par with the Greatest Generation in terms of their interest in issues, their willingness to volunteer, their willingness to serve is very impatient for impact.” Commissioner Mark Gearan added that it is important to consider how “we think about pathways for service to capture that sense of idealism.”
Commissioners also spent the afternoon discussing barriers to elective office and appointed positions in the government, ways to increase the number of women interested in running for office, and whether public service should be mandatory.
The entire webcast of the Commission’s Philadelphia event can be found here.
The polling toplines, cross tabs, and short explanation from our pollsters can be found here.
We look forward to engaging with you again during our meeting at The Ohio State University on October 15, 2013.