Voters often claim that candidates’ character and ethical behavior are threshold tests in determining who they will support. But their votes in the polling booth indicate that, often, these attributes are just two of many being weighed as (or before) they vote. Some voters consider a broad amalgam of attributes as they make their choices, others effectively apply a “single-issue” litmus test as they vote.
Somehow, we will have to live with each other in February 2021, whatever the outcome in November. Eloquently listening to each others’ deeper values and principles will help with that on an individual level and in evaluating candidates for public service.
In this bipartisan voters’ seminar, we will consider a range of “unenforceable” ethical questions around the current political climate, as outlined in the schedule below. The first three sessions will be joined by an invited guest with expertise in the subject matter. Will will avoid direct discussion of particular candidates, and our hope is that participants and speakers will respect each other’s views while exploring the current spectrum of issues.
Registration is free and limited to 15 participants. Registered participants should plan to “attend” all sessions.
Brooklin resident Peter Sly is a recovering natural resources attorney and specialist in state, local and federal governmental ethics. He has usually voted for Democrats, but occasionally supported a Republican for whom character and ethics are a clear priority.
Scott Miller of Blue Hill founded the “Beyond Labels” weekly discussion group at the Blue Hill Public Library to discuss “issues of the day” in depth and to illuminate and explore the arguments on both sides of each topic. His political views lean right, but he is mostly interested in identifying common ground and understanding the drivers of fundamental disagreement.
Participation and Protocols
Participation. We hope and expect that all participants will share their relevant thoughts on the topics being discussed at these sessions. To facilitate this, the seminar is limited to 15 participants plus invited guests and facilitators. Please plan to attend all four sessions using a video camera.
Required reading/discussion protocol. The only expected reading is Tarr & Sly, “Let’s Strive for Civil Civic Dialogues.” We plan to follow those protocols with respect for differences and eloquent listening. The merits and flaws of 2020 candidates are not on the agenda. The intent is to explore longer term ethical values we expect to share whatever November brings. We’ll review the issue of participant confidentiality in the first session.
Other resources. Other readings/resources are optional and provided in case you wish to dig deeper into ethics issues.
Topics. The listed discussion topics and questions are not exhaustive. Any suggestions welcomed up until Thursday morning before each Friday session. We will collectively decide on September 25 about the topic and approach for our final session on October 3.
New to Zoom? Each Zoom session will open at 7:45 AM to iron out any technical wrinkles without infringing on substantive discussion.
Schedule, Guests and Discussion Topics
Invited Guest: Jill Goldthwait, Independent, journalist and Bar Harbor Town Council
There is widespread discomfort with the polarization of national politics, which has affected Maine in spite of its long tradition of independent leaders. Our congressional district is the recipient of a tsunami of spending by national groups in the Presidential, senatorial, and congressional races.
Invited Guest: Trevor Potter, Campaign Legal Center
Invited Guest: Carroll Conley, Christian Civic League of Maine.
Special Guest Biographies
Week 1: Jill Goldthwait. Jill Goldthwait is a UNH graduate who served in the Peace Corps in Tonga. A resident of Mt. Desert Island since 1978, she has served as Director of Public Relations for Jackson Laboratory. Elected to the Maine Senate as an Independent, she served from 1994-2002 and briefly held the swing vote in an evenly divided Senate. She was recently reelected to the Bar Harbor Town Council, and publishes a weekly Column, “The State of Maine” in the Ellsworth American.
Week 2: Trevor Potter. Founder and President, Campaign Legal Center ; General Counsel, John McCain for President, 2000 and 2008; Commissioner and Chair, Federal Election Commissioner, 1991-95; Deputy General Counsel, George H.W.Bush for President, 1988.
Week 3: Carroll Conley. Executive Director of the Christian Civic League of Maine since 2010. As CCLM’s voice in Augusta, he seeks to passionately and wisely advance the Gospel, morality and family values.
Ethics overview: Flanagan, GEOGRAPHY OF MORALS [Amazon]
Haidt, THE RIGHTEOUS MIND. [Amazon]
Voters & Media
Wikipedia: Journalism Ethics and Standards (see dilemmas section)
January 2019 Lincoln Memorial incident.
Kennedy, PROFILES IN COURAGE. [Amazon]
Ethics in Governing
THE POLITICS INDUSTRY, by Gehl & Porter (June 2020)
Steve Israel, “The Democratic Congressional Campaign Call Center,” see last 10 minutes of interview with John Oliver, April 2016.
Grace Tarr, Sermon on “Unity of the Church” at the South Penobscot Baptist Church (August 2020).
Peter Sly, “Duty to Decide vs. Appearance of Impropriety”
National Judicial College Study Materials: “Disqualification”
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