Colloquy Downeast Blue Hill Maine

Colloquy Downeast

Spirited Conversations in Great Company

FacilitatorsPeter Sly and Scott Miller
Date & TimeFridays, September 11, 18, 25 and October 2
8:00 AM- 10:00 AM
LocationBy Zoom

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 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.

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  ▼ Schedule, Guests and Discussion Topics

Schedule, Guests and Discussion Topics

September 11:   Voter Responsibility and Media Ethics

  • How much “homework” can voters realistically be expected to do before an election?
  • How effective is the media in providing unbiased information either in news articles or debates? What is the difference between “news” and “opinion?”
  • Is it ethical for a voter to rely on a single issue even if the candidate(s) fail to meet basic ethical standards? Given the weakness of federal and state “ethics commissions,” what neutral criteria should voters apply? When does a position on policy justify selecting a compromised candidate?

Invited Guest: Jill Goldthwait, Independent, journalist and Bar Harbor Town Council

September 18:   Campaign Ethics

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.

  • Can candidates avoid hypocrisy when it comes to campaign finance reform?
  • Does the current “Zoom” universe offer the opportunity for less expensive campaigns?
  • Does money really make a difference anyway?

Invited Guest: Trevor Potter, Campaign Legal Center

September 25:  Ethics in Governing

  • Under what circumstances should an elected public servant be celebrated or reviled for changing position? How should a public servant balance the tension between constituent responsiveness and nuanced understanding of complex issues? At the extremes, should our legislators be weathervanes or ideologues?
  • When should an elected official switch from campaign mode to governing mode? When should an incumbent switch back? How effective are congressional ethics rules in separating an incumbent’s office staff from campaign staff? Is that possible for a congressman with a two-year term?
  • When the Constitution requires the Senate to “advise and consent” to a judicial appointment, should policy litmus tests apply? Should Senators consider the ethical standards for each Supreme Court Justice? Should moral and religious values be a part of these or other public policy discussions?
  • Is it a conflict of interest if a legislator considers a matter where she has a personal financial interest that is not distinguishable from the interest of the general public? Is there a “revolving door” between legislators and lobbyists?
  • What role do national think tanks play in shaping public policy and how are they accountable?

Invited Guest: Carroll Conley, Christian Civic League of Maine.

October 2:   Topics to be determined by participants.

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  ▼ Special Guest Biographies

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.

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  ▼ Reading/Other Resources

Reading/Other Resources


Tarr & Sly, Let’s strive for civil civic dialogues [PDF]

Fisher & Ury, GETTING TO YES [BHPL][Amazon]

Ethics overview: Flanagan, GEOGRAPHY OF MORALS [Amazon]


Voters & Media

Reviewed in the New Yorker “The Case Against Democracy[PDF]

Time News Desk: Ethics in Journalism (May 2020) [PDF]

Wikipedia: Journalism Ethics and Standards (see dilemmas section)

DHS Road sign

January 2019 Lincoln Memorial incident.

Campaign Ethics

Campaign Legal Center amicus brief in Citizens United. For a (potential) counterpoint, here’s a short commentary by Ira Glasser, former head of the ACLU: Understanding the Citizens United Ruling.

Kennedy, PROFILES IN COURAGE. [Amazon]

Ethics in Governing

THE POLITICS INDUSTRY, by Gehl & Porter (June 2020)

Christian Civic League of Maine [website][about][legislation]

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).

Judicial Ethics

Peter Sly, “Duty to Decide vs. Appearance of Impropriety

National Judicial College Study Materials: “Disqualification

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  ▼ Registration


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