Legislators, civic leaders, and students came together for an afternoon of civil discussion Thursday at the University of California - San Diego's Great Hall. The 'E-T-C' conference was divided into three panels: Ethics, Transparency, and Civility.
The second panel of the afternoon centered on Transparency and was moderated by Fonna Forman, associate professor of Political Science and co-director of the UCSD Center on Global Justice.
Panelists included: Don Wilcox -- former legislative chief-of-staff, Sam Schuchat --executive officer for the California Coastal Conservancy, Assemblymember Brian Jones -- District 71, Darrel Steinberg -- former president pro tem of the California State Senate, representing Senate District 6, Assemblymember Brian Maienschein -- District 77, and Kyle Heiskala -- UCSD student and former executive director for SOVAC.To shape the discussion, Professor Forman presented the panel with three aspects of transparency: accountability or otherwise holding those who shape the political dialogue responsible for their actions; accessibility, meaning how voters engage with the government and their elected official, and agency, the process whereby information translates into action.
Vital to all three facets is the news media. Yet, in a time when trust in the mass media has reached an all-time low, according to Gallup, it was a marked target as the institution in greatest need of improvement.
As stated by Assemblymember Jones, a free press would play a key role in keeping the government accountable to the people. Assemblymember Maienschein agreed voters were being under-served by today's media adding, “I think it's pretty obvious news media has gotten more partisan and more biased.”
The point was punctuated by Wilcox when he asserted that public discourse suffers as a result of truthful reporting; especially, when it comes to climate-related news,
"There's a real lack of accountability on the truth" he said. "We still, in great swatches of government, can't talk about climate change... There's always some political incorrectness when you're around that subject matter and so there's no real, honest truth."
Over the course of the panel, a general consensus formed around the conception that as any one of the three aspects of transparency fail, negative repercussions like voter apathy, disengagement, and a lack of civic proficiency result.
Alongside the question of keeping political actors accountable lies another, deeper question: how can amorphous, yet well-funded entities like political action committees be held to task for what often amounts to factually-indefensible political advertisements?
Assemblymember Maienschein remarked:
"If you look at what ends up happening after the national political parties spend millions and millions of dollars trashing one another. A lot of people do just think a pox on all their houses and lose interest in voting." He continued, "Because there are, both nationally and statewide, so few really contested seats, you see what ends up happening."
Ultimately, it's incumbent upon individual voters themselves not to be so easily coerced by cynical political advertising that preys on one's darker emotions.
Image: Assemblymember Brian Jones (left), Sam Schuchat (middle), Don Wilcox (right) / IVN