“Seminoles Decide”

By Keith Leslie, JMI Intern, Senior in Economics at Florida State University
Posted Thursday, September 20, 2012
In the midst of the election season, one Florida State University (FSU) graduate student is taking steps to give students the tools they need to become informed voters. Josh Humphries, who’s seeking a master’s degree in Applied American Policies and Politics, has devised a program called Seminoles Decide to provide a civil forum in which students can learn more about the pressing issues in the presidential race.

“With all of these campaign ads, there is a lot of rhetoric, but not a lot of fact,” said Humphries. “Seminoles Decide is a program designed for students to take advantage of local resources, learn the basics of the different parties’ views, and make informed voting decisions.”

Seminoles Decide consists of a series of panel discussions, each of which is focused on an issue in the presidential election. There have already been such forums on health care, same-sex marriage, the economy, and education. Seminoles Decide will conclude on November 1 with an event called “The Summit,” which will recap the four previous panel discussions and address other points of interest regarding the election.

Last week’s Seminoles Decide forum focused on the economy. The panel members were Bob Sanchez, Policy Director of The James Madison Institute; Dr. James Gwartney, Professor of Economics at FSU; and Dr. Larry Polivka, Director of FSU’sClaudePepperCenter. Recent FSU graduate Nick Russell moderated.

Most voters consider the economy to be the most important issue in this election, and the panel acknowledged some of the many pressing economic issues. Both Mr. Sanchez and Dr. Gwartney noted the immensity of the national debt, which is now over $16 trillion, as well as the looming concerns due to the unfunded Social Security and Medicare liabilities.

Dr. Gwartney also pointed out that the ratio of theU.S.debt to the overall size of the economy as reflected in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the highest it has ever been, and that the unemployment rate is well above its historical average.

“Will college students and graduates ask ‘Is this the new normal?’” asked Sanchez, referring to the current woeful state of the economy.

The panelists compared the current economic policies to those that were implemented in response to the Great Depression and World War II, which provided a background for the discussion, but they came to drastically different conclusions regarding the events that took place.

“Historical context is extremely important for observing today’s policies,” stated Dr. Polivka. He then noted that after WWII, spending increased at the state and federal levels; as the public sector expanded, the debt shrank until it nearly tripled the 1980’s during the Reagan Administration.

On the other hand, Sanchez and Gwartney claimed that these policies are counterproductive since the increased spending will lead to higher taxes in the future, putting a drag on the economy. They both stated that current policies are having a similar effect, citing the sluggish GDP growth rate as evidence for their claim.

The discussion then moved to the economic policy goals of the two primary presidential candidates. All three panelists agreed that neither candidate has presented a plan that is specific enough. However, they disagreed on which candidate would better facilitate economic prosperity. Dr. Polivka believes, based on the last three years, that President Obama has an investment strategy to improve the growth rate and continue to pursue policies to stimulate the economy. He noted that the President wants to restore teaching jobs with the intention to better prepare young Americans for the future.

Mr. Sanchez portrayed a very different image of President Obama. He mentioned that the current spending programs appeal to special groups at the expense of all taxpayers. He sees very serious problems with the President’s redistributionist policies, citing Margaret Thatcher’s famous quote that “eventually, you run out of other people’s money.”

Dr. Gwartney also seemed skeptical of the President’s policies and encouraged voters to “evaluate outcomes, not intentions.” He agreed with Sanchez’s point that public services pander to special interests for campaign contributions while private firms are driven by a profit motive.

The panelists also agreed that there is a lot of uncertainty regarding the policy goals of the President’s challenger, Governor Mitt Romney. “We’ve seen and know what to expect from Obama: growth of government,” said Gwartney. “However, I am less confident of what to expect from Romney. He says he intends to shrink the size of government, but there’s what you say and what you do.”

“Obama keeps blaming the previous administration for the continuing declines,” said Sanchez. He feels that under Obama there will be more spending and more debt. However, he also noted Romney’s lack of specificity, and that such broad statements carry a certain amount of uncertainty.

Bringing the discussion to a close, Dr. Polivka reiterated the importance of having an understanding of history, recognizing its complexity, and realizing that “each economic experience doesn’t necessarily have a nice fit” into a historical context. All of the panelists encouraged the audience to utilize available resources to make informed voting decisions.

The final Seminoles Decide forum will be held Nov. 1 at FSU’s Turnbull Center. For more information, go to http://dsa.fsu.edu/elections/seminoles-decide

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Responses to ““Seminoles Decide””:

  1. Please vote, but understand it’s what you do after Election Day that counts.

    Over the next few days, college students and others across Florida will either get their hopes up, hold their noses or just cross their fingers and plunge into what is almost invariably an exercise in frustration: They will vote.

    Then, Nov. 7, the day after the election, most will heave a sigh of relief and turn their attention back to things they love, that are important or that are urgent, like their job, education or children.

    A small number, maybe 1% or so, will keep on voting. These people, citizen advocates, understand that Election Day is not the end, but a beginning. It’s the day you take on a new employee: You hire or rehire the people who represent you as elected officials in municipal, county, state and federal government.

    Just as you would a new employee, the citizen advocates know that if you want your new employee to succeed, you must give them a clear job description and goals. You must supervise them, keep a close and constant watch on their performance and give them frequent direction. If you don’t, they are free to do the job in their own way.

    This small number of activists, these committed few, drive public policy. Because there are so few who stay engaged after Election Day, they have disproportionate influence. They keep on voting.

    These advocates will be the focus of this blog, along with the professional lobbyists who work with them, the government staff who make their appointments and take their phone calls, the elected officials who listen to them, and the academics who study them.

    You will not only meet ordinary people of extraordinary influence, but you will also come to see that you, as one person ­– if you care enough – can have enormous influence on politicians, especially the ones you can vote for. You will see how others achieve influence and learn techniques that will empower you to expand your influence across the state and country.

    You will learn how to keep on voting after the election and why merely voting on Election Day is usually not going to make much difference, even though your vote can determine who is elected.

    (The one exception is if you are passionate about one of the initiatives or referendums that actually write specific law for Florida – but that’s a bog, not a blog, and we won’t go there.)

    Here’s why merely voting for candidates on Election Day doesn’t have much impact:
    When it comes to selecting or electing people to represent you, you only get to vote every two or four or six years, depending on the office.

    Laws are passed or changed in between elections.

    Moreover, each individual you can vote for has only limited power to create change. Consider the most visible example, the president.
    No matter who wins, you are likely to be disappointed. All the promises the candidates make, all their sincere intentions, collapse in the face of the fact that 535 voting members of the U.S. Congress also have skin in the game. In Florida this year, you get to vote for just two people who will go to Congress, one for the House and one for Senate.

    Across the country, candidates are running to become one of 435 voting representatives and 33 senators up for election. Historically, more than 85 percent of those in office are re-elected.

    Of course, because of term limits for members of the Florida legislature, you have a more frequent shot at influencing the outcome.

    But even with the newly redrawn districts and election system, most elections were decided in the primary. Depending on how you count, on Nov. 6, Florida has only a few competitive legislative races.

    In 2010, 81% of legislators whose seats were up for election in won in a landslide. Only 19% were elected in a competitive race.

    Thus, the primary is actually your most powerful vote because the turnout is so low. This year in Florida Congressional District 3 long-term incumbent Cliff Stearns was knocked off in the primary and his replacement, barring some unexpected event, will go to Washington after receiving fewer than 22,000 votes.

    So once in while, your vote can be important in deciding who wins. Please vote. But understand that if that is all you do, you aren’t likely to make much difference.




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