Citizens Assembly News Digest
June 28, 2008
Written by J.H. Snider
Harvard Hosts 2-Day
Citizens Assembly Conference;
New Zealand Parliament Allocates $4.3 million for a Citizens Assembly
Since the last issue of the Citizens Assembly News Digest went out in mid-January 2008, academic developments have dominated citizens assembly news. Cambridge University Press published the first major book on citizens assemblies on February 28, 2008, and two major citizens assembly conferences took place in May 2008, one at Harvard University and the other at the University of British Columbia. Moreover, academic references to citizens assemblies in less visible venues have greatly increased, including four events this spring at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and Center for Government and International Studies. With the high profile endorsements of citizens assemblies by Stanford’s John Ferejohn and Harvard’s Dennis Thompson, citizens assembly political science research has breached the Chinese Wall previously overwhelmingly confining it to Canadian political science departments.
On the practitioner front, the most noteworthy developments have occurred in New Zealand, Hawaii (U.S.), Alberta (Canada), and the Netherlands. New Zealand’ parliament has allocated funds for a citizens assembly, Hawaii ‘s legislature has a bill (the most daring citizens assembly bill yet, but bound to go nowhere), the Netherlands parliament has an expected bill, and Alberta’s press has provided a lot of coverage of something called a “citizens asembly” (but which, according to my definition, doesn’t qualify), and the UK government keeps mentioning citizens assemblies without taking actions to bring one to fruition.
A Nexis search since January 18, 2008 found 101 articles mentioning citizens assemblies in a context relevant to the Citizens Assembly News Digest. (Note that some bodies, such as the Helsinki citizens assembly, refer to themselves as citizens assemblies but do not fit the definition of citizens assembly used here.)
iSolon.org has launched a Citizens Assembly Based Democratic Reform Facebook group. Feel free to click on the link and join.
The most important development was the publication by Cambridge University Press on February 28, 2008 of Designing Deliberative Democracy, an authoritative analysis of the British Columbia Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform. My review of the book for the Journal of Public Deliberation can be found here. I’m expecting as many as a half dozen books/dissertations on citizens assemblies over the next three to four years. Although using a case study as the basis of a book usually signals that the ambition and achievement of a political science book is slight, the prominent academics who contributing the opening and closing chapters signal otherwise. The opening and closing chapters were written by Mark Warren (UBC), Dennis Thompson (Harvard), and John Ferejohn (Stanford). I recommend John Ferejohn’s chapter as the best relatively short (chapter length) and accessible argument favoring the use of citizens assemblies.
Most exciting for me, there are a lot of academics who have decided that citizens assembly based democratic reform is an important innovation worthy of mention and more extended work. For example, while I was a Fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government this semester, there were four events at Harvard that gave prominence to citizens assembly based democratic reform.
March 31-April 2, 2008. The Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Ash Center hosted a conference, “Frontiers of Innovation: Celebrating 20 Years of Innovation in Government.” The conference was attended by 471 individuals, mostly government officials and academics, from more than 50 countries throughout the world. In a panel on “Innovations in Participation: Citizen Engagement in a Deliberative Democracy,” Kennedy School Professor Archon Fung described the British Columbia Citizens’ Assembly as one of the most important innovations in democratic deliberation.
April 14, 2008. Harvard’s Canada Program hosted a seminar, "Citizen Engagement in Public Policy: Reflections on Ontario's Citizens' Assembly," with George Thomson, Former chair, Ontario Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform, and Karen Kohl, Former executive director, Ontario Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform.
April 24, 2008. Stanford Professor Josiah Ober discussed his forthcoming new book, Knowledge and Democracy: Innovation and Learning in Classical Athens, being published by Princeton University Press. Ober, a distinguished scholar of Ancient Athens, linked Athenian economic and cultural accomplishments to Athenian democracy, with the mechanism linking them the superior knowledge gathering and distribution properties associated with democracy. Much of the discussion focused on the information properties of the Council of 500, the randomly selected citizens who set the agenda for the Assembly. As a modern day equivalent, Ober on several occasions cited the British Columbia Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform.
May 8-10, 2008. Harvard University’s Canada Program hosted a two day conference, “Comparing the Democratic Deficit in Canada and the United States: Defining, Measuring, and Fixing.” This conference was closed to the public and featured presentations by more than twenty scholars from Canada and the United States. Mark Warren and Amy Lang shuttled back and forth from the University of British Columbia conference on citizen assemblies that concluded just six days earlier. The conference planners expect that a subset of the conference papers will result in a book. My concluding remarks to the conference were published in the Journal of Public Deliberation and can be found here: Crackpot or Genius? Canada Steps onto the World Stage as a Democratic Innovator. The conference papers can be found here, and the participant bios here.
March 14, 2008. Ohio State University held a one day conference, “Online Consultation and Public Policy Making: Democracy, Identity, and New Media.” Alicia Schatteman, a Rutgers University Ph.D. candidate and Communications Director for Rutgers’s School of Public Affairs and Administration, delivered a paper, "Democracy and E-Participation: A Case Study of Ontario's Assembly on Electoral Reform.”
May 1-2, 2008, the University of British Columbia’s Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions hosted a conference on “When Citizens Decide: The Challenges of Large Scale Public Engagement.” The conference was attended by 85 individuals, featuring prominent Canadian political scientists; leaders of the Ontario, British Columbia, and Netherlands citizens assemblies, and a smattering of non-profit leaders interested in citizens assembly based reform. The conference celebrated the publication of Designing Deliberative Democracy, with most of its chapter authors in attendance. But the practical focus of the conference was less on the new book than the next book the scholars in attendance want to write. The new book will compare the BC, Ontario, and Netherlands citizens assemblies. It’s a natural follow-up on the first book and many of the likely chapters in the new book were presented as papers at the conference.
In his concluding remarks to the conference, Gordon Gibson, the architect of British Columbia’s citizens assembly, raised an excellent question:
“[W]e have to be able to answer such awkward questions as the one I proposed yesterday, from the skeptical politician who would ask, ‘Why should I take a chance, spend a lot my credibility and the public’s time and money on an Assembly, and end up with a conclusion that was rejected by 63 per cent of the voters?’ That is the hard-eyed view of what happened in Ontario, and if the proponents of Assemblies cannot give a credible and understandable answer to that kind of question, further replication of our B.C. mutation may not occur. The line may end here.”
Unfortunately, the papers at this conference did not address this question seriously. It is vital that as the contributors rethink and revise their papers, they do a better job of addressing this question. Unfortunately, too, the conference organizers did not post the participant presentations or papers on the conference website; only a few presenters voluntarily did so. The few postings can be found here.
The upcoming annual meeting of the American Political Science Association has one citizens assembly paper: “Creating Better Citizens? Effects of Citizens' Assembly on Student Political Attitudes and Behavior,” part of Panel 37-19/5-19, The Nature and Consequences of Deliberative Democracy , to be presented on August 30, 2008 at 4:15pm. The paper presenters, all from Eastern Kentucky University, are Joseph Gershtenson, Glenn W. Rainey, and Jane Gurganus Rainey. I went to graduate school in political science with the panel chair, Jason Barabas, now a Professor at Florida State University.
According to my latest count, I’m expecting four new books or dissertations substantially or exclusively on citizens assemblies over the next 24 months.
* * *
In conclusion, it’s my sense that scholars of democratic theory, electoral systems, and civic participation are now broadly aware of the citizens assembly experiments that took place in Canada. Among political scientists more generally, the knowledge is much more scant, except within Canada, where at least one political scientist at most of the major universities have now done at least some work in this area. I’m not asserting here that there is any type of consensus favoring citizens assemblies. But I am saying that there is a growing sense that something happened in Canada that was important and worthy of becoming a reference point in the various literatures on democratic theory, citizen participation, electoral systems, and democratic reform more generally.
New Zealand’s parliament has committed $4.3 million (in New Zealand currency) to conduct a citizens assembly concerning campaign finance (see “Greens seek to fast-track citizens' jury,” New Zealand Herald, June 5, 2008). The terms of the citizens assembly have yet to be worked out, and there is no guarantee that just because funds have been authorized for a particular purpose they will be actually spent for that purpose. On June 16, 2008, Jonathan Rose, the Research Chair of the Ontario Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform, wrote an op-ed in the New Zealand Herald on the citizens assembly proposal (“Jonathan Rose: Citizens' assembly a chance to take posturing out of politics”).
The major force behind the citizens assembly has been the relatively small Green Party, which won the support for a citizens assembly as part of a deal with the Labour Party. The major opponent is the National Party.
Note that in New Zealand the terms “citizens assembly” and “citizens jury” appear to be used interchangeably. The party leaders like to cite the British Columbia and Ontario citizens assemblies as precedents for their proposal. But they also seem to like—and in some cases prefer—to call their proposal a citizens jury, perhaps because the closest precedent for a citizens assembly is a jury, and the jury format is not only well known among the public, but also held in high esteem.
Frogblog, a blog affiliated with the Green Party, has had a number of posts on this subject, including extensive reader comments. The most recent c ommentary was June 5, 2008, but I’m including several others here as well:
6/5/08: Citz Assembly, with 19 reader comments
12/4/07: Would you support a Citizen’s Assembly?, with 67 reader comments
12/19/07: Citizens’ Jury to examine electoral laws, with reader 51 comments
Two blogs associated with National Party sympathies, , scrubone and kiwiblog, have also written about the citizens assembly initiative.
6/5/08: Citizen’s Juries , with 6 reader comments (scrubone)
6/5/08: Citizen’s Juries, with 22 reader comments (kiwiblog)
In my opinion, the most interesting feature of the attacks on the citizens assemblies initiative is that they overwhelmingly focus on attacking the self-interested motives of the Green and Labour parties, seeing the citizens assembly merely as a vehicle for these parties (especially the Green Party) to win public financing for their candidates. The public policy debate thus centers on whether public financing of candidates is desirable, not whether citizens assemblies are a desirable means to answer such questions. This assumes that the members of a citizens assembly, either because they would be corrupt or incompetent, would not pursue the public interest. To put it mildly, this is a very cynical view of the citizens assembly process.
The citizens assembly legislation introduced as SB1845 into the Hawaii Legislature in 2007 was reintroduced as SB2619 on January 22, 2008. As in 2007, the legislation has gone nowhere—not even getting a committee hearing. A biography of Hawaii Senator Les Ihara, the sponsor of the bill, can be found here. As you will see if you check his biography, Senator Ihara is a senior leader of the majority (Democratic) party in the Hawaii Senate and has excellent democratic reform credentials.
I believe the Hawaii citizens assembly legislation is the best introduced to date. It incorporates the citizens assembly as a standing public body into the constitution. It also gives the citizens assembly broad jurisdiction over areas where elected officials have a conflict of interest. My biggest objection is the proposed size of the citizens assembly: only 25 individuals. A small citizens assembly certainly has the advantage of economy, and it’s probably an improvement over the status quo way of dealing with these issues. But I also believe it makes the citizens assembly less democratic and its recommendations less likely to receive popular approval.
Another objection is that the legislation is a mere sketch of what the citizens assembly would look like; many important details have yet to be worked out. But this is a common attribute of legislation and constitutions. Consider, for example, how sketchy the U.S. Constitution is.
The biggest objection to the Hawaii legislation may be that it is too ambitious and therefore politically impractical. British Columbia and Ontario, in comparison, set far more modest goals for their citizens assemblies, which were ad hoc bodies with a narrow jurisdiction and a clear and permanent termination date. On the other hand, Senator Ihara has placed down a marker for the future. My guess is that in another generation citizens assemblies will come to look a lot more like the Hawaii model than the British Columbia or Ontario models. My article on citizens assemblies published in the National Civic Review several years ago, Solving a Classic Dilemma of Democratic Politics: Who Will Guard the Guardians?, makes the case for a standing citizens assembly with broad jurisdiction over democratic reform issues. I elaborate on this argument further in one of my two papers written for Harvard’s Shorenstein Center, to be released in mid-July, 2008.
Over the last six months, Alberta has had by far the most newspaper chatter about citizens assemblies. The early chatter was based on the British Columbia and Ontario precedents. The later and predominant chatter involved a “citizens assembly” proposal that I would not characterized as a citizens assembly.
On January 25, 2008, Public Interest Alberta releases a six point plan for democracy renewal in Alberta, including a call for a citizens assembly on electoral reform. (Lloydminister Meridian Booster, 1/25/08)
On March 3, 2008, Alberta holds a provincial election with a very low voter turnout.
On March 5, 2008, Albert Taylor, a Liberal legislator, suggests that a citizens assembly could tackle the voter apathy problem. (Calgary Sun, 3/5/08)
On March 9, 2003, the Calgary Herald asks readers: “Should the province set up an impartial citizens’ assembly to study Alberta’s voting system?”
On March 10, 2008, the Calgary Herald reports that 56% of readers said Yes and 44% No. No information is provided about how many people responded or why these results might or might not reflect general public sentiment.
On March 12, Preston Manning, a former premier and current head of the Manning Centre for Building Democracy, proposes a citizens assembly to deal with the apathy problem and a bunch of other problems. This proposal generates about twenty newspaper articles and letters-to-the-editor in the succeeding weeks. However, Manning’s proposal has very little to do with what would generally be recognized as a citizens assembly, despite the fact that he cites the British Columbia Citizens’ Assembly as his inspiration. Manning’s citizens assembly is elected, and he wants it to tackle issues such as health care and the environment as well as voter apathy. (Preston Manning, “Re-energizing democracy in Alberta,” Edmonton Journal, March 12, 2008)
Professor Henk van der Kolk from the University of Twente has provided the Citizens Assembly News Digest with an update on citizens assembly developments in the Netherlands. The government has finally dismissed the citizens assembly’s recommendations but this won’t prevent the party that endorsed it, D66, from introducing legislation seeking to enact the citizens assembly’s recommendations. Note that unlike the recommendations of the citizens assemblies in British Columbia and Ontario, the recommendations of the Netherlands citizens assembly were not placed on the ballot for voter approval. They were purely advisory to the government. In this sense, the Netherlands citizens assembly wasn’t a real citizens assembly. In all other important respects, however, it was closely modeled after the British Columbia Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform. Here is Professor Henk van der Kolk report:
Recommendations of the Dutch Citizens Assembly after 16 months rejected by the Dutch government
In a letter to parliament, the Dutch government thanks the Citizen Assembly for its recommendations, but indicates that there is at this moment no reason accept its most important recommendation.
On December 14, 2006, the Dutch Civic Forum (or Citizens Assembly) on the Electoral System officially sent its recommendation to the Dutch government. One year and four months later, on April 18, 2008, the Dutch government responded officially in a letter to parliament, although the junior minister responsible for the electoral system already said in the autumn of 2007 that she would not accept the recommendations. The letter to parliament (see http://www.minbzk.nl/111490/brief-aan-de-tweede_8; only in Dutch), consists of four parts; an introduction, a general evaluation of the idea of Citizens Assemblies, a comment on the core of the proposal, which was to introduce a “list vote” next to the existing vote for an individual person, and finally a response to the additional recommendations made by the assembly. For a newsletter on Citizens Assemblies this is probably the most important part (the other two sections are predominantly about the merits and dangers of the proposed changes, not about the instrument as such).
In the introduction the government thanks the assembly for the recommendations. It also indicates that there is at this moment no reason accept the most important recommendation to change the electoral system (albeit only slightly). It writes that the assembly was “an interesting process.”
In the section citizens assemblies as an instrument of citizens participation citizens assemblies are seen as a form of '”interactive governance” (a catch-all term used in The Netherlands for several types of citizen involvement in policy making). In this section some do's and don'ts of citizens assemblies are suggested which may be used in future discussions and decisions about the institution of a citizens assembly:
(a) The selection process is praised for also allowing 'other' people access to the process (beyond the 'usual suspects').
(b) Citizens assemblies are especially relevant if they have to discuss (1) 'specific topics' (the electoral system clearly was) (2) which are generally seen as problematic (which the electoral system was clearly not at that time) and (c) for which the opinions of ordinary citizens can have added value (topics in the neighborhood or municipality of citizens, the government writes) (it is suggested, but not clearly stated that the present government does not think this was the case with the Citizens Assembly on electoral systems).
(c) There is a tension between elected representatives (with an obligation to respond to the public) and representatives selected by a lottery (without such an obligation). The government clearly states that elected representatives should be dominant. The government also writes that parliament is to be committed to the process, without being committed to the outcome of the process. The exact meaning of this, however, is not entirely clear. The possibility of organizing a referendum after the Citizens Assembly made its proposal was discussed three years ago, but is not mentioned in this letter. This makes this third topic in the letter rather ill developed and does not promise much for the future of citizens assemblies in the Netherlands.
In the third section, the government starts by summarizing the advice given by the Assembly. It then proceeds by discussing the expected merits and dangers of the system. The government agrees with the Citizens Assembly that the electoral system should be a PR system and that parties should play a major role (thus blocking, for example, the introduction of STV). This is a rather “empty'” agreement between the government and Citizens Assembly because the current electoral system is also built on these two basic principles. The Citizens Assembly takes the current weakening of political parties as a given and suggests adjusting the electoral system accordingly by (slightly) changing the system into a more open list system. The government, however, wants to strengthen the parties and therefore rejects this part of the recommendation. The Citizens Assembly also suggested changing the presently used D'Hondt system for Hare (thus strengthening the smaller parties). The government counters that the current possibility of apparentement (the formation of coalitions before the elections, improving the possibilities for smaller parties to get remainder seats) already helps smaller parties, and that the importance of having strong large parties, which are able to form the governing coalitions, is a strong argument against this change in the exact formula. Finally, the government does not think the proposal will bring about the much desired consequence (having stronger ties between citizens and the political system).
In the final section, the government discusses some '”additional recommendations” given by the Citizens Assembly. Because most recommendations were vague, non-obliging, and already largely contained in existing policies, the government finds little difficulties in agreeing with these additional recommendations like “urging party members to stay with their party faction” and “simplify voting by allowing voting in different polling booths.”
The letter is not the final thing we will hear about the citizens assembly process in the Netherlands. D66, the party responsible for initiating the process, is now preparing an Act of Parliament. Alexander Pechtold (former D66 minister and currently leader of the D66 party group) is preparing this act to have a discussion in Parliament about the pro's and con's of the proposal.
Citizens assemblies came up in two hearings in the United Kingdom’s Parliament. This continues the U.K. pattern, going back to at least 2005, of discussing citizens assemblies in government documents and in Parliament. The result is that I’d guess every member of Parliament interested in democratic reform now has some familiarity with the British Columbia citizens assembly case. Only among members in the natiional legislatures in Canada, the Netherlands, and New Zealand would I expect the same level of familiarity with the citizens assembly concept.
Here is an excerpt from a hearing on a British Bill of Rights on January 28, 2006:
Witness: Professor Graham Smith, Centre for Citizenship and Democracy, gave evidence.
Q131 Chairman: We are now into our second session of the afternoon and we are joined by Professor Graham Smith of the Centre for Citizenship and Democracy. Welcome to you. Is there anything you would like to say before we start?
Professor Smith: One thing to stress is I assume the reason I have been asked to come and talk to you is not because I am a human rights specialist, because I would never claim that. If you start asking me details of Human Rights Acts and those kinds of things I am going to have a bit of a problem. My background is mostly studies of public participation so I hope that the reason I have been invited to come here is to talk about methods of public participation, pros and cons and different structures that have been put in place elsewhere.
Q132 Chairman: That is exactly why.
Professor Smith: Then we are on the right wave length.
Q133 Chairman: What do you think are the key lessons for the UK that can be learned from looking at democratic innovations around the world?
Professor Smith: What is very interesting at the moment is I think we are going through a period of a lot of experimentation with public participation in a way that we maybe had not done a decade ago. There are some really interesting examples of where governments have taken quite bold steps to engage the public in innovative ways which take us beyond simple, traditional modes of consultation. The one that pops into my mind here is what happened in British Columbia and Ontario. They were not looking for whole scale constitutional change but they were looking to change their electoral system. Politicians being politicians could not decide what the best electoral system would be, as we would witness in our own Parliament. They decided that what they would do was set up an assembly of 160 randomly selected citizens from all over British Columbia and they would let them learn about the issues, deliberate, consult themselves with the public over an 11 month period so they would become "experts" in electoral form. They put a recommendation forward. They recommended a change and the government had agreed that if there was a recommendation for change that would go to a referendum, something completely different from what we would be used to. There are what I take to be quite amazing experiments going on in advanced liberal democracies.
Q134 Chairman: Are they getting it right?
Professor Smith: No. That is the interesting question. The referendum was lost in British Columbia but only by two per cent. They are going to rerun it because they had two thresholds, one which was based on winning in a number of localities and that was fine, but they hit 57.7 per cent rather than 60 per cent overall so it was very close. The answer may be that people do not want electoral reform or that people do not want a new Bill of Rights. That is one answer, is it not?
Q135 Chairman: What was the turn out like on that referendum? If you have had this huge public engagement process, what sort of turn out do you achieve generally?
Professor Smith: I am afraid I would have to give you the details of the turn out. There was a lot of criticism of the government that they supported the assembly but they did not support the public debate that followed it. One of the criticisms is that a lot of people were not aware of the assembly. They did a very good job in institutional design but not in publicity.
Q136 Chairman: That begs the question is the process as important, more important or less important than the outcome?
Professor Smith: It depends where you stand, does it not? I think it is critical, if you are going to look at something at this level of potential impact on a political system, that the process is carefully constructed. I am not necessarily arguing the case for the British Columbia method; I am just saying that that is an example of the sort of thing that was done. If you are going to look at creating a Bill of Rights that shapes the relationship between the governed and the governors, the process by which that is brought about is incredibly important.
Q204 Mr Prentice: Can I go back to citizens assemblies and you mentioned Canada? In Canada there was a citizens assembly set up in British Colombia and they were to go away and come forward with a recommendation on whether or not to change the voting system from first past the post to PR. In Ontario last year, or the year before, a citizens assembly was set up to look at the voting system in Ontario. On both occasions the citizens assemblies stuck with first past the post. If you want to give citizens real powers, why do you not have a citizens assembly to look at first past the post in the Westminster Parliament? The ultimate decision would rest here in Westminster. Or why do you not have citizens in Scotland deliberating on whether the Scottish Parliament should have tax-raising powers? The Prime Minister has set up a Constitutional Commission to look at these things. Why not hand it over to a citizens assembly? It comes back to the point I made at the very beginning about whether this is a pretend exercise or whether it is actually delivering real powers to people which they can exercise. Are you with me?
Mr Wills: It certainly is not intended to be a pretend exercise, there is no doubt about that. As the Chairman has pointed out in the very excellent Hansard study, this is not a vote-winner, this is not what people are talking about on the doorsteps, there is no point in doing that sort of exercise at all. This is about re-wiring power in our society but it has to mean something, and everything we are doing we want to mean something. Some of this we have to proceed quite carefully and cautiously with because potentially this is radical constitutional change and it must endure, it must be sustainable across parties and over time, and you have to proceed cautiously with that. In relation to the voting systems we have published a very thick tome ----
Q205 Mr Prentice: It was not very well received, was it?
Mr Wills: It was not very well received by those in favour of PR because it did not come out with an uncritical recommendation of PR. I think actually if you read it, you will see it is very fair-minded in analysing various systems of electing parliamentarians and the various merits and disadvantages of each of those systems. We published it precisely in that way to inform the debate about the future. We cannot ignore discussion about the voting system when discussing all these wider areas. Whether it is appropriate for a citizens assembly to say that, or Parliament, or a referendum, this is something which has to be discussed.
Charles Scanlon, who is setting up a citizens assembly website in the United Kingdom, emailed me to tell me he had written two letters to the editor published in the Times (www.timesoline.co.uk and Financial Times (www.ft.com). Here is the Times letter, published on February 28, 2008:
Sir, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath suggests that the Commons majority in favour of an elected second chamber should outweigh the Lords majority against (letter, Feb 25). Yet both votes were merely triumphs of self-interest, with the peers wanting to keep their places and the MPs wanting to strengthen party control over the Upper House.
It is an archaic absurdity in a 21st-century democracy that either House should have a role in determining the constitutional framework within which Parliament could work in the service of the people. In view of the insoluble conflicts of interests which disqualify the entire political class, all questions of constitutional change should be referred to a popular convention modelled on the recent Citizens' Assemblies on voting reform in British Columbia and Ontario, where the members of the assemblies were chosen by lot from members of the public, excluding parliamentarians, and where their recommendations were put straight to a referendum.
A half dozen of more articles mentioned citizens assemblies in the British Columbia press. As the May 2009 citizens assembly referendum nears, I expect the number of such articles to greatly increase.
Citizens Assembly Facebook Group
iSolon.org has launched a Citizens Assembly Based Democratic Reform Facebook group. Feel free to click on the link and join. The intent is to create an online community of people interested in citizens assembly based democratic reform. The group allows you to post citizens assembly news and other related information. It replaces the old-fashioned discussion forum iSolon.org launched last January.
Citizens Assembly Calendar
The most important upcoming event is the citizens assembly referendum in British Columbia in May 2009, less than a year away. This is the same referendum item proposed by the British Columbia Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform in November 2004 and placed on the ballot in May 2005, receiving 57.1% of the vote, just shy of the 60% needed for passage.
During Spring semester 2008, I was a residential fellow at the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, located at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. This was a wonderful opportunity for me to take advantage of Harvard’s immense resources (and spend some time with my oldest daughter, who is a sophomore at Harvard majoring in Social Studies—the great social and political theorists). The final product, two papers relating to citizens assembly based democratic reform, should be published by the Shorenstein Center around mid-July 2008.
My second daughter finishes her term on July 1,
2008 as the student member of the school board member in Anne Arundel
County, Maryland. She will
be attending Yale next year and was accepted into Yale’s Directed
Studies Program, where she will be studying the great books of Western
Civilization. During the
Spring, she was selected from among more than 80,000 applicants for one
of fifty $20,000 Coca Cola Scholarships, granted for a combination of
academic excellence and community service.