Convention Speaker Reports

Millennial Voices in the Massachusetts State Legislature:  Five of the youngest members of the legislature—all in their 20s and 30s—described the challenges they faced running for office at such a young age and why their campaigns were successful.  They also admitted that they were unsuccessful in convincing voters in their own age group to engage with the process and to vote.  They agreed that millennials are concerned about civic issues and will work on specific projects, but don’t seem to connect those issues to voting.

Sen. Patrick O’Connor of Weymouth, the only Republican in the group, noted that the collaboration between the two parties in the state has made Massachusetts “a model for the nation in areas including education, health care and veterans’ affairs, and lets us hold those people up who cannot hold themselves up.”

We thank Sen. O’Connor, Sen. Eric Lesser, and Reps. Solomon Goldstein-Rose, Natalie Higgins, and Juana Matias for joining us, for their enthusiasm and for their insights.  For press coverage of the panel, click here.

Brian McGrory, Editor, The Boston Globe:  McGrory entertained with stories from his years of covering Presidents, before turning to the current standoff between the press and the President.  “At the Globe, these comments give us a whole lot of resolve,” he said of President Trump’s criticisms.

He went on to note the criticism has resulted in increased subscriptions and a record number of visits to the Globe’s website.

The Globe and the League, he said, have a lot in common.  “Our goal is to foster engagement.  You have done that for your entire history.  You were activists before people realized how utterly vital it is to be engaged.  We bow down to you.”

McGrory said the Globe will continue to focus on important issues and “not get caught up in the outrage of the day expressed in 140 characters.”  He remains confident the pendulum of the public’s trust in government and the mainstream media will swing back.

“We need quality journalism far more now, just as we need the civic engagement that the League provides.”

Rachael Cobb, Professor of Government, Suffolk University:  Cobb called on the audience to consider the basic meaning of democracy and whether we have strayed from it.

If, she noted, democracy is defined as “a country with competitive elections in which the outcomes are uncertain,” is Massachusetts, particularly in the case of legislative elections, a democracy? Is the United States, when, in 2016, only 37 of the 435 House races were competitive?

Citizens have disengaged from their government and are losing confidence in democratic institutions, she warned, and groups like the League need to explain why and how such engagement is important.

Income inequality, the proliferation of rules that inhibit participation, and political polarization all play a significant role in discouraging citizen participation.  Our system, she said, was designed around compromise, but the current level of political polarization does not allow that system to function.

She did suggest that the election last November “may signal a turning point in civic engagement,” but felt it remains to be seen whether such engagement will be sustained over the long run.