CIR on CNN
A recent essay posted at CNN used the Oregon CIR as an example of a new kind of deliberative politics. The authors, Chad Raphael and Christopher Karpowitz, have a whole theory about what makes public engagement effective in their new book, Democracy, Deliberation, and Civic Forums. This CNN essay note that the success of forums like the CIR has been seen across the country, in varied forms. Noting the way South Floridians have addressed climate challenges in their communities, the point out that
Florida officials engaged their constituents through scores of open forums convened by governments, businesses and community groups. Local leaders appealed across party lines by framing the issue as one of protecting residents from rising sea levels and storm surges, rather than as a divisive referendum on whether to believe in climate science.
Again, they see the larger pattern:
Florida is not alone. Our research identifies many successful examples of political deliberation in well-designed forums where citizens and officials engage in give-and-take discussion and arrive at solutions. These forums have developed “participatory budgets” in many cities, energy policy in Texas and Nebraska, community policing in Chicago and much more.
As for the CIR process, they have this to say:
…not every ballot initiative is as enlightened. Many are highly technical proposals pushed by special interests, and multiple initiatives can overwhelm the public’s ability to evaluate them all. Oregon’s legislature responded by creating a Citizens Initiative Review Board, which researches proposed ballot measures, deliberates about their pros and cons, and makes recommendations on how fellow citizens should vote. Many Oregonians rely on the board’s recommendations, which are published in the state’s voter guide and mailed to every household.
Unlike politics as usual (and those infamous Town Hall meetings), these forums put citizens at the center of decision-making. Citizens are challenged to deliberate with each other and forge agreements, with officials and experts joining the effort by giving testimony and feedback. Moderators challenge people to treat other respectfully and consider a wide range of arguments and evidence, rather than engaging in hand-to-hand political combat.
Grandstanding and obstructionism don’t play as well in these forums as they do on the Senate floor, partisan media outlets or the local tavern. It’s still politics, but it’s a politics that offers better odds of success by engaging both citizens and officials productively. The people who participate, many of whom regard typical public meetings like Ebola, say they actually enjoy talking politics with other citizens and officials, sometimes for the first time in their lives.