Ideal Democracy Under Threat

Arizona state seal

American elections and multi-tier democracies are considered the “ideal” for many countries across the globe. Federal- and state-level polls to elect president, senate, congress or bicameral state legislature are unique, and where policy debates have usually taken place.  

However, this exemplary ideal is gradually fading for some, especially after the 2016 election when Republicans came into power while chanting President Trump’s “America First” slogan. In meetings with Republicans and Democrats today, SUSI scholars encountered a range of perceptions about the state of American democracy.

You may be surprised to know that a leader of the Arizona Democratic Party minority cried while recalling the undemocratic treatment sometimes shown by the government towards its citizens. In a discussion with SUSI scholars from 17 different countries, Athena Salman, chief whip of the state’s Democratic minority, cried while commenting on American democracy.  “There is something fundamentally broken with the democracy. If you are not letting people vote,” Salman said, “that is not democracy. You are hurting it.”

Salman claimed that African-American and Hispanic voters are often treated differently. She urged the Republicans to change their policies, informing us that some citizens in Arizona and Georgia are not given voting rights. Although Salman did not explicitly use the words “racial resentment” or “anti-black effects,” it was not hard to understand that she was agonizing over the Republican Party and President Trump.  

In the state of Arizona, Democrats are in the minority with 29 seats and Republicans hold the majority with 31 seats out of 60 in the House of Representatives. That single seat difference has led Republicans on the 8th floor to run the state while minority Democrats are struggling from the basement of the state house.

SUSI scholars with Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and Elections Director Bo Dul

Headache of Fake News and Misinformation 

The SUSI scholars also met with Katie Hobbs, Arizona Secretary of State, and other election officials at that office.  They shared their efforts to combat fake news and misinformation during elections. “Voters registration and other processes are being made easier,” Hobbs said, ‘”but we are equally worried about election security.” She argued that the media frenzy has added misinformation. “It is becoming a challenge to tackle misinformation and deliver the correct information,” said Bo Dul, Elections Director.

Scholars also met with the staffs of the Republican Governor’s office, where Deputy General Counsel Anni Foster shed light on her activities assisting Governor Doug Ducey, who holds the chief executive position within the state.

The scholars in Governor Doug Ducey’s office with Deputy General Counsel Anni Foster

Sorry, We Can’t Write that Jennifer Lopez Is Wearing Underwear!

At the end of the day, the scholars interacted with prominent political journalists based in Phoenix. They opined that the tastes, forms and even operations of the news industry are changing with technology. The new generation with new technology is gradually disrupting traditional media practices. This is a critical period for journalists. Howie Fisher, editor of Arizona Capitol Media, suggested that journalists need to convince people through persuasive writing.  Katie Campbell of the Arizona Capitol Times seemed optimistic, and told us that “it is a capitalist economy; if you create you will get consumers, you just need to explore.”

Arizona political journalists discussed the challenges of covering government activities at various levels

“The new generation has no interest in political news stories,” was the immediate response of Jim Small, editor of the Arizona Mirror. Fisher chimed in, “We can’t write that Jenifer Lopez is wearing underwear, which could get more audience.”

All of these journalists were dissatisfied with the role of Public Information Officers in government, and opined that PIOs only serve their boss rather than the public interest.