makes Your State, Community and Nation Better
by Stephanie Gross
politics professor Larry Sabato casts a mock vote on his centers
latest acquisition, a genuine Palm Beach County Florida voting
booth, complete with butterfly ballot and pregnant chads.
The center followed up on the historic Election 2000 debacle
in its spring 2001 National Symposium Series.
Center promotes value of politics
and importance of civic-mindedness
some circles, politics is a dirty word.
everybody in America thinks politics is smoke-filled rooms and
corruption and bribery, and its not that at all, said
Larry Sabato, the well-known political pundit and University professor
of politics. Its simply a means to make your state
and your community and your nation better. So we shouldnt
be ashamed to be identified with this process that permits us
to perfect society.
that end, in the next few months U.Va.s 4-year-old Center
for Governmental Studies will become simply the Center for
Politics. The name change, which necessitates a graphic, logo
and Web site overhaul, reflects more than a preference for pithiness.
It indicates a willingness on the part of the organizations
staff to put their money where their mouth is.
was the name of choice from the beginning, said Alex Theodoridis,
the centers chief of staff who, as a fourth-year student,
aided Sabato in lobbying for state funds to open the center. It
links in with Larrys motto politics is a good thing,
and it tells a little better what we are trying to do here.
the bias against politics was a fight from the beginning. The
General Assembly rejected the name Center for Politics,
saying it would sour the public against the organization. To secure
funding, Sabato deferred to those concerns. Now, a solid track
record of celebrated local initiatives and acclaimed national
forums has persuaded him to risk the centers good
name to bestow some honor on the political process.
a former Rhodes Scholar who graduated from U.Va. in 1974, joined
the faculty in 1978 and was granted the Robert Kent Gooch chair
for government and foreign affairs in 1992. He teaches state and
national politics to more than 500 undergrads annually and advises
graduate students as well.
his mission has always been to broaden that reach, capturing young
minds outside his seminars and lectures.
of the Center for Governmental Studies
high school student is being interviewed by a TV reporter
following the 1999 center-sponsored debate between Virginia
state senatorial candidates Jane Maddux and the late Emily
Couric. Students ran the entire debate, a Youth Leadership
Initiative event held at U.Va. YLI is the centers program
to educate middle- and high school students on the importance
of politics and civic participation.
the time they come to college, its almost too late,
Sabato said. If you havent established a pattern of young
people following politics, watching the news, discussing public
issues with friends and family, its unlikely you can establish
some interest in college.
solution is the Youth Leadership Initiative. It began as a statewide
drive to get middle school and high school students interested
in politics using cutting-edge technologies and interactive exercises.
This year, the center will offer a year-long Web-based curriculum
to teachers across the nation, tailoring every lesson plan to
each states standards of learning.
youth initiatives first milestone came in November 2000,
when it sponsored the largest on-line mock balloting in history.
While the returns were immaterial to the non-virtual election,
the polling caught the attention of Congress. Within a month,
the Department of Education gave a grant of $1 million and doubled
the grant seven months later to support the programs national
expansion. Now, a quarter of a million children in 35 states participate
in some part of the youth leadership program, which can be sampled
on-line at www.youthleadership.net/about/faq.cfm.
software package is a dramatic improvement on the standard mock
debates and elections because it provides continuity throughout
the school year.
and voting occupy the fall. During the spring, classes participate
in virtual congressional committees and hearings to simulate the
Our goal was to be an all-year, every-year civics education
program and a way to keep students engaged from start to finish,
said Ken Stroupe, director of the youth initiative.
order to strengthen American democracy, the Center for Politics
promotes the value of politics and seeks to improve civics
education and increase civic participation through comprehensive
research, pragmatic analysis and innovative educational
to be recognized as the leading institution on politics
to seek and evaluate best practices in civics education
to develop and promote classroom resources for elementary,
secondary and higher education
to raise awareness and understanding of politics through
events and publications
to serve as a complete political resource for students,
teachers, journalists, elected officials and the general
Youth Leadership Initiative
American Democracy Conference
National Symposium Series
innovation of the program is its scope, made possible by Internet
technology. Just as local students watching returns come in from
their peers across the country get a real sense of what Election
Day feels like, the programs e-congress is a more accurate
simulation of policymaking than Schoolhouse Rock could ever be.
the youth initiative is the centers largest program in budget,
manpower and scope, there are plenty of other projects afoot at
the center. Sponsoring three annual conferences fills up the bulk
of the staff meetings.
the most local level is the governors project, culminating
in a summer conference dedicated to the legacies and experiences
of a modern Virginia governor.
is the only state left with a one-term limit. We run through governors
so quickly its difficult to recall them over the years,
Sabato said with a chuckle. So I thought it was important
to preserve some of this information from them and from their
key people. It also allows them to comment on the current day
from the perspective of experience.
conferences have paid tribute to Mills Godwin Jr., Charles S.
Robb, John Dalton and Linwood Holton.
December, the center hosts the American Democracy Conference,
which is designed as an election-day postmortem. The timing of
the third conference leant an immediacy to the proceedings. Held
on Dec. 6, 2000, at the climax of the Florida recount saga, panelists
were interrupted frequently with updates from the U.S. and Florida
center followed up on the historic debacle of Election 2000 during
its spring National Symposium Series. Dedicated to the Presidential
Selection Process, the symposium produced a report outlining suggestions
for electoral reform.
The topic for this years National Symposium was decided
by the events of Sept. 11. April has been dedicated to forums
exploring wartime politics in America. Panels included a range
of informed voices from the media, academia and Capitol Hill,
focusing on the role of partisanship during wartime and a historical
analysis of lessons to be learned from past military campaigns.
try to combine the civics education and the political participation
with some degree of academic research. What separates us from
a lot of centers is that while we do the academic research, it
has a very practical focus. We dont want to do these great
reports on these high-minded ideas that have no chance of getting
enacted, said Joshua Scott, director of communications.
And a lot of that philosophy comes from Larry himself.
with all public policy forums, non-partisanship is crucial to
the integrity of the center. To some degree there are sacrifices
involved in the work that were doing. A lot of us came from
political backgrounds, said Scott, who worked for the late
Emily Couric, a Democrat, for three years before coming to the
also a Democrat, once ran a lieutenant governors campaign.
Stroupe was press secretary for Republican Gov. George Allen.
visit to the centers offices on Old Ivy Road does not conjure
up images of frenetic political junkies, although staffers admit
to faithfully following The West Wing and Theodoridis,
the first official center employee, passes out business cards
reading Chief of Staff. Up to 20 interns offer their
services in the name of political empowerment, and everyone has
pulled a few all-nighters.
here, two hours south of Capitol Hill, the hallways are uncongested
and tranquil. The walls are free of blaring banks of 24-hour news
channels. Indeed, there is only one television on the premises,
and it was only recently connected to cable. A genuine Palm Beach
County Florida voting booth, complete with butterfly ballot and
pregnant chads, is proudly displayed in the centers conference
in the next five years, the center should have a new home in the
historical Birdwood Estate, a University-owned mansion thats
been unoccupied for almost a decade. To fund the necessary renovation,
as well as to endow all its programs, the center will announce
a five-year capital campaign to raise $16 million.
very keen on being part of the University, in the sense that we
want U.Va. to be the leading institution in this field. And as
our programs expand, that will help U.Va. become a leading voice
in terms of civic engagement and political participation,
Theodoridis said. Its a fairly new focus for the University.
seems no better example of the impact this new focus has made
on the University and the community than the civic zeal of Megan
McDade. She was a Youth Leadership Initiative student in high
school and now is a second-year student in Sabatos American
enthusiasm is really contagious, McDade said. I followed
the whole primaries very closely, and I knew I wanted to take
his class on American politics. Its ironic, because Im
actually a Canadian citizen, and I just really wish I could vote.