By Samantha Greenfield, Contributing Writer ||
Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at F&M, served as a moderator in the panel discussion at this past week’s Common Hour. To begin, Madonna introduced the more narrow questions the panel would focus on in order to get to the bigger question of “Who Rules Lancaster?”.
The questions were “Why should students care about local government? About the larger local community? Why should you get involved? How should you get involved? But even more than that, how can you apply what you have learned here at F&M to the real world with this assortment of messy challenges?”
The panel that had the job of answering these questions consisted of two members of the school faculty: Antonio Callari, professor of economics and the director of the F&M Local Economy Center, and Stephen Medvic, associate professor of government. The panel also sat two locally-elected officials from the Lancaster community: Danene Sorace, Lancaster City Council member, and Candace Roper, board director of the School District of Lancaster.
Medvic answered the first question, that asked what his opinions were on the topic of whether or not students should vote. He, first, expanded upon the topic of students and spoke about how new restrictions are making it harder for everyone to vote. The voter ID laws that require photo ID largely affect student’s ability to vote. In several states, a student ID is not an acceptable form of identification. The proposed benefits of these laws are that they restrict the type of voters that are able to vote, attempting to keep uneducated and uninformed voters out of the system. So even though they are not targeting students, students feel the consequences.
Medvic argued that students, in fact, are usually extremely informed. Students in college live in these communities eight months out of the year for four years.
“It’s a really long time to live in a community, and the local government affects them in very important ways,” Medvic said.
Medvic also presented the fact that voting is habit forming, so if students start voting in college, they will most likely continue to vote. He says that developing the democratic habits to vote should be seen as part of the educational mission of the College, and students should see it as part of their education.
Returning to the main topic of the Common Hour, Callari was asked to answer the question of “Who rules Lancaster” from his economic perspective. He did not focus on the elected officials but instead the larger forces that rule Lancaster.
Callari presented numerous slides of data showing that Lancaster County has a lower rate of education than the surrounding regions and than Pennsylvania as whole. As a result of this, business owner’s pay lower wages in Lancaster County than in the surrounding region.
The business owners keep wages down in order to make more profit, and the lack of education allows for this to be perpetuated. The business owners would rather pay their employees less and have them be less skillful than invest in educated employees. So Callari argues that the business owners rule Lancaster due to the lower level of education they perpetuate.
The next question was posed to the two elected officials, asking them why they came into politics. Roper explained she is still surprised that she was elected for the position on the school board as she was elected with little demonstrated interest in politics.
Sorace explains how she was motivated by civic duty; however, she really developed an interest in politics when she became involved with a woman whose husband was the associate director of communications in the Kennedy
When Sorace made Lancaster her permanent home she got involved in an initiative for green infrastructure, about which she initially knew nothing. She explained how Lancaster is responsible to cleaning up the bodies of water that the runoff from Lancaster streets and parking lots pollute and how her job is to come up with plans and policies to address this.
“[It has been] a steep learning curve since January,” Sorace explained.
Sorace, when given the chance to respond to any of the comments that had been made, addressed Callari’s argument that business owners rule Lancaster. She argued that state elected officials have a large role in deciding where investments and funding go. It is not only the business owners at a local level but also those who work in Harrisburg for the state of
Sorace, as a mother of a third grader at a Lancaster school, has seen inequity in funding from state level governance. She says that members of the school board often do not know how much money they are getting until the last
Sorace believes that this is a fundamental reason why Lancaster has lower rates of educational achievement. The audience applauded Sorace for taking this stance.
Madonna then asked the panel the question of “Why should students get involved with the local government?”
Medvic argued that, while national governance is more widely covered by the media, things that happen at the local level are the things that affect our quality of life.
“Local government and local politics matter tremendously,” he said.
When people are disengaged in local politics, bad things happen, Medvic argued. He points to the recent events in Ferguson to highlight this.
Madonna, addressing the two elected officials, asked about the importantce of civic and other community engagements in effecting what they do. Roper talked about how programs such as the arts, which are not government mandated, oftentimes take the hits from budget cuts. Community partners play a huge role in continuing to support these programs through donations. For example, Lancaster General Hospital donates one million dollars a year to the school district.
The last question the panel was asking regarded how valuable the economic research that students here at F&M do has been to the community of Lancaster.
Callari argues that it is extremely valuable because it has become more than the educational experience of being in a classroom.
“[These students] develop a sense of what it means to take on a project and nurture it over the long term,” Callari said.
Being involved in the community through this research is something, he argues, that helps them grow and mature.
So as the panel members elaborated on the question of who rules Lancaster, the audience of this week’s Common Hour learned that there is no clear answer.
From an economic standpoint it is the business owners, and from the view of locally-elected officials one can see the huge role the state level government plays. One can glean from this panel discussion that local governance has many facets and also many forces at work that effect it.
Senior Samantha Greenfield is a contributing writer. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.