Elected Officials Retreat - 2018

The 22nd annual University of Pittsburgh Institute of Politics Elected Officials Retreat, held September 20 – 21, 2018, was titled “Democracy in America: Responding to Challenges and Change in Government, Society, and Work.”

The framework for the 2018 retreat was the landmark work Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville. Written over 180 years ago, Democracy in America has long been considered one of the greatest books ever written about America, and it has surprising relevance and resonance today. Adam Cohen from the New York Times recently noted that the work is “both an appreciation for American democracy and a cautionary tale about its fragility.” This retreat will explore many of the principles that De Tocqueville – and many others, before and since – have believed are essential to the American concept of democracy, including work, the rule of law, and protection from the tyranny of the majority.

To open the program, we revisited the topic of work, which always has been central to the successful pursuit of the American dream. Sree Ramaswamy, partner in the McKinsey Global Institute, discussed the thought-provoking report that he co-authored, Can Manufacturing Make It In America?, as well as his paper, “Creating an Effective Workforce for the New Economy.” Our second speaker was Carnegie Mellon’s former Provost Mark Kamlet, who shared his insightful perspectives on “automation, the future of work, and the new American dream.”

We closed the Thursday afternoon session with a presentation by Lilliana Mason from the University of Maryland. Her book, Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became our Identity, was released earlier in 2018 and provided a psychological framework for considering the polarization that many consider to be a critical problem in current American life but that most of us do not fully understand. After dinner, Pittsburgh-based author, journalist and national television commentator Salena Zito continued this conversation through the lens of her book, The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics, which has attracted a great deal of national attention for its distinctive insights, gathered from extensive in-the-field interactions with American voters.

For our Friday morning kick-off, we were privileged to host both Michael Rich, President and CEO of the RAND Corporation, and Jennifer Kavanagh, Associate Director of RAND’s Strategy, Doctrine, and Resources Program. They are the coauthors of Truth Decay: An Initial Exploration of the Diminishing Role of Facts and Analysis in American Public Life. For those who have long been committed to decision-making grounded in evidence – a central tenet of the Institute of Politics – any such shift must be viewed as troubling.

Then, from his perspective as a centrist, former Congressman Jason Altmire offered thoughts on the critical topic addressed in his book, Dead Center: How Political Polarization Divided America and What We Can Do About It. Finally, we welcomed Ryan Clancy, the Chief Strategy Officer for No Labels, the nonprofit group whose work led to the creation of the Congressional Problem Solvers Caucus and launched the “Break the Gridlock” initiative that challenged, through bipartisan legislation, the rules that enable Congressional leaders to unilaterally block the consideration of bills that likely would attract the support of a bipartisan majority.

Coleman Award Winners

Please note that the titles and organizations listed reflect the position held by the awardee when he/she received the award.

Laura Ellsworth, Partner-in-Charge of Global Community Service Initiatives, Jones Day
Saleem Ghubril, Executive Director, The Pittsburgh Promise
Aradhna Oliphant, President and CEO, Leadership Pittsburgh, Inc.