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Strategic Issues Program

Colorado State Capitol

Strategic Issues Program

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University of Denver Offers Remedy for U.S. Citizens’ Distrust of Modern Politics

Strategic Issues Panel releases findings of legislative accountability report

DENVER - Oct. 12, 2015 – In an era of polarized politics, finger-pointing and gridlock, U.S. citizens are becoming increasingly frustrated with the performance of their legislatures, both at the federal and state levels—and many people feel powerless to hold these institutions accountable.  

It is this troubling trend—declining public trust in a vital, but unaccountable social institution—that led the University of Denver to engage its 2015 Strategic Issues Program (SIP) in exploring legislative accountability and its connectivity  to regaining public trust. The consensus-based conclusions and recommendations of the non-partisan panel are contained in its report,  Searching  for Legislative Accountability: Rebuilding Trust in the Legislative Process .

As with other panels that have examined critical issues such as immigrationcampaign finance, and Colorado’s constitution, the Legislative Accountability panel spent several months gathering insights from former public officials, political scientists, journalists and other experts. After months of listening to a variety of viewpoints, the panel continued to meet to discuss the information, lend their own insights and come up with recommendations aimed at legislatures and citizens alike in moving past polarization and gridlock and rebuilding citizen trust.

The purpose of SIP is to support the University of Denver in fulfilling its vision as a great private university dedicated to the public good. Strategic Issues panels affirm the values of informed civil discourse, intellectual freedom, open communication and rigor that guide the University of Denver itself.

“The absence of collective institutional accountability is one of the reasons that legislatures are a prime target of the political dissatisfaction expressed by many citizens,” explains Jim Griesemer, Director of the Strategic Issues Program. While the panel recognized the role of elections in holding individual legislators accountable, no such mechanism exists for the legislature as a whole. 

In his article  How to Fix Our Legislatures , University of Denver Professor Seth Masket points out, “The panel recommends that legislative bodies adopt, by statute or constitutional amendment, a two-part legislative accountability process focused on (1) identifying key issues facing the nation, state or locality—matters of strategic significance—and (2) reporting on actions taken to address those issues.”

This deceptively simple two-step process, called Clear Legislative Accountability Reporting (CLEAR), has the ability to inform citizens using consistent assessments of overall legislative performance. In so doing, it offers the potential to strengthen public trust in legislatures and government at all levels.

“In an age of grave distrust of the fundamental institutions of our democracy—and amidst a crisis of political polarization and gridlock—it is as important as ever to talk openly and honestly about political processes and how we might move beyond the gridlock,” said Chancellor Rebecca Chopp. 

View the full report here.