July 26, 2007

Behind the Scenes of a Presidential Debate

July 24, 2007: Our Club was visited by two strategists who were heavily involved in the planning of Monday night's Presidential Debate at The Citadel. Jenny Backus, a democratic strategist, and Elizabeth Wilner, former director of politics for NBC, were both able to provide insight into how debates work and all the factors that go into planning one. Both are heavily involved in this arena. Backus is a frequent guest on CNN, FOX News, CBS etc. and part of Wilner's former job was to prepare Tom Brokaw and Brian Williams for interviewing politicians who appear on the Nightly News.

Backus gave a brief presentation prior to both speakers taking questions from our club. The planning of a debate can be broken down into 3 critical parts. Broadcast (what network will air it; who will moderate it; etc.), the Candidate Side (working with the candidates; addressing issues or concerns; probably the most important part of planning) and Community (a successful debate won't happen if it doesn't have the support of the community in which it's taking place). Good news for us, according to both Backus and Wilner, The Citadel, and our surrounding community well exceeded expectations with our hospitality and support. The Citadel also received incredible exposure nationally by hosting the debate.

One of the highlights of their presentation was the question and answer session with our Club; some of the questions are highlighted below.

Q: The Candidates seemed uncomfortable at the beginning, warmed up in the middle, and looked frustrated at the end. Is that an accurate assessment?

A: Candidates didn't know what to expect because of the You Tube component of the debate, so what you saw was probably just anticipation. They did warm-up in the middle as it allowed them to address questions from regular Americans that wouldn't normally have such an opportunity. Candidates are always frustrated at the end because there is a time limit on questions, they may not have felt they got enough questions asked of them, didn't like a question that was asked, and the list goes on.

Q: How are moderators selected, it seems some are better than others?

A: The host network picks the moderators as they are the ones that have editorial control of the debate they are airing. Most networks will put their "hottest cattle at the time" in the moderator chair and there is no doubt that some do better than others.

Q: How do candidates continue to participate in these debates, what are the qualifications as the number of participants seems to be pretty high?

A: There is no standard and one of the main reasons is networks, at this point in the election cycle, don't want to exclude anyone just because they aren't showing a strong following yet. They could risk angering the politician or in the worst case, getting sued. However, both speakers agreed that there should be criteria the candidates should be required to meet. They should have an open field office in the state where the debate is going on, have actively campaigned in the state prior to the debate and have raised a set amount of campaign funds (dollar amount doesn't have to excessive or unreasonable).

All in all, their presentation was fascinating and made everyone realize that campaign mediums have changed immensely with the internet and the 24-hour news stations. The 2008 campaign is heating up, whatever outcome occurs, it's going to be interesting to watch.

Reported by Darby Hand, Keyway Committee
Mercy's On the Way

July 17, 2007: Our program was a true Rotary service topic: bringing medical assistance to the needed, particularly in Africa. Rick and Linda Snider, Resource Development Officers of Mercy Ships gave us a heartwarming and encouraging picture of the work of this organization. Mercy Ships is a private, non-denominational group that was established in 1978 and sending hospital ships to the forgotten poor of the world since then. Their newest ship Africa Mercy was commissioned a year ago. A 25 year old vessel, it spent 8 years in dry-dock being rebuilt from a drive-on ferry ship to a state-of-the-art hospital with 450 cabins and 80 hospital beds. Manned almost totally by a volunteer crew of seaman, doctors, and nurses it can in short order be docked where the greatest need exists and operate for 10 months of the year. The group has had 4 ships since its inception, but 3 have been retired. The Snyder's lived for 5 years on one of the earlier ships as part of the support team.

In Africa there is one doctor for 30,000 people and one surgeon for 2 million. On board, the staff regularly performs operations. Among the most common are eye surgery, birth defects such as cleft palate, and major facial tumors and disfigurations, all common to persons in that part of the globe. Other medical procedures include prosthetics, repair of club foot, and help for polio victims, a major Rotary project. Forty-five percent of the population in Sierra Leone is under the age of 15 and huge numbers need medical care.

Rick Snider, president of the Lexington, NC Rotary Club, urged our club and individual members to give support to this humanitarian project. He may be contacted by email: snider@mercyships.org; by phone: 336-249-4502. The web site is: www.mercyships.org.

Reported by Fred Sales, Keyway Committee

July 15, 2007

The Criminal Justice System

July 10, 2007: Our Rotary Club was lucky enough to have a chance to hear Trey Gowdy, an elected Solicitor for South Carolina, speak on the status of our criminal justice system. If you are not a victim of crime or in an industry that exposes you to crime, it's probably not something you think about every day. But, it should be important to all of us because it affects our safety, the safety of our community, and our tax dollars.

Gowdy was elected 7th Circuit Solicitor in November of 2000. Prior to that, Gowdy was a successful federal prosecutor handling all types of crimes within the federal system. After hearing him speak, you realized that his experience is very valuable to all of us as the federal system appears to be much more efficient than the state system currently is.

First, what is a Solicitor? A Solicitor is an elected official responsible for overseeing the prosecution of all General Sessions and Family Court criminal cases. There are 16 Judicial Circuits in South Carolina, all of which vary in size. Gowdy didn't mince words, the system is not as efficient as it could be.

According to Gowdy, "the criminal justice system is too important to not have confidence in it". So, he posed three questions. Is the state system fair? He gave an example of a drug offense and how the penalties would differ when run through the state vs. the federal system. The same offense that would get 25 years in the state system would get less than 5 years in the federal system.

Second question was: is the state system effective? Is it trusted, do citizens feel safe, are we reacting to crime or being proactive? The third question was: is the state system efficient? Our system is so back logged that some trials don’t happen until several years after the incident, many times with the accused sitting in prison waiting. Now the question is, how do we get better?

Gowdy had many suggestions on how to get started. Some examples are: Get a better system for selecting Magistrate Judges and have the qualifications raised so the cases are handled more efficiently thus allowing for more trials. Change the warrant system to allow a prosecutor to weigh in on a warrant before it goes out. Right now anyone can get an arrest warrant by going to a Magistrate Judge and bypassing the police altogether. Obviously this increases case loads with lots of cases not worth trying due to lack of evidence etc. Allow for equal funding for all prosecution offices regardless of their size.

Gowdy had many more ideas, but as a fellow Rotarian, he was very conscientious of his time. His subject matter was way too large to be covered in a small amount of time. He closed by stating that his most important job was Public Safety. Following closely was having citizens of our state respect their judicial system by knowing it's fair, effective, and efficient. Hopefully, with time, we’ll get closer to achieving that goal.

Submitted by Darby Hand, Keyway Committee

July 8, 2007

The Changing of the Guard

June 26th, 2007:
President Amy: "Thank you all .... it's been a terrific year. Your dedicated, hard work resulted in:
* Finalizing our Club's Marion Square commitment.
* Establishing our smart food initiative.
* Streamlining Board elections.
* Enhancing our website.
* Enhancing the quality of our already outstanding programs:
- Speakers: Rotary Training, Keyway, Fireside chats, Holiday parties

- Community Service: Day of Caring, Adopt a Highway, Holiday Giving Tree, Independent
Transportation Network Grant

- Education: Fraser Elementary, Rotary Readers, High achieving student recognition,
Camp St. Christopher offsite

-National Service: Hurricane Katrina, Tornado Relief
Warren Easton HS: $13,000; books; sweat equity
Florida/Kansas: $750 donation to victims

-International Service: Grants, Scholarships, Sponsorships, Relationships:
Brazil: $5000 for Ambassadorial Scholarships
Wales & Brisbane Club reconnection

-Fundraising: Rotary Wheels: $34,000 for charities (RF, RCCF, Low Country Food Bank
Kids Cafe)

-Rotary Foundation: Family of Rotary Initiative, 10 new benefactors, 2 new Paul
Harris members

An emotional, well-deserved, standing ovation for Past-President Amy: Leadership and Success.

President Jermaine…
"We're the best club, in the best city, and I want you all to know who to hold accountable for the success of this club during the next year: your Board. Let us not be members of Rotary....let us serve together as Rotarians."

Submitted by Bill Crowe, Keyway Chairperson