NCJW launches election education series

BY CATE MARQUIS, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

The National Council of Jewish Women – St. Louis Section kicked off a series of election-season educational discussions with a talk by Missouri State Sen. Jeff Smith.

The discussion took place on Wednesday, July 16, in front of a packed audience — the overflow crowd forced NCJW to move the discussion from their offices to a larger meeting room in the same building.

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Smith told the audience that the most influential office in Missouri politics is not the Governor but the Speaker of the House.

Smith said he does agree that the Governor has great power, especially with the ability to command media attention, which can to help promote bills or issues or to influence the legislature.

“The Governor has that advantage in terms of being able to get press,” said Smith, although he noted that power was reduced for a lame-duck Governor.

“But I think the Speaker of the House is actually more important, because while the Governor can offer a budget and suggest an agenda, the Speaker of the House controls whether a bill ever moves at all,” he said.

“The Speaker has 13 different junctures where he or she can kill a bill,” said Smith.

NCJW is offering the Election Education Series, five monthly discussions on election-related topics. Rather than focus on particular issues or candidates, the discussions take a look at the nuts-and-bolts of politics and campaigns from a voter’s perspective. The discussions aim to be both lively and informative.

Sen. Smith’s talk, “Take Me To Your Leader,” presented an eye- opening inside view of how the Missouri legislature works. Sen. Smith used humor and a few real-world examples to describe the mechanics of political deal making, how bills come to the floor, how they can be blocked or promoted and the balances of power built into the Missouri system. His talk was informative, frank and even entertaining.

Sen. Smith was chosen to give the talk in part because he is not up for election this term, and so the discussion could be distanced from any current political races while still presenting a speaker currently serving in the Missouri legislature.

The next talk in the NCJW Election Education Series is “Party Time,” which takes place August 20. In this talk, Steve Sorkin talks about the Republican, Democratic, Libertarian, Green and Reform parties, and what each one stands for. He also discusses election nuts-and-bolts topics like the Electoral College, the voting process, caucuses and delegates. A NCJW board representative will also present a NCJW initiative to promote voting.

Other talks include “The Ball’s In Your Court,” a presentation on the courts and how elections influence them, presented by Judge Patricia Cohen on September 17, and “Under The Influence,” a talk on political ads and how the media influences voting, presented by Eric Mink of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on October 15. The series wraps up with “Election 2008 Wrap Up,” post-election analysis by St. Louis Post-Dispatch political reporter Jo Mannies, on Nov. 19.

All discussions take place on Wednesdays at 12:30 p.m. at the NCJW offices, 8350 Delcrest (off Delmar at 170) in University City. The talks are free and open to all, but registration is requested. A box lunch of chef salad or turkey sandwich is available for $10 but must be ordered 24 hours in advance. Reservations can be made by calling NCJW at 314-993-5181 or at their Web site at www.ncjwstl.org.