Issues Institutes

Has The U.S. Government Ceased to Function?

As our elected officials debate and delay over vital issues such as employment and health care, observers question whether action is possible in the current political climate.  Polls show that many citizens feel estranged from the political process and powerless to effect change.  In an effort to elevate the level of public discourse on key issues, The Maureen and Mike Mansfield Center of The University of Montana, Carroll College, and the Helena Education Foundation present Congressman Pat Williams, former member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and Bob Brown, former Montana Secretary of State, in a bipartisan Community Conversation moderated by Home Ground Host Brian Kahn on the topic: “Has the U.S. Government Ceased to Function?”  The event is free to the public and takes place on Tuesday, March 23, at 7:00 pm, at the Carroll College Campus Center in Helena.

This event launches a Public Policy Initiative at the Mansfield Center that will annually host a series of public conversations around Montana.  According to Mansfield Center director Terry Weidner, the Conversations are intended to facilitate a citizen culture that is informed, constructive, and bipartisan.  “By engaging citizens in a balanced discussion,” he said, “we hope that both our citizens and our leadership will become better informed and open to compromise.  It is not our intent to impose any solutions. Rather, we want help foster open debate around key public policy issues as a way of helping local voices direct debate toward concrete action.”

According to Deena Mansour, who will help direct the new policy initiative, the two debaters at the upcoming program reflect a commitment to civil, bipartisan discussion. Congressman Pat Williams, a Democrat, served two terms as a state legislator before serving as Montana’s Congressman from 1979 to 1997.  As a nine-term congressman, he was deputy whip of the U.S. House, Chairman of the Post-Secondary Education Committee, and a senior member of the House Natural Resources Committee.  In addition to teaching, Williams presently writes columns for a number of newspapers and websites in Montana and the West, and has a regular commentary on Montana Public Radio.

Bob Brown, a Republican, served as the Montana Secretary of State from 2000-2004.  Prior to that, he served in the Montana House of Representatives from 1970-1974 and the Montana Senate from 1974-1996, holding the office of president of the State Senate his final term.  Brown was employed for most of his career as a high school government, history, and economics teacher.  He has worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development and as a public affairs representative for the University of Montana, the Montana University System, Qwest Communications, and the Columbia Falls Aluminum Company.  He is currently a Senior Fellow at the Mansfield Center.

Program Moderator Brian Kahn is the host of Home Ground Radio and a 2009 recipient of the

Montana Governor’s Award for the Humanities. Kahn has a diverse background including work as a collegiate boxing coach, attorney, President of the California Fish and Game Commission, Director of the Montana Nature Conservancy, author, journalist and documentary filmmaker.

The Community Conversation is free and open to the public. It will take place at Carroll College, 1601 North Benton Avenue, in the lower level of the Campus Center. For more information, visit or call Deena Mansour at the Mansfield Center at 406-243-2713 or Susan Grovom at Carroll College at 406-447-5505.