Hello fellow Rotarians! I am happy to share the minutes of our 9 July gathering—a busy and lively lunch meeting.

 

President Jennifer Hara called the meeting to order at 12:30 PM, leading members in the Pledge of Allegiance. She then invited Christin Carey to deliver words of inspiration. Christin read a passage from Mahatma Gandhi, stressing the importance of humbly serving one’s community—a message embraced by Rotarians far and wide.

 

President Jennifer then requested that I introduce guests and visiting Rotarians in attendance. We welcomed:

  • Maggie P. Boys, Meeting Manager at FINRA and guest of Helen Moore;
  • Emily Parker, joining us as Shelton William’s guest;
  • Joanne George, Executive Assistant to our guest speaker former Virginia Congressman Tom Davis at Deloitte LLP;
  • Nicolas Fajardo, an intern at Oppenheimer & Co. and Clara Montanez’s cousin, visiting from the Dupont Circle Rotary Club; and
  • Ambassador Paolo Rondelli, once a speaker at our club and an honorary member, now bringing the banner of his newly founded e-club in San Marrino.

As applause for our guests ended, President Jennifer asked Sergeant-at-Arms Buz Gorman to congratulate Rotarians celebrating birthdays. Reversing his pronouncement of 2 July, Buz wondered whether the “absence of hugs” has been keeping members away when their birthdays are announced. He thus declared that he would start hugging Rotarians each week in an effort to convince them to attend those meetings! The week’s birthday revelers include:

  • Marco Stilli on 8 July – A club member since 2008 sponsored by Oscar Bartoli, Marco’s classification is real estate-consulting.
  • Gerry Murphy on 10 July – Sponsored by his father, Mike Murphy, to join our club in 1973, Gerry served as president during 2002-03; his classification is associations-auto dealers.

Coming back to the podium, President Jennifer turned the microphone over to Dan Kapner for his new-member talk. With ease and confidence, Dan explained that his desire to join our club stems from his upbringing in North Carolina. His parents taught him that “the world is broken, and we need to fix it.” He watched his father’s rise to the positions of Wilmington Rotary Club President and then District Governor. Imbued with the ethos of service, Dan described his personal and professional journey—from helping a doctor in Ethiopia for half a year, to writing speeches for Israel at the United Nations, to practicing law. A self-proclaimed “rarity” among lawyers, he “loves” his work, “helping clients solve their problems.” Finally, Dan told us that his wife Meredith is a second-year resident in obstetrics-gynecology.

After Dan’s talk, President Jennifer reminded Rotarians to mark their calendars for upcoming events:

  • Movie Night on Thursday, 10 July features Begin Again, starring Kiera Knightly, Adam Levine and Mark Ruffalo. Showing at the Landmark E Street Cinema—on 11th and E Streets, NW—Rotarians are to meet in the lobby to pick up tickets from May Gwinn or Ed O’Brien at 6:45 PM; the film starts at 7:15 PM. (Please note that this event has already taken place.)
  • Walter Reed Bingo is on Thursday, 17 July with dinner at 5:00 PM and the games starting at 6:00 PM; members must pre-register on the club’s website or contact Shelly Williams no later than Tuesday, 15 July.
  • DC Public School Beautification Day is on Saturday, 23 August at Stanton Elementary School. Rotarians should sign up on the website or contact Howard Davis.

Before turning to our guest speaker, President Jennifer presented Red Badges to Christian Lungarotti and Valentin Solis. Sponsored by Erminia Scarcella, Christian is with the Italian Embassy. Valentin, a financial advisor, was sponsored by Clara Montanez who praised his volunteer spirit which, she asserted, should be an example to long-standing members. In a new Rotary initiative, Erminia and Clara also received pins with the designation “sponsor.”

The Honorable Tom Davis—Wisdom and Wit about Politics

Heather Jaffan introduced the week’s speaker The Honorable Tom Davis, former Congressman representing Virginia’s 11th District from 1995 to 2008, now Director of Government Affairs at Deloitte LLP. With a long, distinguished career in public service, Congressman Davis is uniquely qualified to illuminate why and how American politics have become so dysfunctional. As Rotarians discovered, his wisdom and wit about politics are enlightening and refreshing.

The Congressman contended that politics in Washington are polarized as never before, and divided government is likely to persist as the Republican Party has the advantage in the House of Representatives while the Democrats are favored in the electoral college and thus in presidential elections. Mr. Davis attributed this situation to three “macro factors”—the ideological sorting of political parties, transformations in the media landscape and campaign finance rules.

Citing journalist Bill Bishop’s 2008 book The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-minded America is Tearing Us Apart, Congressman Davis maintained that House districts are not merely gerrymandered but rather residentially sorted as Americans of like minds and lifestyles tend to live in the same communities. With districts so homogeneous, congressional members realize that perhaps only 20 percent of their constituents’ votes are unknown. Districts are safe for one party, and so the real contest happens during the primaries when the most “radicalized” voters turn out. Consequently, compromise is difficult for elected representatives seeking to avoid primary challengers.

The Congressman pointed to the proliferation of media outlets as a second factor exacerbating polarization. Gone are the days of three television network anchors reporting the news based on agreed upon facts. The rise of cable television channels, talk radio stations and the internet means that political leaders’ words and deeds are reported and scrutinized in real time. Republicans worry about criticism from Sean Hannity and other conservative commentators on the Fox News Channel, while Democrats take care not to cause “a fit” by Rachel Maddow and other liberal MSNBC hosts. Mr. Davis reserved harsher words for the internet, pointing to the “crap-to-content ratio” online where users can find “President Obama’s authenticated Kenyan and Indonesian birth certificates.”

The third cause of polarization according to the Congressman is how campaigns are financed. The 2002 McCain-Feingold legislation, although well intentioned, has taken money away from the political parties and led to the creation of super PACs to which elected officials are now beholden. Underscoring his point, Mr. Davis recalled that some Republicans opposed aid for Hurricane Katrina victims because conservative super PACs such as the Club for Growth and Heritage Action for America had scored the vote.

Congressman Davis concluded that these three factors are “here to stay for a while” and so is the political polarization and dysfunction in Washington. He then opened the floor to Rotarians for comments and questions. The exchange was spirited as Mr. Davis fired off answers to questions focused on diverse topics—from gay marriage and immigration reform to the Tea Party’s origins, from the prospects for a third party to the grade he would give President Obama, from the state of Virginia’s Republican Party to Republicans’ prospects in the 2014 mid-term elections. The Congressman proved quick-witted when Kenny Barnes asked about “the difference between lobbying and bribery.” Amid Rotarians’ laughter, Mr. Davis responded that “lobbying is enshrined in our Constitution within the right to petition our government, whereas bribery is not.”

In short, Congressman Davis may be retired from representing his Northern Virginia district, but he remains passionate about public service, sounding the alarm about what ails elected officials and encouraging voters to become engaged in the political process.

Adjourned Until Next Week

After President Jennifer presented Congressman Davis with our club’s “Trees for the Capital” certificate, Rotarians waited to learn who purchased the winning raffle ticket from Lynn Holec. The big reveal proved anti-climactic; serial winner Ken Kimbrough claimed the small pot of $32. Yet the ace of spades eluded him, and the large pot of $515 will continue to grow.

Thank you to the day’s Greeter Tony Cusack and to Balraj Gupta who welcomed guests at the Hospitality Table.

Our next meeting on 16 July will feature speaker Paul Dickson, returning to our club to talk about his latest book Authorisms—Words Wrought by Writers (2014).

President Jennifer adjourned the meeting at 1:30 PM … And then I put down my pen—until next week!