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5 Reasons Reformers Are Giving Thanks

People in the democracy reform movement, both old and new, must sometimes feel like they are trying to empty the ocean with a slotted spoon.

But while change may sometimes happen slowly, there are plenty of reasons for democracy reformers to be thankful this year. So enjoy that extra turkey leg or slice of pumpkin pie, with the knowledge that progress is being made across the country.

Here are five reasons reformers are giving thanks this holiday season. What did we forget? Email us at

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Cory Booker, Tulsi Gabbard, Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren all talked about issues of democracy reform Wednesday night in Atlanta.

Fifth time’s the charm: Spotlight shines on democracy’s challenges at a Democratic debate

Big money in politics, the limits of voting rights and the way politicians get to pick their voters were among the topics almost entirely bypassed in the four previous presidential debates. But that changed Wednesday night, when the republic's broken aspects earned some significant attention.

The Democratic candidates were asked questions about problems with democracy for the first time, and at other points several of them volunteered their concerns about a governing system overdue for some big fixes.

The increased focus was a notable departure not only from the earlier debates but also from the talk on the trail. All 10 who debated in Atlanta are behind the consensus items on the agenda of democracy reformers, but since much of the campaign's oxygen comes from conflict, those proposals rarely get much air time. And they have so many other differences with President Trump that their discord over what about the system needs fixing rarely comes up.

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Cory Booker, Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders all identified Republican senators when asked to reveal a surprising friendship.

Republicans called out at the Democratic debate, and not in a bad way

For those who view the restoration of cross-partisan friendships as genuinely key to making democracy work better, there was a glimmer of hope at the very end of the latest presidential debate.

Each of the Democratic candidates was asked Tuesday night to speak about a friendship that would be a surprise, and nine of the dozen talked exclusively about bonding with Republicans.

The downside, however, is that only two of them mentioned Senate GOP colleagues who will still be in public life after the next election.

Kamala Harris gave a shout-out to Rand Paul of Kentucky, her partner on legislation to reduce excessive bail for criminal defendants. And Cory Booker singled out a fresh companionship with Ted Cruz of Texas while talking up the benefits of his efforts to have dinner with every Republican senator, also mentioning attending Bible study and working on legislation to improve foster care with Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma.

Time and again, congressional veterans and students of the Capitol Hill culture volunteer that the slide into legislative gridlock, punctuated by polarizing rhetoric, has accelerated thanks to the steep decline in such bipartisan bonding — borne of a combination of tribal-style demands for partisan loyalty and scheduling pressures that stress fundraising far more than connecting with colleagues.

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Former Vice President Joe Biden released a campaign finance and ethics reform proposal Monday, ahead of the fourth Democratic presidential debate.

Biden backs some, but hardly all, of democracy reform agenda in time for debate

Just in time for the first presidential debate of the fall, Joe Biden has laid out a plan for improving government ethics and campaign finance regulation that adds more substance to a democracy reform agenda he hasn't been very vocal about.

But the former vice president's package still does not come close to the expansiveness or specificity of the "good government" proposals of Elizabeth Warren, who currently stands near Biden as the front-runners for the Democratic nomination, or the other top-tier presidential candidates.

Whether these issues get any air time when a dozen of the candidates meet Tuesday night is an open question, however. To the dismay of democracy reform advocates, and in defiance of polling that shows fixing the system's brokenness is among the voters' top desires, the issue received only minimal attention in the three debates so far.

One reason may be that the debate moderators have chosen to emphasize the differences among the candidates on the most prominent issues likely to define President Trump's 2020 re-election campaign, and the dozen Democrats on stage in Ohio stand in broad agreement on most of the top proposals for improving democracy.

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