Lifeline to Larry? Will Congress save Sabato's program?
Few political scientists are as tapped into the ways of Washington as the University of Virginia's Larry Sabato. For his encyclopedic knowledge and predictive acumen, he has be come the go-to-guy for the national media seeking political analysis. Now, after decades spent watching Capitol Hill, Sabato needs an act of Congress to keep his brainchild alive.
"If we do not receive federal funds," says Ken Stroupe, chief of staff of Sabato's UVA Center for Politics, "we do not have a sufficient endowment to continue to operate this program."
The program is the Youth Leadership Initiative, a national civics education program founded by Sabato in 1998, providing free teaching tools to 50,000 social studies teachers of all grade levels nationwide. Every two years, the program runs mock elections with students voting on the same candidates their parents will on Election Day, making for what the Center for Politics says is the nation's largest mock election.
Since its inception, the Youth Initiative received most of its funding from a federal earmark introduced annually into the House of Representatives by Congressman Virgil Goode (R-Rocky Mount). After Goode's successor, Congressman Tom Perriello (D-Ivy), declined to make the same appropriations request for Sabato's program as his predecessor, controversy erupted.
On June 19, Washington publication Politico published a story questioning the relationship between Sabato and Goode– which reportedly goes back to the days when Goode was a law student at UVA at the same time Sabato was an undergrad. Politico asked whether the money may have affected Sabato's analysis, which included a prediction that Goode would hold off Perriello's challenge in November. A few hours later, gossip blog Gawker repeated the allegation.
Sabato denied any such charge to Politico.
"I say what I think," said Sabato, "and if it costs us money, it costs us money."
Sabato declined to comment for this story.
Perriello spokesperson Jessica Barba dismisses the controversy as "inside-the-Beltway gossip-mongering" and says that the decision not to request funding for Sabato's program is not a reflection on what the freshman Congressman thinks of the professor or the merits of his organization. Rather, Barba says, it came down to choosing which projects were going to generate the most jobs for the Fifth District.
"We could not," she says, "request funding for every worthy project that was submitted to us."
Now Sabato looks to Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) to come through with the money. On May 15, Warner sent a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee requesting that it allocate $800,000 for the Youth Leadership Initiative in the upcoming budget.
Warner spokesperson Ricky Parikh says that it will be several months more before the Youth Leadership Initiative learns its fate.
"Every Senator sends these to the committee," says Parikh, "and once Congress passes the budget, they'll go back and divy up the money and decide which requests to fund."
If and when the project comes up for a vote, Barba says Perriello will be voting in favor of it.
"Congressman Perriello is happy to throw his support behind Senator Warner's request," she says.
The Center for Politics' Stroupe says that if Perriello and others in Congress are looking for ways to ensure a healthy and prosperous American democracy in the future, they need look no further than the Youth Leadership Initiative.
"Those who are engaged in civic affairs," says Stroupe, "are the ones driving the engines of economic development and job creation. What this program tries to do is build in young people the skill set to understand how to be engaged in civics."