Public Works Perspectives

Public Works shares its perspectives on public issues through our blogs, radio shows, and publications.  

Public Works Blogs 

In "Giving Meaning To Taxes" Dianne Stewart, Director of Public Works, reminds us that “taxes are our contribution to something important that is bigger than we are.” Paying taxes is our way of ensuring that the quality of life we enjoy endures, in this way we are stewards of the common good and “co-managers” of the public systems we use every day. Too often the act of paying taxes is disconnected from any civic meaning. We need to remember the ways in which taxes lift our communities and connect us to one another. “Tax revenues are civic capital… a lynchpin that secures quality of life for future generations.”

The effects of the tragedy in Tucson, Arizona are still reverberating throughout the country and in the press. In, “An Attack on One,” Dianne Stewart, Director of Public Works: the Dēmos Center for the Public Sector reminds us that our own cynicism about public officials diminishes respect for public service and undermines the effectiveness of our public sector. An attack on those who serve is an attack on all of us.

The Public Service" includes State and Local Government Workers Demos ideas & action. May 2010 by Michael Lipsky. The last week in May was Public Service Recognition Week. Although this week in principle is dedicated to all public service workers, most of the attention went to the civilian federal workers who number two million throughout the country and overseas. But the 15 million men and women who work in state, county and municipal governments deserve recognition, too.   

Please Millennials, Save us from Ourselves Demos ideas & action blog. March 2, 2010. by Patrick Bresette.  As we watch in dismay as our political institutions seem unable to cope effectively with the many challenges we face, a recent Pew Research report, Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next, sheds a ray of hope.  It reports that the millennial generation is confident, tolerant, educated, connected and civic-minded and wants to reclaim government as a tool for public good. They can’t come soon enough.

The "T" Word. One Massachusetts. Feb. 5, 2010, by Patrick Bresette.  It’s a tough time to talk about taxes in Massachusetts, but getting back to Government as “Us” -- as our tool for getting things done -- is an essential ingredient for winning tax and revenue debates.  
Oregon Votes Yes! for Oregon  

Demos ideas & action blog by Patrick Bresette. Jan 29, 2010.  
On Tuesday the people of Oregon voted Yes! They voted yes not just for the specific tax measures on the ballot but yes for their state and its future. There are lessons in this vote; just not the ones you are hearing most about. 

Senator McConnell:  If the DMV is a model for a Public Health Care Option, Sign me Up. demos ideas & action blog by Michael Lipsky. June 23, 2009. In a speech on health care reform on the Senate floor, Sen. Mitch McConnell argued that a public option to compete with private insurers would result in a bureaucratic nightmare, much like the red-tape experienced at the Department of Motor Vehicles.  But, Lipsky responds with the facts showing that deparment of motor vehicles have become models of responsiveness and efficiency and that a public health care option that is as good as them would be effective, efficient and responsive.     
Fragility of Hope:  Safeguarding the Promise of Meaningful Change with a New Politics Demos ideas & action blog by Dianne Stewart. Dec. 2, 2008.
We are living in a promising, but fragile, moment in American history. Hope for change was key in the 2008 election;  creating the political change that will safeguard hope is the key to the future.

Public Works Publications and Articles 

"Public Distrust of Government in an Age of Market Failures." Reflecting on the current anti-government sentiment, Program Assistant Patrick Bresette calls for a need to rebuild trust in government by rebuilding trust in each other: finding shared goals, identifying common purposes and promoting the belief that problems can be addressed together. (This is one of a series of essays on the "Trust in Government" online forum hosted by Demos and the Democratic Strategist.) 

In Public Will and Public Good (Apr/May 2010 MTA TodayPatrick Bresette makes the case that education is a public good that Massachusetts has valued since its founding and that investment in this vital public structure is essential to quality of life in the Commonwealth.

States in Crisis (March 2010) is a special report by Dēmos and The American ProspectFor decades, bad tax policies have undermined state governments.  As the recession starves state budgets, tax refroms -- and more help from Washington--can regain public trust.  An article in this issue, Public Capacity and Public Trust by Dianne Stewart and Michael Lipsky, explores how we can reverse the vicious circle of frustrated citizens denying state government adequate resources -- and then resenting the lack of state services.

Our Public Options Community News--The quarterly magazine of the North Carolina Justice Center. Winter 2010. This past summer's tea parties showed us Americans' discontent with govenrment, yet government action to address health care, the economic downturn and other big public challenges is of such momentous importance. This the first real contest for the role of government in America in many decades. The antigovernment forces that have held sway and successfully sold and promoted the notion that “government is the problem” have run smack up against the lived experiences of most Americans.
Redeeming Public Remedy (American Prospect. April 2, 2007). Michael Lipsky and Dianne Stewart, Senior Program Director and Director of Public Works at Demos, argue it takes effective government to restore opportunity. After decades of government-bashing, we need to win back support for what we do in common.

The Common Good Depends on Government (Chronicle of Philanthropy. February 23, 2010). Michael Lipsky and Dianne Stewart, Senior Program Director and Director of Public Works at Demos, call for nonprofit groups to lead an effort to restore widespread appreciation of the critical role of government as a protector of public values and as a place where Americans come together to solve our most pressing problems.

Under the Radar (The American Prospect. April 19, 2005).Michael Lipsky and Dianne Stewart, Senior Program Director and Director of Public Works at Demos, describe the challenges state governments are confronting as a result of the erosion of support for the role of government, and the efforts that are emerging to restore the public sector.

Public Works Radio 

With our monthly radio show, First Tuesdays, we brought a new conversation about government to the broadcast airwaves. The title gets its name from the fact that, as Americans, we vote on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

Our goals for the program, as with all our education and community outreach activities, were to remind people why government exists; to provide a constructive and durable way to understand what government is and does; and to create a culture of citizenship that focuses on enduring values, shared responsibility, and the common good.

Produced in association with Pacifica Radio Houston, the shows originally aired on KPFT 90.1 FM and have since been shared with thousands of other listeners through the World Wide Web. The 2009 season of First Tuesdays was dedicated to The Power of Citizenship. The final program in this series aired on Tuesday, December 1, 2009.

All programs are MP3 files. Click on the program title to listen to a particular show. If you are unable to access the file, contact

Programs in the 2009 Season:

January | February | March | April | June | July | August | September | December

Government's Role in the Economy

Understanding the essential role that government plays in shaping an economy that works for everyone.
Download the Program (MP3)

This program features interviews with:

  • Jeff Madrick, Editor of Challenge Magazine, Senior Fellow at the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis, and author of the book, The Case for Big Government
  • Meg Bostrom, Communications strategist and researcher, President of Public Knowledge and Co-Founder of the TOPOS Partnership

Better Health Care Depends on a Stronger Democracy

A look at the increasingly polarized debate over health care reform and what it says about our democracy.
Download the Program (MP3)

This program features interviews with:

  • Mark Schmitt, Executive Editor, The American Prospect
  • Miles Rapoport, President, Demos: Ideas & Action

Making the Case for Government
Understanding the essential role of government in America and our vital role as citizens in this democracy.
Download the Program (MP3)

This program features interviews with:

  • Dianne Stewart, Executive Director, The Demos Center for the Public Sector
  • Douglas J. Amy, Professor of Politics, Mount Holyoke College and author of the website Government is Good

Partnership for Public Service
Revitalizing our federal government by inspiring a new generation to serve and by transforming the way government works.
Download the Program (MP3)

This program features interviews with:

  • Max Stier, President and CEO, Partnership for Public Service
  • Bob Lavigna, Vice President of Research, Partnership for Public Service

Center for Public Deliberation
How deliberative democracy is being used to improve educational outcomes and to inspire a new generation of engaged citizens.
Download the Program (MP3)

This program includes student essays on citizenship and democracy and features an interview with:

  • Windy Lawrence, PhD, Founding Director of the Center for Public Deliberation at the University of Houston Downtown

Playgrounds Without Limits
Government and citizens working together to pursue the common good--a case study in good government.
Download the Program (MP3)

This program features interviews with:

  • Joe Turner, Director, Parks and Recreation Department for the City of Houston, Texas
  • Michelle Colvard, former Chair of the Houston Commission on Disabilities

The Institute for Civility in Government
A national civic movement to reclaim civility in the public square.
Download the Program (MP3)

This program features interviews with Institute co-founders:

  • Cassandra Dahnke and Tomas Spath

City Hall Fellows
A new national program that introduces America's future leaders to the inner workings of local government.
Download the Program (MP3)

This program features interviews with:

  • Bethany Henderson, Founder and Executive Director, City Hall Fellows
  • Rogene Calvert, Director of Personnel and Volunteer Initiatives Program, City of Houston, Texas
  • Nancy Brainerd, Houston Program Director, City Hall Fellows
  • Meredith Spencer, 2008-9 City Hall Fellow

January 6, 2009
Original Air Date

The State Budget Crisis
Why we should care and what we, as citizens, can do.
Download the Program (MP3)

This program features interviews with:

  • Iris J. Lav, Deputy Director, The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP)
  • Nick Johnson, Director the CBPP's State Fiscal Project
  • Noah Berger, Director, Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center
  • Presdelane Harris, Community Organizer, Arise Citizen's Policy Project (Alabama Rise)
  • Elaine Mejia, Director, North Carolina Budget & Tax Center
  • Chuck Sheketoff, Director Oregon Center for Public Policy
  • Jon Shure, Director, New Jersey Policy Perspective