The audience listened with the reverence due to a former president and with admiration for his dedication to international diplomacy in the 33 years since he left office. Some disagreed with his interpretation of history, but there was universal respect for his outstanding public service.
The spry and lively 88-year-old former president summarized the work of the Carter Center: working with countries that do not have diplomatic relations with the United States but have critical human rights issues, monitoring elections in emerging democracies, treating neglected tropical diseases, and improving mental health programs (an initiative of First Lady Rosalynn Carter).
In regard to the election monitoring activities of the Carter Center--in 94 countries to date--President Carter emphasized the importance of volunteer election observers who spend six to eight days in country before and after an election and encouraged legislators and staff to volunteer. The Carter Center monitors elections only in countries where both the majority and the principal minority parties invite them to do so. He pointed out that the Carter Center's evaluation of the fairness of an election process carries considerable weight in the international community. When President Carter has called out putative election winners for cheating, those winners have often not been able to take office or have had to call new elections.
In a wide-ranging question and answer period, President Carter did not miss a beat as he touched on Canada-U.S. relations, energy policy, and American foreign policy toward North Korea, Cuba and Egypt. Commenting on American politics, he noted that in 1976 election he carried every southern state by a large margin--the last Democrat to do so. He regards the polarization of American politics today as the result of the infusion of money in politics, which is used by candidates on both sides to demonize their opponents, and increasingly sophisticated partisan gerrymandering.
For many in the audience, this session with the former president was undoubtedly a highlight of the 2013 Legislative Summit.