Guardrails of Democracy: Law and Reform

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America’s political system is being challenged. How can our democracy be strengthened?

American democracy is being challenged by hyper-polarization, widespread distrust of competing parties, and vocal extremists whose intrenched views further divide the nation. In a recent poll: Few in US say democracy is working very well, only one-in-six Americans said our democratic system is working very well, while nearly two-in-three voters told a Pew Research Center survey that major reforms are needed.

“I certainly feel we are more vulnerable than we have ever been in the modern era,” says our podcast guest, constitutional law scholar Rick Pildes, a professor at New York University’s School of Law and author of the book The Law of Democracy: Legal Structure of the Political Process.

In this episode, we discuss proposed changes aimed at strengthening democracy, particularly elections — from ranked choice voting and reform of political primaries, to limiting gerrymandering, and campaign finance reform.

Richard Pildes

Richard Pildes is one of the nation’s leading scholars of constitutional law and a specialist in legal issues concerning democracy. A former law clerk to Justice Thurgood Marshall, he has been elected into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Law Institute, and has also received recognition as a Guggenheim Fellow and a Carnegie Scholar. In dozens of articles and his acclaimed casebook, The Law of Democracy, he has helped create an entirely new field of study in the law schools. His work in this field systematically explores legal and policy issues concerning the structure of democratic elections and institutions, such as the role of money in politics, the design of election districts, the regulation of political parties, the structure of voting systems, the representation of minority interests in democratic institutions, and similar issues.

He has written on the rise of political polarization in the United States, the transformation of the presidential nominations process, the Voting Rights Act (including editing a book titled The Future of the Voting Rights Act), the dysfunction of America’s political processes, the role of the Supreme Court in overseeing American democracy, and the powers of the American President and Congress. In addition to his scholarship in these areas, he has written on national-security law, the design of the regulatory state, and American constitutional history and theory. As a lawyer, Pildes has successfully argued voting-rights and election-law cases before the United States Supreme Court and the courts of appeals, and as a well-known public commentator, he writes frequently for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and was part of the Emmy-nominated NBC breaking-news team for coverage of the 2000 Bush v. Gore contest.

Environment & Climate Change: Can Young Americans Bridge the Gap?

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They agree the government should take action on climate change. Can young voters lead the way to common ground?

Young Americans, aged 18-29, believe that the threat from climate change is real regardless of their ideological leanings, compared to older Americans. Recent polling shows that Republican voters, born after 1980, are much more likely than older Republicans to think that government efforts to reduce climate change have been insufficient (52% vs. 31%).

In this episode, we ask: can the youngest generation of voters put aside partisan differences and agree on policies needed to protect climate and the environment as well as address the needs of business and the economy? We discuss the roles of government and business, and how to find common ground.

Our guests are Danielle Butcher, a conservative political executive and a leader of the American Conservation Coalition; and a liberal, Andrew Brennen, who is a National Geographic Explorer and Education Fellow, who co-founded the Kentucky Student Voice Team.

Andrew Brennen

Andrew Brennen is a National Geographic Explorer and Education Fellow supporting youth led movements and organizations around the globe. As a junior in high school he co-founded the Kentucky Student Voice Team, which helps to amplify and elevate students as partners in improving Kentucky schools.

Today, the Kentucky Student Voice Team consists of over 150 young people from across the Commonwealth and serves as a national model for how young people can hold educational institutions accountable. Andrew graduated from UNC Chapel Hill with a bachelor’s degree in political science and is currently pursuing a Master’s in Education Policy and Management from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. 

Danielle Butcher

Danielle Butcher is a conservative political executive who aids organizations in developing and implementing their national strategies. Danielle currently serves as Executive Vice President of the American Conservation Coalition and on the Advisory Board of the British Conservation Alliance, where she merges her love of leadership with her passions for free-market capitalism and the environment. She is also a Visiting Fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF) working on environmental and energy issues. Danielle was recently named to 2020’s Forbes 30 Under 30 list.

She has spoken at several prominent conservative events including CPAC, appeared as a frequent guest on Fox News Radio and NPR, and has had her work featured in publications such as The Times, The Hill, The Washington Examiner, VOX, and more. With her work prior to ACC, she served in leadership roles at various conservative nonprofits and organizations. Danielle attended Bethel University in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where she studied Political Science and Rhetoric Communications.

Environment and Climate: Can Business Bridge The Gap?

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Banks & businesses are betting big on sustainable investments. Can they help politicians bridge the gap on climate change?

When Joe Biden talks about the challenge of fighting climate change, he mentions jobs: not green jobs or renewable energy jobs, but “millions of good paying union jobs.”

The new administration is working to reframe the conversation about the environment at a time when many of Wall Street’s largest banks and corporations are betting big on sustainable investments — from electric cars and trucks to new kinds of renewable and carbon-free energy.

On Let’s Find Common Ground, we interview journalists Stephanie Hanes and Mark Trumbull of The Christian Science Monitor, and learn the latest on the changing landscape in the great debate over the environment and climate. Can business help politicians from both major parties bridge some of their differences? Listen to find out.

Stephanie Hanes

Stephanie Hanes is The Christian Science Monitor’s environment and climate change writer.  After covering justice for both The Concord Monitor and The Baltimore Sun newspapers, she began writing for the Monitor as a correspondent from southern Africa in the mid 2000s. There, she took particular interest in the many intersections of development, conflict, conservation and culture. Her environmental reporting in Mozambique, South Africa, Zimbabwe and elsewhere led to her book, White Man’s Game: Saving Animals, Rebuilding Eden and other Myths of Conservation in Africa (Henry Holt/Macmillan, 2017).

From the US, Hanes has written broadly on subjects ranging from climate and the environment to education, families, food and farming. She has been an Alicia Patterson fellow and a multiple-time grant recipient from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.  She holds teaching positions at Yale University’s School of the Environment and The College of William & Mary.

Read more by Stephanie Hanes: Biden Wants to Tackle Climate Change. His Pitch is All About Jobs.

Mark Trumbull

Mark Trumbull is currently serving as The Christian Science Monitor’s economy and science editor. He has reported for the Monitor from both US coasts while maintaining ties to the Midwest where he grew up. Having majored in history during college, he’s aware that today’s linkages between economic and environmental sustainability echo age-old challenges that humans have faced before.

Mark’s reporting on climate change has included stories on shifts among Republican lawmakers, state governments, neighborhoods, and the business community. He has written about some of the “big ideas” for policy, like a carbon tax or carbon “dividends,” and the tension between environmental regulation and economic freedom. On a lighter note (or maybe heaviest of all) he’s explored how people with differing views can “talk turkey” constructively with one another – a step, perhaps, toward finding durable points of agreement.

Read more from Mark Trumbull and Stephanie Hanes: Explore The Christian Science Monitor’s Environment page.

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new political party

Does America Need a Third Political Party?

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How can we fix our broken politics? Here’s why one former Congressman says it’s time to rethink the system.

Growing numbers of voters are fed up with politics as usual. In a recent survey, 62% of Americans say a third party is needed — up 5% from September of last year, and the highest it has ever been since Gallup polls first asked the question nearly twenty years ago.

Our podcast guest, former two-term Florida Congressman David Jolly, says it’s time to reconsider the system that reinforces the entrenched power of both the Republican and Democratic parties. Last year, Jolly was named Executive Chairman of the Serve America Movement (SAM), a growing organization that exists in some states as a third party, and in others as a non-partisan political reform group that backs office holders who work across party lines.

SAM calls itself a big tent political movement that brings people together who have different ideologies but shared political principles. In this episode, David Jolly makes the case for his movement’s ambitious goal: fixing our broken politics in America.

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Ep.29-Does America Need a Third Political Party?

David Jolly

David Jolly served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2014 – 2017.  A student of the institution, Jolly has held virtually every position in Congress, from intern to Member, and has worked outside the Congress as an attorney and political consultant, as well as in specialty finance. Today, Jolly serves as Executive Vice President of Shumaker Advisors Florida, and as a Political Analyst for the networks and media platforms of NBC Universal.

Known for his fierce independent streak and bipartisan approach, Jolly was first elected in a nationally watched special election in Florida, a Republican winning a Democratic-leaning district.  It was his first run for elective office and became one of the most expensive Congressional races in U.S. history at the time.  It made Jolly a fierce campaign finance reform advocate and his resulting legislative effort to prohibit Members of Congress from directly soliciting campaign contributions was ultimately featured on CBS’ 60 Minutes.

Jolly’s work has been published in Time, USA Today, Roll Call, the Washington Post, CNN.com, NBCNews.com, NewsMax, the Washington Times, and the Tampa Bay Times.

One Washington Post columnist penned, “Jolly speaks the truth.” The Tampa Bay Times, “It’s refreshing to hear someone take on the system.” And upon leaving Congress, one columnist wrote, “Farewell to the one Congressman willing to compromise.”

Jolly received his Bachelor of Arts from Emory University in 1994, and his Juris Doctor Cum Laude from George Mason University in 2001.

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Bridging the Rural-Urban Divide

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Can a former urban liberal learn how to appreciate the perspective of rural conservatives?

She lived in liberal Seattle and covered science, climate change, and the environment for NPR for more than a decade. Then in 2018, journalist Ashley Ahearn made a big jump, moving with her husband to one of the most conservative counties in rural Washington State.

In this episode of Let’s Find Common Ground, we hear about the profound rural-urban divide in America, and what Ashley discovered about her new neighbors and herself when she switched from the city to the country, now living on a 20-acre property with a horse and a pickup truck. We also discuss how politics and views of the land and climate differ greatly according to where people live.

Recently, Ashley Ahearn launched her 8-part podcast series, Grouse, which looks at life in rural America through the lens of the most controversial bird in the West — the greater sage-grouse. One of her great passions is storytelling, and helping scientists better communicate their research to the broader public.

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Ep. 28-Bridging the Rural-Urban Divide

Ashley Ahearn

Ashley Ahearn is an award-winning public media journalist who has covered science and the environment for NPR and member stations for more than a decade. She co-created, hosted, and produced the national climate change podcast, Terrestrial, in partnership with the NPR Story Lab and KUOW in Seattle. Ashley’s stories have appeared on Marketplace, All Things Considered, Here and Now, The World, and other NPR shows.

She has a master’s in science journalism from the Annenberg School at the University of Southern California and has completed reporting fellowships at the Knight Center at MIT, the Vermont Law School, the Metcalf Institute at the University of Rhode Island, and the Institutes for Journalism and Natural Resources. A few years ago she moved to rural Washington State and started her own podcasting company, Ahearn Productions, which released an eight-part series about sage grouse in partnership with NPR member stations across the West. Grouse was listed as one of the top 20 podcasts of 2020 by the Atlantic Magazine. In her spare time, Ashley rides motorcycles and moves cows on horseback or plays in the sagebrush with her husband and dog.

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Dr. Peter T. Coleman

Depolarizing America: Ending Toxic Polarization

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Should we be aiming for unity and ending toxic polarization? A top expert on conflict resolution weighs in.

When Joe Biden became president he wanted to bring Americans together, to forge unity. But maybe unity isn’t what we should aim for. Our guest this week says instead of focusing on that elusive goal, Americans need to concentrate on what’s damaging all of us: toxic polarization.

In this episode we look at what toxic polarization is and how to end it, person by person.

Peter Coleman has advised the Biden administration on how to detoxify America. He is a mediator and psychologist who specializes in conflict resolution. A professor of psychology and education at Columbia University, he is the author of the forthcoming book, The Way Out: How to Overcome Toxic Polarization.

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Ep. 27-Depolarizing-America-Ending-Toxic-Polarization

Dr. Peter T. Coleman

Dr. Peter T. Coleman is a professor of psychology and education at Columbia University who studies polarizing, intractable conflict and sustainable peace, and whose next book titled, The Way Out: How to Overcome Toxic Polarization will be released by Columbia University Press on June 1, 2021.

Dr. Coleman is a renowned expert on constructive conflict resolution and sustainable peace. His current research focuses on conflict intelligence and systemic wisdom as meta-competencies for navigating conflict constructively across all levels (from families to companies to communities to nations), and includes projects on adaptive negotiation and mediation dynamics, cross-cultural adaptivity, optimality dynamics in conflict, justice, and polarization, multicultural conflict, intractable conflict, and sustainable peace. Learn more.

 

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Manu Meel and Jessica Carpenter

Depolarizing America: Bridging Divides on Campus

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With American democracy in crisis, can college students save the day?

There is concern that American democracy is in crisis. For college students it can be frightening to consider the prospects for a better tomorrow. But addressing the problems in our political system will require the next generation to be more engaged and less polarized.

BridgeUSA was formed by college students to tackle the crisis head-on, with campus-based chapters at colleges around the country. This non-profit group hosts discussions and events, champions ideological diversity, teaches constructive engagement and aims to promote a solution-oriented political culture. BridgeUSA’s chief goal is to develop a new generation of political leaders who value empathy and the common good.

Our podcast guests are Manu Meel, a recent graduate of U.C. Berkeley and Chief Executive Officer of BridgeUSA, and Jessica Carpenter, a senior at Arizona State University, who runs brand management and communications at BridgeUSA.

Jessica Carpenter

Jessica Carpenter is the Marketing Director at BridgeUSA. She is a senior at Arizona State University studying journalism and political science. She is also a member of the BridgeUSA chapter where she works on social media and event planning. Growing up in a one-way political leaning household, Jessica found Bridge as an answer to understanding both sides of the political spectrum. She is passionate about finding solutions and understanding what motivates people to action.

Manu Meel

Manu Meel is passionate about empowering and elevating the impact of young people. Currently, Manu serves as the CEO of BridgeUSA, a national organization that is investing in the future of democracy. Through his work, Manu has contributed to several news outlets, advanced pro-democracy efforts nationally, and led the policy operation for a Baltimore mayoral candidate. In the past, Manu worked as an associate at the venture capital firm Amplo and at the Department of State as a political analyst in counterterrorism. His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other media platforms.

 

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Depolarizing America: Finding Common Ground in Congress

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With Congress rigidly divided, what can Washington insiders teach us about bipartisanship?

By almost any measure, Congress is much more rigidly divided along partisan lines than it was 30 years ago. Politicians run nationalized campaigns, not local ones, and frequently demonize the other side.

We examine ways to find common ground among lawmakers and those who work on Capitol Hill, with two deeply experienced Washington insiders.

Betsy Wright Hawkings served as Chief of Staff for four Republican members of Congress over 25 years and helped build bipartisan coalitions on a range of vital issues. She is now Managing Partner of Article One Advisors, a consulting firm focused on giving organizations strategic advice on how Congress functions.

Tamera Luzzatto served as former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Chief of Staff in the U.S. Senate from 2001 to 2009. Before that, she was on the staff of Democratic Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV for 15 years. Today, she is Senior Vice President of Government Relations at Pew Charitable Trusts.

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Ep. 25-Depolarizing-America:-Finding-Common-Ground-in-Congress

Betsy Wright Hawkings

Betsy Wright Hawkings served as Chief of Staff to four Republican House members over 25 years, including Congressman Christopher Shays, helping to develop coalitions to pass cross-partisan legislation like the Congressional Accountability Act, the 9-11 Commission, and legislation to implement its recommendations. The founding Managing Director of Democracy Fund’s Governance Program, she now heads Article One Advisors, providing support to entrepreneurial organizations seeking to foster dialogue across the ideological spectrum; promote more effective congressional systems, processes, and procedures; develop innovative programs to deepen leadership development for members of Congress and staff, and reduce incentives for hyper-partisanship and gridlock in government.

Tamera Luzzatto

Tamera Luzzatto is Senior Vice President of Government Relations at The Pew Charitable Trusts. She ensures that Pew’s wide range of nonpartisan policy work at the state, federal and international levels is effectively and accurately communicated to policymakers. She also oversees Pew’s distinguished advisors program.

Luzzatto served as former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Chief of Staff in the U.S. Senate from 2001 to 2009. Before that, Luzzatto was on the staff of Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia for 15 years, beginning as a legislative aide handling health care and other issues, then serving as legislative director and chief of staff. She was Sen. Rockefeller’s primary liaison to two major advisory panels that he chaired, the National Commission on Children, and the Pepper Commission on health care.

Luzzatto began her career working for ACTION, the umbrella agency for the Peace Corps, VISTA, and other federal service programs. With nearly three decades of experience in politics and government, she speaks regularly about Congress and public policy to academic institutions and other organizations throughout the country.

She currently chairs the board of the Washington Bach Consort, an acclaimed baroque choral group. She also serves on the Johns Hopkins Neurosurgery Advisory Committee and the personnel committee of the Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church. In addition, she is a member of the Economic Club of Washington, D.C., and the Federal City Council.

Luzzatto earned a bachelor of arts degree in government from Harvard University, graduating magna cum laude.

The Case for Black Lives Matter: Hawk Newsome

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As the Black Lives Matter movement grows, are there opportunities for common ground and solutions?

“All lives will matter when Black lives matter,” says our guest, Hawk Newsome, in this passionate, challenging, and fascinating podcast episode.

The co-founder and Chair of Black Lives Matter Greater New York answers the skeptics and makes the case for a movement that has grown in scale and significance since widespread protests erupted last summer after the killing of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis.

A devout Christian who has spent much of his life campaigning for racial and social justice, Hawk Newsome, discusses his views on love versus violence, systemic racism, and how he reached out to Trump supporters during a tense rally in Washington in 2017. The conversation transcends the simple designations of left and right and seeks to find meaningful solutions that respond to the realities faced by people and communities. This conversation is part of our podcast series that builds on the case for finding common ground.

Read more about Hawk Newsome and how he spends his weekends in this New York Times article.

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Ep. 24-The-Case-for-Black-Lives-Matter-Hawk-Newsome

Hawk Newsome

Hawk Newsome is a former candidate for New York City Council, a cast member on Cop Watch America on BET, and a political activist working at the forefront of the New Civil Rights Movement who has dedicated his adult life to the betterment of his community and our nation as a whole. Mr. Newsome previously served as Special Projects Coordinator at the Bronx County Office of the District Attorney, partnering with tenants’ associations and social service organizations throughout the Bronx. He is co-founder and Chairperson of Black Lives Matter Greater New York.

Depolarizing America: Building Consensus Step-by-Step

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These political veterans disagree on many issues…but agree that now is the time for bridge building. Here’s why.

Kelly Johnston and Rob Fersh disagree strongly on many issues, and voted differently in the 2020 presidential election. But they are friends and “agree on major steps that must be taken for the nation to heed President-elect Biden’s welcome call for us to come together.”

Both believe that constructive steps must be taken to help build trust among Democrats and Republicans, despite deep polarization and a firm resistance to bipartisanship from both ends of the political spectrum. They encourage open dialogue between sectors and interest groups whose views diverge in an effort to deal with divisive political discourse.

Read more from Johnstone & Fersh in an op-ed for The Hill: “We agree on almost nothing except how to solve problems across the political divide.”

Rob Fersh founded Convergence Center for Policy Resolution, and previously worked for Democrats on the staffs of three congressional committees. Kelly Johnston, also a founding board member of Convergence, is a committed Republican and former Secretary of the U.S. Senate. In this episode of Let’s Find Common Ground produced in partnership with Convergence, we talk with both Fersh and Johnston about bridge building and why this work is so urgently needed in an era of political gridlock.

Click here for bonus audio: Rob Fersh describes the process at Convergence.

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Ep. 23- Depolarizing America: Building Consensus

Rob Fersh

Rob Fersh is a Senior Advisor and the Founder of Convergence Center for Policy Resolution, a non-profit organization founded in 2009 to promote consensus solutions to issues of domestic and international importance. Immediately prior, Rob served as the United States country director for Search for Common Ground, an international conflict resolution organization. While at SFCG, he directed national policy consensus projects on health care coverage for the uninsured and U.S.-Muslim relations.

In the 1986-98 period, Rob served as president of the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), a leading NGO working to alleviate hunger in the United States. Rob also served on the staffs of three Congressional committees, working for U.S. Representative Leon Panetta and for Senators Patrick Leahy and Edmund Muskie. While a Congressional staff member and at FRAC, he was deeply involved in shepherding passage of bipartisan legislation to reduce hunger in the United States. Rob has held additional positions in the federal executive branch and non-profit sector. He was a 1994 recipient of the Prudential Foundation Prize for Non-Profit Leadership. Rob holds a law degree from Boston University and a bachelor’s degree in Industrial and Labor Relations from Cornell University, where he has served as a guest lecturer and co-instructor of a course on collaborative decision making and public policy. He is married, has four children, and two grandchildren.

Kelly Johnston

Kelly Johnston retired from the Campbell Soup Company in October 2018 after a 16-year career as Vice President-Government Affairs. Previously, Kelly spent nearly 25 years in Washington, DC in several leadership positions within the executive and legislative branches of the federal government, politics, and the trade association world. He was Executive Vice President for Government Affairs and Communications at the National Food Processors’ Association (NFPA), serving as the organization’s chief government affairs and communications officer for nearly 6 years.

From 1995 to 1997, he was the Secretary of the US Senate, the Senate’s chief legislative, financial and administrative officer. Kelly has also served as Staff Director of the Senate Republican Policy Committee; Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs in the U.S. Department of Transportation; and chief of staff or press secretary to three Members of Congress.

Kelly remains active in the non-profit community. He is a founding board member of the Bonnie and Bill Stubblefield Institute for Civil Political Communication at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, WV. He also currently serves on the board of Business-Industry Political Action Committee (BIPAC), which is dedicated to helping employers educate their employees on public policy issues of importance to their jobs. He is a former chairman of the Canadian American Business Council and former co-chair of the Congressional Management Foundation. He blogs on public policy issues, history, and politics at Against the Grain.

A native of Oklahoma, Kelly earned his B.A. degree in Communications in 1976 from the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, where he has been named to the Alumni Hall of Fame. He attended Georgetown University’s Graduate School of Demography in Washington, D.C. He has guest lectured on politics, government, lobbying and communications at several universities, including Yale University, the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania, George Washington University, Shepherd University, and Burlington County College in New Jersey.

He and his wife, Adrienne, live in Arlington, Virginia. They have two sons.