Saving Democracy: Bipartisan Views from Presidential Campaigns, Congress, National Media & More

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We need to talk about the state of democracy. It’s going through a crisis we thought we could never see in America.

And yet serious discussion often gets cut short, whether by partisanship, misunderstanding, or just the short attention span of so much of our media.

So recently, Boots Road Group, the producer of this podcast, organized a live panel discussion featuring thoughtful people from across the political spectrum. The goal was to have the kind of debate that any healthy democracy depends on: vigorous, yes, but based on shared respect for facts, logic, and each other.

It turns out that’s still possible. And it happened on June 29, 2018 at Monschke Hall of Twin Lakes Church in Aptos, California.

Taking part were former Congressman Sam Farr, former Barack Obama and Kamala Harris adviser Debbie Mesloh, USC and UC Berkeley Professor Dan Schnur, former California Assembly Republican Leader Kristin Olsen, local elected official and presidential campaign veteran Zach Friend, and me, drawing on my background in media and politics. We also heard from members of the audience.

It was an in-depth and enlightening conversation, about topics that ranged from the frightening to the inspiring.

Taking Part

Former Congressman Sam Farr served California’s Central Coast in the United States House of Representatives from 1993-2016. He was a leader in environmental and agricultural policy and played a leadership role in the creation of California State University, Monterey Bay. He served on committees that addressed veterans affairs, agriculture, appropriations, rural development and more. He previously served in the California State Assembly.

Debbie Mesloh was President Obama’s Deputy Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Public Affairs. She was the transition co-chair for Senator Kamala Harris, and held senior communications positions in the 2008 and 2012 Obama for America campaigns. Debbie is the President of the San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women, Co-Chair of the 2018 Bay Area Women’s Summit, a founding member of the Emerge America program for women candidates, and the former President of the San Francisco Women’s Political Committee.

Dan Schnur is a professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communications and the University of California – Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies. He worked on four presidential and three gubernatorial campaigns as one of California’s leading Republican political strategists and is now a No Party Preference voter. He’s written for major newspapers and been a commentator for CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, and National Public Radio.

Kristin Olsen, the former California Assembly Republican Leader and Vice Chair of the California Republican Party, was elected to the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors in June 2016. She began her term in January 2017, after representing Stanislaus and San Joaquin Counties in the Assembly since 2010. In 2016 she founded consulting firm Red Suit, LLC, a consulting firm where she helps others effectively work within the government sphere and political landscape.

Zach Friend is a public policy and communications expert who has worked for Barack Obama and John Kerry’s presidential campaigns, the White House Council of Economic Advisers, U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives and the Democratic National Committee (DNC). He currently serves on the Board of Supervisors in Santa Cruz County, California. Zach is also a media commentator, and the author of the book “On Message.”

Spencer Critchley (moderator) is an award-winning writer, producer, and communications consultant with experience in broadcasting, film, digital media, public relations, advertising, and music. He’s the Managing Partner of Boots Road Group. Spencer has done work for both of Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns, Congressman Farr, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp, NPR, the Emmy-winning film “Blink,” the U.S. Dept. of Labor, and many others.

Members of the audience were invited to contribute their questions.

Episode Links

Saving Democracy resource page at with more references and links

Trump Revealed,” Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher

The Best of Enemies” documentary, available on Netflix and elsewhere

Photos of the Event

Above photo and following ones by Noel Smith, Times Publishing Group

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