My guest today is Rob Perks, Managing Director of Campaigns & External Affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the most effective environmental groups in America. We chat about his unreasonableness. It’s great. Tell your friends.
Wisconsin Democracy Campaign Executive Director Matt Rothschild joins Matt to discuss upholding democracy in the Badger State.
Learn more about and/or support the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign: https://www.wisdc.org/
Dr. Gregory Engel of Doctors For America joins Matt to discuss firearm injury prevention.
Max Wilbert from Protect Thacker Pass joins Matt to discuss why we need to stop mining in beautiful places, scale back our capitalist ambitions and live in peace with the earth, forever. Nothing big.
Visit www.protectthackerpass.org for more information or to get involved.
Washington, D.C.-based comedian Nathan Luft chats with Matt about where he falls on the Democratic Socialist-to-Socialist spectrum. (Spoiler alert: it’s somewhere in the middle.)
Great Old Broads for Wilderness Executive Director Shelley Silbert and Board Co-Chair Rynda Clark join Matt join a brief history of their work.
Get involved: https://www.greatoldbroads.org
About the guests:
Shelley Silbert, Executive Director – Shelley joined Broads in 2012, bringing 20 years of experience in the fields of conservation and sustainability. She served as Associate Director for San Juan Citizens Alliance from 2011–2012, Director of Strategic Initiatives at Northern Arizona University from 2003–2011 where she advanced environmental and Native American programs. From 1994–2003, she directed The Nature Conservancy’s Northern Arizona Program, managing three nature preserves and working on conservation priorities, ecological restoration, regional planning, and public open space campaigns. She grew up in Tennessee, and fell in love with the wide open spaces of the west on a backpacking trip. Fluent in Spanish, she has worked in various Latin American countries.
Shelley has an M.A. in Watershed Management (Dryland Forestry specializations) from the University of Arizona. As Executive Director, she is responsible for the implementation of the Strategic Plan and setting the vision and direction of the organization, along with the Board of Directors. She determines the wild lands advocacy agenda, achieves fundraising goals, and represents Broads to the media, to our members, to our partner organizations, and to the great wild world.
Rynda Clark, Board Co-Chair – Rynda Clark is passionate about wilderness, women, healing, and education. She directed the Department of Continuing Medical Education (CME) at UC San Diego for 17 years and was responsible for the needs assessment, planning, execution, and evaluation of national and international medical education programs.
After relocating to Central Oregon in 2007, Rynda began hiking with women in wilderness areas and rekindled her love for wild places that began when she was growing up in New Mexico. She shared, “…wilderness allowed me to connect with my health and spirituality in a way that nothing else did. I wanted to protect it for our future generations”.
Rynda was attracted Broads because of her love of wild things, but also for the humor, wisdom, and humility she witnessed from Broads members and staff. Three years ago, she volunteered to be the Co-lead for the newly forming Central Oregon Broadband chapter, where she helped build a shared leadership model that allows opportunities for many passions and visions. She also completed the Oregon Master Naturalist program to learn more about environmental issues in her region. Although Rynda stepped down from a Broadband leadership role, she continues active engagement with her chapter, and has join Broads’ Board of Directors.
OutFront Minnesota Executive Director Monica Meyer and Policy & Outreach Director James Darville join Matt to discuss the state of LGBTQ rights in Minnesota and beyond.
HOW TO HELP:
- Contact your member of Congress and tell them to support the Equality Act.
- Find anti-trans legislation being considered in your state and then contact your state legislators: https://freedomforallamericans.org/legislative-tracker/anti-transgender-legislation/
- To get involved with OutFront Minnesota visit www.outfront.org.
- To learn about state-based LGBTQ rights organizations outside Minnesota visit www.equalityfederation.org.
- More about “conversion therapy” here.
- State-based LGBTQ rights organizations outside Minnesota can be found here.
Executive Director Monica Meyer has been leading organizing, activism and policy advocacy on behalf of issues of equity and justice since 1992. She joined the staff of OutFront Minnesota as Public Policy Director in 2001 and became Executive Director in 2010. Some of her recent recognition include the Humphrey Institute’s Public Leadership Award, the Lynx’s Inspiring Women Award, the Charlotte Striebel Long Distance Runner Award from MN NOW and the MN School Social Work Association’s Friend of Social Work Award. Monica received her master’s degree in public policy from the Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota, and her undergraduate degree from Hamline University. Monica is currently a board member with TakeAction Minnesota and the co-chair of the Equality Federation. She is constantly inspired by courageous people she meets who work tirelessly for LGBTQ equity and racial and gender justice.
James Darville joined the Policy and Organizing Team as our LGBTQ+ Voter Outreach Manager in March of 2020. James will be working with Queer Communities and Communities of Color to register folks to vote throughout the state of Minnesota.
Raised in North Carolina, James attended North Dakota State University and studied Strategic Communication. After graduation, James worked as a cheesemonger before getting hired as the Grassroots Organizer for Planned Parenthood in North Dakota. In that position, he helped run election campaigns throughout the state, collected stories from queer folks, and organized groups at college campuses across the state. Moving to Saint Paul, he was hired to be the Coordinator of Volunteer Programs for Planned Parenthood North Central States. He organized and oversaw all volunteer programs across five states. He is excited to continue his work building progressive communities and advocating for reproductive justice and queer liberation at OutFront.
In his free time James loves concerts, throwing cheese parties, and a really good cocktail.
Fun Facts about James:
·I am an avid hiker and camper.
·I am allergic to cardboard boxes.
·My favorite cheese is Quattro Latti, a cheese made from four different types of milk: cow, goat, sheep, and donkey
Seattle Opera Development Officer Matt Lider reminisces with Matt about their experiences going door-to-door together back in the early 2000s, raising big money for the opera, and everything in between. Lots of laughs!
Angel Pena, Executive Director of Nuestra Tierra in New Mexico, educates Matt about life on the U.S./Mexico border and his effort to inspire young people to appreciate its unique natural environment.
Dr. Lisa Jones-Engel, of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), joins Matt to discuss why she quit her career at the University of Washington’s primate research lab to become an advocate for its closure.
Jacob Neiheisel, Associate Professor at the University at Buffalo, joins Matt for a discussion about the recent campaign season.
About Jacob Neiheisel
Jake Neiheisel is an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at UB. Much of his research focuses on the effects of elite communication on members of the mass public. His work has appeared in such outlets as the American Journal of Political Science, Political Research Quarterly, Political Communication, Public Administration Review and Legislative Studies Quarterly. He earned his MA and PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and his BA at Denison University, where he also served as a visiting assistant professor during the 2013-2014 academic year. He joined the department in the fall of 2014.
Matt Dundas is a stand-up comic and, let’s face it, if the pandemic hadn’t happened he wouldn’t be hosting “Campaign Season,” he’d be out performing stand-up. Well, he can’t do that right now, can he? No. His hope to record his debut comedy “album” in 2020 came to a screeching halt and, worse, much of his Trump-era material won’t carry over into the post-Trump presidency world. Thus, Matt has posted a lot of that material here for you, in the form of a special episode of Campaign Season.
While these bits were not recorded in one location and some of the material was unfinished, it’s likely that his “album” wouldn’t have been much better.
ProgressNow Colorado Executive Director Ian Silverii joins Matt to talk about his organization’s work on the ground in the Centennial State, commiserate about the condition of our national politics, and explain why he tries not to do too much explaining.
Alissa Weinman, Associate Campaign Director at Corporate Accountability, chats with Matt about her work on water rights in the U.S. and beyond.
Alissa Weinman bio:
“I challenge corporate power because I want to ensure that corporations can no longer exploit the communities and the environment surrounding their industries,” says Alissa.
Growing up on the Chesapeake Bay, Alissa saw firsthand what that kind of exploitation looks like. She watched as Big Ag destroyed the bay and the livelihoods of fishers and farmers who relied on those waters for their incomes. While she is happy that the Chesapeake is now bouncing back, that experience showed her at an early age that transnational corporations have tremendous disregard for both for the environment and the lives of people.
And it led her to Corporate Accountability, where she mobilizes our members and allies on the water campaign to challenge corporate control of water. She helps to expose the abuses of the bottled water industry and works closely with communities that are challenging Nestlé’s bottling practices.
Prior to joining staff, Alissa worked as a Green Corps organizer, where she led environmental campaigns with Climate Reality Project and worked on GMO labeling with Food & Water Watch. Also, she loves hot sauce so much she belongs to a hot sauce of the month club.
About Corporate Accountability
Corporate Accountability stops transnational corporations from devastating democracy, trampling human rights, and destroying our planet.
Denise Robbins, former staffer for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) and Media Matters For America, joins Matt to discuss her career and what really ticks her off.
Rio Tazewell, Senior Campaigns Manager at People for the American Way, talks with Matt about voting rights, money in politics and almost every other liberal cause.
About People for the American Way
People For the American Way and its affiliate, People For the American Way Foundation, are progressive advocacy organizations founded to fight right-wing extremism and build a democratic society that implements the ideals of freedom, equality, opportunity and justice for all. We encourage civic participation, defend fundamental rights, and fight to dismantle systemic barriers to equitable opportunity.
Shreya Durvasula of the Union of Concerned Scientists joins Matt for a chit-chat about running campaigns with scientists, among other topics.
About the Union of Concerned Scientists
The Union of Concerned Scientists is a national nonprofit organization founded more than 50 years ago by scientists and students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Our mission: to use rigorous, independent science to solve our planet’s most pressing problems. Joining with people across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.
Today, we are a group of nearly 250 scientists, analysts, policy and communication experts dedicated to that purpose.
Housing California Policy Director Christopher Martin chats with Matt about the “Bring California Home Campaign” among other solutions to the crisis of homelessness in California.
Learn more about Housing California’s work and how you can help:
- Volunteer here!
- Donate here!
- Read the language of Assembly Bill 71 (AB-71) here!
- See what wage will get you a modest apartment by state here!
Christopher Martin joined Housing California in August 2017 as a legislative advocate with a focus on California homelessness policy. Chris now leads Housing California’s policy team as the Policy Director. Prior to joining Housing California, Chris worked as Executive Director for Friends of the Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois advocating for public lands and sustainability.
Christopher has worked in the State Capitols of Illinois and Michigan, and the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. While in D.C., Chris worked for then-Rep. Tammy Duckworth to secure funding for homeless veteran care for various non-governmental organizations in Illinois and around the country. After working for the Congressperson, Chris started with JDRF Advocacy as a Grassroots Coordinator to advocate for federal Type 1 diabetes research funding and support for programs assisting those affected by the disease, with which he lives. While in this position he supported and managed volunteers along the west coast including in California. Christopher now serves on the Board for the JDRF Northern California Inland Chapter as their Advocacy Team Chair (ATC).
Christopher has led many bills and budget requests since joining Housing California. He led on bills to create a supportive housing program for Medi-Cal beneficiaries (AB 74, Chiu 2017), prohibit discrimination against voucher holders (SB 329, Mitchell 2019) as well as the Homeless Youth Act of 2018 (SB 918, Wiener 2018). Chris also has led advocacy for investment out of the budget to address homelessness including historic investments like the ones in 2019 and 2020 of nearly $1B. He also sat on the Executive Steering Committee at the Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) for the Adult Reentry Program, which appropriated $50m in funds to community-based organizations (CBOs) to support formerly incarcerated Californians in transitioning back to community.
Christopher received a B.A. in both Political Science and Criminal Justice from Michigan State University.
Nate Martin, Executive Director of Better Wyoming, chats with Matt about the challenges of grassroots organizing in the least dense of the lower 48 states, among other things. Donate: https://betterwyo.org/donate/ Volunteer: https://betterwyo.org/volunteer/
Note: an f-bomb got past our sensors on this one before the episode was published. There was much back and forth in the editing room after. Blame was thrown around. Discussions were had. Was it better to remove the blasphemous posting and replace it with a sanitized version? Or did the fact that it had already been posted mean it had to stay? The team decided that, because so many listeners had already heard the original version and might be confused if a new episode were published to replace the original, we must let it stand even though on the recording Matt is heard saying that we’ll bleep the cursed curse. As Kurt Cobain said, “All apologies.”
As for the rest of the episode, it’s a winner! Once again, Matt stews in his own mediocrity at the onset, but the interview itself is 5-star as always. Nate Martin from Better Wyoming outlines his organization’s challenge, the stakes, the obstacles, and, finally, reveals his end game, which is basically to wait until all the ideas put forward by his opposition have failed and then there will be nothing left to try but his ideas. Naturally, many Wyomingites wish more people would listen to Nate right now and do what is right for the people of this proud state, but even Nate understands the odds are long when it comes to raising taxes to fund critical public programs and expanding Medicaid to include those who currently don’t qualify but also can’t afford insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
Matt opens the show with a quick discussion about why Friday evenings aren’t the ideal time for him to conduct an interview. A stay-at-home dad during normal business hours, Matt is dead to the world by 5pm Friday, as the accumulated pressure of raising young throughout the long week has typically crushed his spirit into a patty, much like how a train crushes a penny left on the tracks. You can still recognize the Abraham Lincoln, but it looks all fat and distorted. That’s Matt on Friday evenings: still very Lincoln-like, but lethargic and hungry.
Nate Martin seemed unfazed by Matt’s erratic attempts at silly humor, such as making fun of the name “Better Wyoming.” In retrospect, Better Wyoming is one of those names that shouldn’t be made fun of. That’s how ripe it is to be made fun of. It’s too obvious. Matt should’ve left it alone. Nate Martin bats away the criticism like a home run slugger who has briefly stepped out of the box to swat away a gnat before clubbing another dinger, almost like he’s heard the joke before and was ready. Really, given that Matt worked for an organization called PIRG for eight years, he shouldn’t be making fun of groups’ names.
By the end of the conversation, we’re left with the same level of optimism that typically accompanies any conversation about how Wyoming is about to turn a corner toward progressivism. That is, very little.
This is the 17th episode of Campaign Season, with so much more to come. Thanks for listening, reading, sharing, liking, rating, commenting, supporting, cheering, laughing, crying and making love to this podcast.
Stephany Seay from the Buffalo Field Campaign tells Matt what it’s like to be on the front lines of the effort to save the last free roaming American buffalo. Visit www.buffalofieldcampaign.org/action-opportunities to get involved or to learn more.
About Buffalo Field Campaign
Buffalo Field Campaign (BFC) is the only group working both in the field and in the policy arenas to stop the harassment and slaughter of America’s last wild buffalo.
Formalized as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 1997, we also protect the natural habitat of wild free-roaming bison and other native wildlife, and stand with First Nations to honor the sacredness of wild buffalo.
Our primary goal is to create permanent year-round protection for bison and the ecosystem they depend on—including respect for the migratory needs of this long-exploited and clearly endangered species.
Elliot Harmon, Senior Activist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, joins Matt to discuss privacy and free speech in the technology age.
Nothing went wrong in this election and I can prove it!
Ronetta Francis is running for Senate District 1 in northwest Arkansas, home district of Walmart, with a message of social justice and unity. In this interview with Matt, she tells her story of why she’s running.
Heather Weiner of the “Approve 90” campaign in Washington State joins Matt to discuss the statewide sex education referendum she’s working on and campaigning in general.
Nicole Breadon, Democratic candidate for Michigan’s 43rd House District, joins Matt to talk potholes and other systemic problems in the Mitten State, and pitch why she and the Dems can do better.
Nancy Pyne, Field Director for Oceana, patriot, and Matt’s former colleague, discusses how she came to be a campaigner, and more.
Matt provides an update on the previously covered campaigns after commenting on the president’s debate performance and subsequent Covid-19 diagnosis.
MATT DUNDAS: Hello and welcome to Campaign Season. I’m Matt Dundas, I’ll keep hosting.
Dang. It is an unusual day in an unusual year in an unusual life. It’s October 3, 2020, the year that just won’t quit. And all this time I thought we were on the bumpy part of the roller coaster. I thought we were on the part that goes sideways and upside down and shakes you up and makes you feel sick. Cause I felt so sick! I thought, Why do I feel sick? I feel sick because we’re on the bumpy part of the roller coaster. But no! We were always on the part that goes click-click-click-click up the hill. Up-up-up the hill. Only now are we actually going down, are we actually going around, are we actually upside down. At least I hope so. I assume so. I mean, could it possibly get any worse? It could, actually. It could.
We are one month out from Election Day. Exactly one more month and we have no idea if either of the candidates will even be alive on Election Day, which I will remind you is always true.
You know, after the debate on Tuesday night, I made a call. I said, You know what? No interview this week. I’m going to just talk. I’m going to digest the debate. I’m going to provide an update on the previous issues we’ve focused on for the first several episodes of Campaign Season. And we’re going to have a good time. I’m going to get to know the audience a little bit, they’re going to get to know me. Then I woke up yesterday morning to the news that Donald Trump claims to have coronavirus and that is what happened. The newspapers say he has it, I say he claims that he has it, although the evidence is piling up. It’s piling up. I woke up yesterday rather skeptical and I hate to say it, my first emotion; look, I’ve made no secret, I’m on the left. I’m pretty far left. I’m not quite Antifa, but you know, I’m Bernie. I hate to admit it but it is the truth and I think it’s relevant so I’ll say it. My first emotion response when I heard was, Too good to be true. That’s too good to be true and I’ve been burned before.
We shouldn’t be rooting for anybody to get this virus. I don’t wish him a hard time. I hope he recovers fast, I hope his experimental cocktail works. It reminds me of a Jackson Browne song, as most things do: “And when you who have applied your hands in torture are unable to look up at what surrounds you / My personal revenge will be to give you these hands that once you so mistreated, but have to take away their tenderness.” These hands of ours, we must give them to Donald Trump. To Kellyanne Conway, to all of these people. They have tortured us but we must demonstrate that they have failed to take away our tenderness. I feel tender. I do.
And this week I wrote a joke. Hey, did you hear about the cop who was caught shooting wildly outside the Chinese restaurant? He was charged with wonton endangerment. Okay, look, look, I just — they come to me, sometimes in the night. And I can’t do anything about it. I have to write them down. It’s one of the best and one of the worse jokes I think I’ve ever written and I’m quite proud of it. But when I tweeted it I got nothing but shame. So I deleted it. And I’m going to delete my Twitter account. I deactivated my Facebook account yesterday after posting that I didn’t buy that Donald Trump was sick, not because of that post but because I listened to a few discussions this week about how social media is destroying the fabric of humanity and I thought, You know, I’m going to post one more post to destroy the fabric of humanity and then I’m done. And so I posted “I don’t buy it,” I created a small stir, and then I deactivated my Facebook account because that was the right time. And today I intend to deactivate my Twitter accounts, which actually is going to feel very, very good. I look forward to living in my life again, in my house, in my actual reality. I look forward to discovering what reality is. I’m not even sure what it is. I’m told I have cats.
All right, let’s get to the debate. The debate was on Tuesday night and it feels like 45 years ago. It feels like we’re celebrating the 45th anniversary of the first presidential debate of 2020 right now, but we’re not. It’s been four days and I’m just grateful that Weird Al works as fast as he does. He got his video out one day after the debate. And thank goodness that he did because another day would’ve been too late. He would’ve been up against the coronavirus diagnosis and everybody would’ve called it poor taste. So kudos, Weird Al. You work fast and thank goodness. Thank goodness for you, honestly. I’m going to write you in this year if, if the other candidates are dead.
My pre-debate thoughts, which I wrote down twenty minutes before the debate began, I wrote: “To win tonight’s debate, Joe Biden basically has to not have a heart attack and collapse on the stage. Anything short of that, and the polls should either stay where they are or go in Biden’s favor.” I also wrote, “I suppose another way Trump could win the debate is by surprising the world with some crazy new accusation against Biden that is actually a good accusation that might stick, or some otherwise unpredictable stunt akin to bringing Bill Clinton’s accusers to the debate in 2016, that then sends Biden back on his heels.” That was what happened. He tried to produce a stunt, but the stunt was Hurricane Donald. Just moving out in all directions. Taking everybody down within a 50-feet radius. Including Chris Wallace and of course Biden. It didn’t seem to work, the polls probably will be released any minute that were conducted after the debate. I anticipate that they will reveal very little movement, and that Biden will maintain his lead. Biden did not drop dead on the stage. He did not have too many incoherent senior moments. He did have a handful cause he’s Joe Biden. I’m not sure how much that has to do with age. He’s always been a gaffer. But he had a couple of those moments, but overall I think voters, viewers who were paying close attention, you know, you knew what he meant. You knew what he meant. I could see him in the Oval Office making important decisions on my behalf. I’m fine with that, I think he’d be an excellent president. After that debate I feel no different about that, and I doubt anybody else does.
Everybody’s set in their ways already, I don’t think the debate changed many minds, which is why I wouldn’t rule out that Donald is using this coronavirus — listen, he’s going to use this diagnosis to his advantage whether it’s real or not, we have to assume it’s real cause it’s just the right thing to assume, but… Anyway.
Let’s see, I also wrote before the debate: “If this debate is just Trump repeating that Biden would spell doom to American cities and force a crazy socialist agenda on the rural folks — I wrote that, “rural folk” — and Biden doesn’t have a heart attack and die, Biden will win the debate in enough people’s minds for him to retain his polling advantage. However, Biden could come out swinging with several major moments confronting the horror show of the Trump presidency. And if they’re phrased just right and nail the issues on the head he could tilt voters even more in his favor, building a lead that only a dose of Russian poison could overcome.” I don’t think that happened either. I don’t think Biden had too many brilliant moments. He had one or two moments when he was looking at the camera and speaking directly to me. I don’t know if you thought he was speaking to you, I’m pretty sure he was talking to me. And yet they weren’t Oh my god, they weren’t amazing. They were just, Okay this guy can do the job. I just don’t see them changing the polls in either direction.
Okay, and then I wrote underneath all that, I wrote, “Predictions.” Here were my official predictions. I haven’t read these since I wrote them, so this’ll be interesting. Let’s see what I said!
“Trump will make baseless and tasteless accusations,” oh, yeah, that did happen! Yea, one for one.
“Trump will come off looking desperate to me.” Hm, actually, I’ve got to say, as out there and crazy as he was, he didn’t look desperate. I give him credit. He did look large and in charge. Uh, very large. He seemed very confident and he seemed with it. He seemed very with it. Like, his crazy evil mastermind was working. It was working. He was able to get the words out that he wanted to get out, he was able to interrupt repeatedly with what I think he wanted to say. The man is on his horrible game, or he was on Tuesday. So he didn’t look desperate.
“Biden will come out strong and meet my hopes.” You know, that didn’t happen either. I’m now one for three. Biden, particularly at the beginning, he did not come out looking strong. He came out looking, particularly looking, very weak, and very frail and old. I thought he got better as the debate went on. I thought if you watched the first five minutes only, and then you turned it off, you’d probably Donald Trump really needs to win this election, Joe Biden isn’t up for the task, but if you watched ten minutes or more, I think you, you know — and you were, on the fence or already in Biden’s came, I think you’d say, “All right, all right, this guy — he could do it, he could do it.” But he certainly didn’t come out strong. He certainly didn’t meet my highest hopes for his performance, but he did meet, I think, a baseline expectation of competency, salience, with-itness.
I want to provide an update now on the campaigns that we’ve been discussing for the last several weeks. You know, I’ve talked to lots of folks from around the country, and some of this stuff has had some major developments in the weeks since we covered the issues. And it’s a good time now to go into it and to see where things stand. So here’s a little segment I like to call: “Previous on Campaign Season.”
[silly introductory segment]
Episode 1 was about redistricting in Oregon. Who’s going to draw those lines of those districts? Is it going to be you? Is it going to be me? Is it going to be some clown in a clown suit with a clown nose and clown car? Or is it going to be a commission of apolitical unelected people of great repute? Well, it’s going to continue to be the legislators themselves as it turns out because the Supreme Court of the United States jumped in and said, “Sorry, Oregon, we reject your initiative” because they didn’t collect enough signatures and the Supreme Court of Oregon said, “Eh, no big deal, you get a mulligan, it’s a virus, it’s fine!” And the Supreme Court ultimately came in and said, “[silly sounds].” And they stayed that ruling, and I think by the way that’s a word-for-word, you can look up the opinion. I’m pretty sure it was Chief Justice Roberts who wrote, “[silly sounds].” And so that one’s dead for ten years. Not going to happen this year, which means it’s not going to happen for at least ten years because we only do the redistricting every ten years. Check the Constitution, folks, it’s in there.
All right, Episode 2: this one’s my favorite so far. Of all the issues that we’ve talked about, this one’s my favorite. For several reasons. Number one, I loved the guest, Kris Steele. Former Republican Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives. You know, Kris Steele stole my heart because he’s such a nice person. I really enjoyed the conversation. I loved everybody I’ve spoken with, but Kris Steele, for some reason. Steele has stuck with me and he’s stuck with Scarlett Johansson too. Did you know that? Scarlett Johansson likes this guy! Actually I don’t know that that’s true, but Scarlett Johansson really likes this issue and she has made a commercial to support the initiative. 805. Yes on 805 in Oklahoma is the ballot question and here is the audio from Scarlett Johansson’s commercial:
[Scarlett Johansson commercial.]
MATT DUNDAS: I would do almost anything Scarlett Johansson asked me to do so that one seems like it’s in good shape. Honestly, I’m surprised that there’s anybody out there saying no after Scarlett Johansson asked them very nicely and firmly to say yes. And so we’ll see what happens on November 3 but I’m optimistic.
All right, the next episode was about Alaska. Alaska’s Fair Share wanted to get more tax revenue from the biggest fields north of a certain line of latitude, I can’t remember which one, in Alaska. It’s more money in the pockets of Alaskans from the big oil companies, which frankly sounds like a great idea, but I’m seeing a lot of opinion editorials on the internet saying, “[silly sounds].” So we’ll see how that one shakes out.
Episode 4 was about the Susan Collins/Sara Gideon senate race here in my home state. My new adopted home State of Maine. The Collins/Gideon race is pretty tight, but not that tight, not as tight as Collins probably wants it to be. The latest polls, which were released a few days ago, show that Sara Gideon, whose chief argument in her favor, is that she is not Susan Collins, is up in the polls, 46-41. We have a ranked ballot here in Maine. There are four candidates so that’s going to come up. If you take out those other candidates and then run the poll again, which the polling firm conveniently did for us, the vote is actually 50-42 in favor of Sara Gideon, the challenger, which still doesn’t add up to 100. Still doesn’t really come close, it’s a very curious thing that in this particular election year with everybody talking about nothing else other than this that 8% of Mainers – that’s what, 2 out of every 25 people. That’s one out of every twelve and a half people. I saw a half person walking down the street the other day I was like How come you haven’t made up your mind?!
Okay, then Bud for Minnesota. The, far as I can tell, Bud for Minnesota campaign kind of stalled. I’m pretty sure I was their last press hit, and that was like a month ago. So I’m not sure what’s happening with the Bud for Minnesota campaign, I wish them all the best.
All right, DC Shrooms: Decriminalize Nature DC, that was the next episode. What’s that, Episode 6. Episode 6. Check it out. Great, great topic, great episode. I don’t have much of an update because I can’t find polling on that issue. I have learned that on September 21, the city council of Ann Arbor, Michigan vote unanimously in favor, and I’m quoting the Associated Press here, “ANN ARBOR, MI (AP) — The city of Ann Arbor, Michigan has decriminalized psychedelic plants and fungi including magic mushrooms and police officers will no longer make them an enforcement focus.”
The AP continues: “City council voted unanimously September 21 in favor of a resolution declaring it the city’s lowest law enforcement priority.” Okay, great, so it’s being done. It’s being done in Ann Arbor, and that’s the city council, cause it’s interesting, right? In the episode last week about South Dakota voting to legalize marijuana I was talking to somebody from the Marijuana Policy Project by the name of Jared Moffat, fun conversation, check out that episode, and he was talking about how only Illinois has voted legislatively — through the legislature, that is — to legalize marijuana, that everywhere else it’s had to be an initiative. So I’m impressed here with a city council voting to decriminalize magic mushrooms. That they’re not just going to do what I consider to be a little bit more of a cowardly move which is let the voters do it through the initiative process, which allows legislators, city councilors, to just kind of shrug their shoulders and say, Hey I didn’t think it was a great idea but I got overruled by the voters I guess we’ll just have to do it. In this case, it’s the city council leaning forward and saying, Naw this is the right thing to do. And so to me that says that we’ve got some kind of movement going on in this country to decriminalize fungus, which, when you put it that way, doesn’t that seem like a good idea?
And then I got nothing on the last two issues. Rick Just running for the state senate in Idaho. As always I wish all of our guests well. But I got nothing. I tried to find a poll, I tried to find a news article. You know, these state races, they’re sometimes not covered to the greatest extent. You know, the media has been nationalized to the point where these thousands of statehouse races go largely uncovered and that’s, I think, a drag for the voters.
Last week we talked about South Dakota weed. I already covered that. He, Jared Moffat, cited some pretty positive polls but there haven’t been any released to the public. So that’s really my whole update. The Scarlett Johansson thing was really why I did that whole thing. I just thought, Boy that’s cool.
Have a great week, folks! Can’t wait to talk to you again next week. You’re the best. You’re handsome. And I want more of you.
Marijuana Policy Project campaigns coordinator Jared Moffat discusses his work attempting to legalize marijuana in South Dakota and elsewhere.
Idaho 15th District State Senate hopeful Rick Just joins Matt to discuss his candidacy, his campaign, and the fate of humanity.
Matt Dundas (MD): The first thing I wanted to say – somebody has to have pointed this out cause it’s just too coincidental – but electric! Electric! Your campaign is electric! ElectricJust, and if you were running for ICE, which I know isn’t electable – the Immigration and Customs Enforcement – it could spell ElectrickJustice.com.
Rick Just (RJ): Yes it could! Well, my wife has been big on calling me Sparky for that very reason.
MD: I love it. See I knew I couldn’t be the first.
RJ: Yeah, yeah. I use that occasionally on the campaign. It’s Elect Rick Just, but it sounds like Electric Just, doesn’t it?
MD: It absolutely does and I could see that being a real boon to any campaign. To have that just land at your feet; how could you not run for office with a name like Rick. It makes me want to tell every Rick I’ve ever met, Have you thought about running? Cause… You’re electric. Anyway, neither here nor there. Not the serious stuff that I’m sure compelled you to run. So let’s start there. You’re running for the State Senate in Idaho in the 15th District. Let’s just start with, why?
RJ: Well, two years ago a gentleman by the name of Jim Bratnober ran for this seat – Senate seat. He lost by six votes. And I would’ve been voting for Jim again this time but earlier this year he had some health issues and had to drop out. He stepped out, I stepped up, and I was happy to do so. He was a great candidate and he’s given me a lot of help since then, by the way.
MD: Oh interesting. So you’re coming off the bench?
RJ: I am. I started in April.
MD: And so, how’s it going? Do you have polls? Do you have a sense of how your campaign is doing versus your opponent?
RJ: We don’t have polling. What we have is support, and what I mean by that is that we have about 350 individual donors in the district and some outside of the district as well, of course. And that compares with my opponent who has 14 individual donors, so we think it’s going pretty well.
MD: And how about the take? You have way more donors but who has more money?
RJ: We’re about even.
MD: Interesting, how about that.
RJ: Yeah, he makes fewer phone calls. He just calls some of the PACs and the corporations and such. And I’ve decided not to do that.
MD: Excellent, why don’t you spell out, what is the difference between you two? Why would you feel compelled to run for a seat? What’s wrong with the incumbent?
RJ: Well, you know, the incumbent is okay, he’s what you would call today a moderate Republican.
MD: I’m sorry, it sounded like you said moderate Republican. I don’t know those two words together.
RJ: In Idaho, yes, I remember moderate Republicans I voted for years ago. And nowadays it’s the whole scene has shifted to the right of course, but he’s one of the more moderate ones here. But there are things that we do not have in common, for instance he tried to get a bibles in schools bill passed a couple years ago, which is strictly unconstitutional, Idaho’s constitution prohibits it. So that’s one thing. But there are a few differences, yeah.
MD: Okay, so why you though, what is it about your background that sets you up to represent the people of the district?
RJ: Yeah, well, I’m an Idaho native, which is somewhat important here. Not that I was so bright to be born here but I’m glad I was. My great-great-grandparents came here in 1863. So we’ve been around a while. I was in the Marine Corps, served in the Marine Corps. Came back got a masters in public administration at Boise State University. Go Broncos, where the blue turf is, and all of that. Then I worked for thirty years for the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, that’s our state parks agency here in Idaho. And so I’ve got some good public lands background. I’ve worked with all the state and federal agencies and something called the Idaho Recreation Initiative, I was the coordinator of that for five years, and a lot of other public lands kinds of things. That’s probably why I was interested in running. I want to protect our public lands. Now when I talk to our constituents – to our voters out there – I shouldn’t say constituents cause I’m not elected yet. But to the voters in the district, public lands is big. It’s third or fourth for a lot of people, but it’s not number one. Number one is education funding, number two – close second – is property tax relief. And so that’s what I’m running for, is to represent the district.
MD: And what role does the state senate have? I know different states have different kinds of legislatures – some are full-time, some are part-time, some are really important, some are kind of back seat to the executive branch – what’s Idaho set up like?
RJ: Well it’s in flux in a sense, it’s a part-time legislature. And we did have a special session because of some coronavirus issues here three or four weeks ago, I guess. I actually got to serve in that. Jake Ellis, who is one of the representatives in District 15, couldn’t serve for a few days – those particular few days – and he asked me to sit in, so I was able to sit in on that one. And one of the issues that was the big buzz in the legislature – of course, I was on the House side at that time – they wanted the authority to call their own special sessions, and they didn’t get that during this special session because the governor limited it to only a couple of subjects and that wasn’t one of them, but they will be revisiting that one soon. So that’s why I say it’s perhaps in flux. If they could call their own sessions they’d be a little more powerful and probably meet more often, and probably cause more trouble.
MD: And so you want to cause trouble?
RJ: Yeah, yeah. I don’t think we need to cause trouble. By the way – this made the national news, I think – during that special session, Ammon Bundy and a group of about 150 people kind of stormed the gallery on the House side. Broke through a door and such. They were allowed in there but we were social distancing, and they didn’t wan to social distance, they wanted everybody in there. At least one of them that we could see was packing a rifle. And – cause that’s legal in Idaho’s capital.
MD: You can bring a rifle right on into the building?
RJ: Oh yeah.
RJ: Not any kind of a metal detector or anything to get in. So, that’s a little unusual.
MD: Ammon Bundy’s a little unusual. Or he used to be.
RJ: He actually lives here in Boise now. Or not in Boise, in Idaho. He lives in Emmett.
MD: Oh you must be very proud to welcome a member of the Bundy family.
RJ: Well, you can think that.
MD: You know I have – we don’t need to get all sidetracked on Ammon Bundy – but I have the strangest respect for him. He seems to be at least consistent. He’s anti-Trump, which is fascinating. And he’s for defunding the police. He really doesn’t like the police. And I do respect a person for sticking with his beliefs even if I don’t agree. But let’s move on from in.
MD: Anytime he does anything it seems to make the news cause he’s always packing heat and he’s always getting too close, but… So, so, you came off the bench to help represent in the House of Representatives, and then you came off the bench to run for the Senate but is this your first time campaigning for office yourself.
RJ: I ran four years ago for the Ada County Highway District, which seems like a small thing anyplace but Ada County. We’re the only unit of government that has a highway district that is entirely countywide, city and county – this highway district runs the whole show for the cities and everything. And it’s about a hundred million dollar a year budget and kind of a big deal here.
MD: And I take it didn’t work out?
RJ: It didn’t work out. I got into the race really, really, really late and what I found out was the money was gone.
MD: Isn’t that a bummer. So, so this is your second campaign then, for office?
RJ: Yes, yes.
MD: Okay, and what are you doing to campaign? It’s good to know you’ve campaigned once before, so your only experience isn’t during Covid, cause I’m sure it’s affecting your campaign. But let’s start with this year, what are you doing to get the word out? How are you attracting voters?
RJ: Sure. Well we started out by – we like to door knock. That’s sort of our thing in Idaho. The Democrats are door knocking folks. And we get around and talk to people. We couldn’t really do that to begin with. And so we went to the phones and we were calling a thousand people a week, sometimes more than that. And that’s a big number, but you’ve got to remember that most of them don’t answer. So we’re talking to – let’s say a couple hundred people a week – asking them their opinions and getting a sense of where they stand and getting to know them a little bit better. We’ve been doing that for several weeks, now about three weeks ago I started doorknocking.
MD: Oh really?
RJ: Yeah I did. Some of the other candidates in other districts had done a little bit of it. Some of the other candidates in other districts had done a little bit of it. They experimented a little. And this is what I do, I have a hat with a little visor that comes down over the front of it. It has an American flag on the front of it so it’s very appropriate. I go up and I press the doorbell and I stand back about ten feet and when they answer the door I say, “Hi, I’m Rick Just, I’m running to be your state senator, do you feel comfortable talking for a couple of minutes at this distance?” And almost all of them say, “Well yeah, sure.”
MD: All right.
RJ: Almost all of them say, “I’m busy.” And I hand them literature. But there’s no one I’ve run into that’s really afraid to talk. Now maybe aren’t answering their door when they see this person standing on their sidewalk with this weird headgear on. That’s possible.
MD: You’re saying you’ve got a face visor.
RJ: Yeah, exactly.
MD: Like one of those plastic shields that riot police wear.
RJ: Yeah, I can wear a mask but I can’t talk with a mask. There’s something about the architecture of my face and my beard that, every time I say a word it pulls the mask down below my nose.
MD: Oh interesting, sure, sure.
RJ: So the visor works a lot better for me in that instance.
MD: Well plus they can see your face, which I assume is a more friendly experience for them.
RJ: It’s really important to see if you’re smiling and all of that.
MD: Yeah absolutely. And so these conversations you’d say they generally – cause I’ve certainly done a lot of door knocking over the years. I know a lot of people are very busy.
RJ: Oh yeah.
MD: And you find out what they’re doing and it’s usually garbage, but whatever. I respect their rights.
MD: Other than the fact that you’re wearing this gear and that maybe one out of so many people says, “Actually I don’t feel terribly comfortable with the whole thing.” Other than that. Once you get past that hurdle, the conversations are pretty standard?
RJ: It is pretty standard. We’re doing what we call persuasion doorknocking right now.
MD: You’re talking to everybody. Republicans, Democrats, Independents? No?
RJ: Well, it can be everybody but usually we don’t go to our base because they’re our base and we’re pretty confident with them. So we’re looking at the unaffiliated voters and some Republicans as well. Our district has 10,000 Republicans registered, 5,000 Democrats but 12,000 unaffiliated. And so that’s where we’re going. And some of the Republicans – Idaho is, I guess a lot of states do this, but Idaho you have to register by party for the primary. So there are a fair number of Democrats that will register as Republican just so they can vote for somebody who’s the least worst guy or gal.
MD: Huh, now, because a Republican usually ends up winning the election in November, so they want to protect against a particularly–
RJ: Oftentime it’s the only choice they have. There are districts where there are no Democrats available. Anyway, that’s not here in our district, so we probably don’t have a lot of those folks here. They do have some choices. But if there’s not a primary opponent against the Democrats, that’s really the only game in town is to register as a Republican.
MD: That’s interesting. So you’re saying 10,000 Republicans, 5,000 Democrats, then there’s 12,000 mystery people, and yet the incumbent only won by six votes out of almost 18,000 cast. So if you’ve got twice as many – I mean, something funny’s going on – either those independents skew Democrat or what you just described might be in large numbers; large numbers of Democrats. But why would there be so many – I mean, how does this district generally go in the presidential election for example?
RJ: Well it has been going Republican.
RJ: But it’s a district in Boise that is starting to be purple. I wouldn’t call it a blue district although two of the three representatives – the two representatives are Democrats. And it’s actually the only district in Boise where there is a Republican that was elected this last time. So. Boise city proper. Idaho is a pretty red state but Boise’s pretty blue.
MD: Okay, so thus the moderate Republican.
RJ: Yeah, yeah exactly.
MD: Not the Michelle Bachman.
RJ: And I attribute the success to these guys and any success I might have on the work that’s gone before. They’ve been out knocking doors for years. I’m not kidding. Years. Steve Birch tried for six years before he got his seat last time out. And I have yet to run into a person out there or on the phone that hasn’t had a visit from Steve Birch. He’s talked to 25,000 folks.
MD: Intrepid. Persistent.
MD: And that’s what it takes it politics and campaigning. I’m excited and encouraged to hear that you’re going physically door to door. Well cause we’ve gotta get out of the house for one thing. I mean, what are we all doing? You can’t just stay in the house forever. And then ten feet with a blast shield down. You should be safe. Everybody should be safe.
RJ: I think so.
MD: You’re showing your face. That’s exciting. Right there, you’re compelling me. If I’m in my house, you’re the most interesting thing that’s happening all day if you show up with a blast shield on and ask if we can chat from ten feet apart. That’s definitely the most interesting thing.
MD: What can we learn about life in America from you going door to door and campaigns being run the way they are and saying, “Ah, this other guy, he’s no good, you’ve gotta vote for Electric Justice!”
RJ: There you go. Well I’ve learned a couple of things from the campaign, certainly. One, well I’ve just known all along is, we need younger people in the campaigns. And it’s hard to do that for a part-time legislature. You’ve either got to be an attorney or retired practically. I mean those are kind of your choices in Idaho as a citizen legislator. And that’s not a good thing, we need younger voices in the legislature. So I’d certainly like to see that. And the other thing is, you have a lot of folks who’d like to be an independent. Boy that would be a hard pull. It really would be tough with what the party has done over the years – I’m sure either party. To identify their base voters and to find out what they care about, who they are, what their family is like, that kind of thing. And be able to contact those voters with some idea of what you’re running into. You just can’t – you’re alone when you’re an independent, unfortunately. Which is too bad. I wouldn’t mind seeing another party out there. Or, you know, some other kind of system where there were more viewpoints than just this what we seem to think is now black and white, or red and blue. I’d like to see other ideas out there, and I think a lot of people would like to see that. But we are very polarized.
MD: Oh absolutely. And I’ve heard a lot of people talking about money in politics, and I’ve heard folks talk about gerrymandering and safe districts pulling people further, and then of course there’s critiques of the media and 24 hour news, but you’re also saying that the infrastructure of the parties over time has led them to basically have a war chest of data on their supporters that, even with real money, an independent third party would then have to start from scratch to compete with that knowledge, institutional knowledge.
RJ: We have a hundred thousand data points in our district. And each data point is, you know, somebody’s name somebody’s phone number, somebody’s address, email address; did they register as a Republican? Did they register as a Democrat? Did they register as unaffiliated? And we’ve talked to them three or four times and we keep track of that. Not in any really detailed way, but if they talked about minimum wage last time, we know that, that that’s something they’re interested in. And we remember that.
MD: Now is that not inevitable that people would find that it’s easier to build power by sharing this data, and if we’re going to share the data then we’ve gotta share maybe an office and maybe our budget and maybe just half of the chamber.
MD: I mean – certainly I think about this a lot. How did we end up with this rigid two-party structure that seems to be eating our society. And not even just eating our politics, like eating our whole society. It’s eating everything.
RJ: Yes it is right now. It surprised me. I ran – well the ACHD commissioner – I ran as, as, well we were all independents, it’s non-partisan. And so I didn’t have those tools. And I wasn’t smart enough to get a campaign manager at that time. And so I was kind of in the woods. I was way behind. But I came into this and this was kind of a turn-key operation for me because Jim had a manager in place, he had an office in place, he had a little bit of money from the last campaign. All of that was great. Then I get into it and I find out that every precinct has a precinct campaign. The district has someone in charge of the district itself. The county has a structure, the state has a structure. And they’re all helping you.
MD: Yeah. And they’ve all been doing it probably for years and years and know how to do it, and are training successors when necessary. Yeah, that’s incredible institutional knowledge. Which, when I was working – I’ve done some campaigns for parties, in particular the Democrats – and you know you get plugged into that, it’s really intense. They really have their stuff together there in a way that I certainly could imagine that if I wanted to do an independent bid I’d have to build all that from scratch – forget about it. It would be symbolic at best.
RJ: Even the volunteer structure. Yes we had – I’m guessing two dozen volunteers assembling yard signs. That’s all they were doing was assembling yard signs for the three candidates. And they got it all done and in a couple of weeks they’re going to go out in pick-ups and put those puppies in the ground because we’ve got the list of everywhere they need to put them. All of that is pretty hard to beat when you’re just putting your toe in.
MD: Gosh, it must feel pretty cool to be the candidate in that situation.
RJ: It is.
MD: And you walk in and everything’s got your name on it and 25 people you’ve never seen before just put the thing together.
RJ: That’s absolutely right. I am so impressed with that and I know that it’s not so much all about me, it’s about getting that other seat, that blue seat, in the legislature. We’re under no illusion that any time soon Idaho’s going to be a Democratic state. We get that. We just want to have enough seats in there so that once in a while they have to listen to us.
MD: Now why young people. You said the first thing you’ve learned is that we need to have more young people in charge and a counterpoint to that would be, Have you met a young person? They don’t know anything. They think they know everything. They’re undereducated and overconfident and why not a lawyer? Why not a retired person who’s got all this great life experience? What has it been that’s led you to conclude that we should have more youth involved?
RJ: Well they have different experiences. We all do of course, and this is a citizen legislature. And we need to have someone in the legislature that’s maybe having a hard time making rent, for instance. And maybe the minimum wage, maybe they’re working two or three jobs. “How could they possibly serve in the legislature?” But that’s kind of my point. We’re not getting that viewpoint. And I’m not necessarily saying that if you’re 20 you should be a senator. There are probably some great 20 year olds out there that are Rhodes Scholars and would be great.
MD: There probably are, sure.
RJ: But I’m thinking more of the 30, 35 and 40. It’s still hard for those folks to do it. And we’d like to hear what their point of view is. We’d like to hear what a lineman for the county, what’s their point of view? What do they run into that we don’t know about in the legislature?
MD: That’s interesting. So a lot of institutionally structured roadblocks to progress is what I’m hearing about, which is very interesting, not necessarily shocking to hear, because I look around I see a broke – I mean, I really see a broken society. Or a breaking society. And I’m fearful, I’ve got a couple kids, I don’t know what America’s going to look like 30 years from now. I can’t quite picture anything coherent, it’s very, very foggy. It could – and really six months from now it could be quite different.
RJ: Yes, we just don’t know.
MD: No, which is kind of exciting. But mostly pretty crappy. All right, listen, Rick Just, thanks so much for taking the time out of your campaign to talk to me and best of luck to you on November 3.
RJ: Thank you Matt, I really appreciate the time!
Melissa Lavasani of Decriminalize Nature DC discusses Initiative 81, which would make “magic” mushrooms among the lowest law enforcement priorities of the police in Matt’s former hometown of Washington, D.C.
Donavon Cawley of Bloomington, Minnesota joins Matt to discuss his great-great-uncle Bud’s campaign for “office” in an episode of unprecedented zeal. The conversation brings into stark relief the prism through which our paradigm is lived, and offers us clarity in this our time of great fuzziness (sort of).
Bowdoin College’s Andrew Rudalevige (Chair of Department of Government and Legal Studies, Thomas Brackett Reed Professor of Government), joins Matt to discuss the red hot senate race between incumbent Susan Collins (R) and challenger Sara Gideon (D).
Campaign Manager David Dunsmore from Vote Yes for Alaska’s Fair Share chats with Matt about Alaskan tax policy!
Kris Steele, former Speaker of the House of the Oklahoma House of Representatives and current Executive Director of Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, chats with Matt about State Question 805 and cheeseburgers.
Chief Petitioner and Campaign Chair of Oregon’s People Not Politicians Norman Turrill joins Matt to discuss his organization’s efforts to qualify an initiative for the November ballot.
MATT DUNDAS (MD): Sir, politicians are people too. Aren’t politicians people too?
NORMAN TURRILL (NT): I consider myself a politician, so it’s not a bad thing in my mind. It’s a necessary part of our political system to have people to help lead us and we happen to call them politicians.
MD: Okay, well then let’s ask it another way, what is this petition all about? What will you accomplish with your petition drive?
NT: The petition is to change the way Oregon is redistricted. Currently the legislature has the responsibility and it has a tendency to deal with its own interests more than the interests of the voters, and to have a conflict of interest in the process because every incumbent has an interest in their being re-elected and having their party continue in power. And so if that process gets too far afield we call it gerrymandering.
MD: Now this seems so obvious and so straightforward, a person must scratch their head and say, “Well how did this even happen in the first place?” This seems like, the last people you’d want drawing the legislative districts are the legislators.
NT: That’s right. So it got started actually at the beginning of the country’s founding.
MD: So many mistakes! Just one after the next with those guys. That bunch! Sorry. What did they do? What was it?
NT: Well, when the Constitution was written for each state, they wrote it into the Constitution how this happens, and, you know, 100 or 200 years ago they didn’t think of it quite in the same terms. They expected them to go for their own interest, I guess. And Congress, when it got involved, the United States Constitution guaranteed to each state the way to do its own districts and ways of electing its officials. And the United States Constitution can’t say much about that.
MD: It’s state’s rights, and Oregon is making a unilateral move here. How do you compare? How does Oregon compare to – cause I should say, you’re in Oregon, not sure I’ve said that yet – you’re based in Portland, is that right?
NT: That’s right, Portland, Oregon.
MD: My goodness. Have you been taken off the streets and patted down by unmarked police officers yet? What’s happening in your town?
NT: That protest is still going on. It’s going on for over 60 days now.
MD: That’s incredible.
NT: Remarkably enough, the rest of Portland is doing just fine. The protests and what you’ve heard about in the news is actually confined to about two or three blocks downtown, and the rest of the city is relatively unaffected. We occasionally see people standing on corners with “Black Lives Don’t Matter” signs, but that’s about it.
MD: Oh really?
MD: Not an “All Lives Matter” sign, not a “Black Lives Matter” sign, a “Black Lives Don’t Matter” sign? Is that what you just said?
NT: No, I said “Black Lives Matter.”
MD: Oh I’m – okay, I’m sorry. I’m glad we clarified that! So while we’re on that topic though – I wanted to come back to how you compare to other states but since we’ve already gone for the elephant in the room, you’re in Portland, Oregon – has this event, have these protests changed your campaign at all?
NT: No, not the protests. What has changed our campaign is the pandemic. We drafted our initiative over about a two year period, at long length, as a negotiation within the coalition members. And we submitted it to the Secretary of State for filing last November, and there’s a long process by which initiatives are given ballot titles and it wasn’t until April when we were actually given permission to collect signatures on the petitions that they specified.
MD: Oh, goodness, not until the pandemic had already begun?
NT: Yes. And so we were well into the pandemic, and at that point we decided we needed to do something else, especially League members, who are generally elderly. 60 and above.
MD: League members, League of Women Voters.
NT: Out on the streets during a pandemic and collecting signatures. And so we decided to do something else, and that’s when we pivoted to a different strategy.
MD: And what is that strategy?
NT: The strategy was to do direct mailing to registered voters in Oregon, and we put together the funding and mailing to half a million registered voter households in Oregon, which represent 1.1 million voters in the state. And we mailed them all the petition and instructions on how to return it to us by mail and that was actually quite successful in getting a response. And it was remarkable. A normal direct mail advertising gets like half a percent response rate. We got about six percent response rate in that mailing.
MD: Wow. Twelve times the normal response. Everybody’s just sitting around watching Netflix.
NT: You know, they were bored enough apparently they had time to look at our petition.
NT: However, it was not enough to qualify for the ballot. We came up to our deadline of July 2, we had about 64,000 – 68,000 – signatures at that point. And we tried to submit them to the Secretary of State and they refused to accept them because they weren’t enough to qualify.
MD: What’s the number you need?
NT: We needed 150,000.
MD: Oh that’s much bigger.
NT: For a constitutional amendment. So at that point we decided to sue the Secretary of State through the federal courts.
MD: Yes, I saw that. That’s great.
NT: This is a fascinating story and it’s unprecedented first that we would a campaign through a mailing like this, for an initiative. And secondly it’s unprecedented to have a pandemic at the same time. And so we appealed to the federal court and they decided in our favor after a long story. And it essentially said that the process of getting on the ballot is a demonstration of voter interest in the subject and that given the circumstances that we had in fact demonstrated voter interest sufficiently in the initiative and so it should be placed on the ballot. He gave the Secretary of State two choices: either put it on the ballot directly or give us a new deadline of August 17 and a smaller threshold which they said was 58 thousand and some signatures, to be validated. Valid signatures.
MD: Valid signatures. So you’d handed in 64 thousand but they hadn’t been validated.
NT: That’s right.
MD: And that can be a pretty risky – like, the percentage of signatures that are valid especially when you’re going door-to-door or maybe on a streetcorner – I’d expect maybe you had a better than average validation rate when it’s a mailing.
NT: Well that’s exactly what happened. Our validation rate when we got down to it was something like 97%.
NT: Yeah, unheard of validation rate for an initiative.
MD: That is unheard of.
NT: And as a consequence, together with some other signatures that we had submitted weekly, we were now qualified according to the lawsuit judgment to be on the ballot.
MD: Well, congratulations, that’s huge.
NT: It is huge.
MD: You can’t win without that step.
NT: However, the leaders of our state don’t agree on what happened and there are different political parties. The Secretary of State is a Republican and the other state officers are Democrats. And the Democratic Attorney General appealed the decision of the district court to the 9th Circuit court and that’s still pending. And we have a hearing next week, August 13, to see what happens with the appeal.
MD: So, a Democrat said no?
NT: That’s right.
MD: Cause you would assume, if you were just a layman you might assume, “Oh, Republicans are more corrupt than Democrats, they’re going to be the ones to try to stop this but in this instance an individual who’s a Democrat, so this is really about power, isn’t it?
NT: That’s right. So this is about the powers that be in Oregon who are the Democrats, who are dominant here, and they’re fighting tooth and nail to prevent us from getting on the ballot.
MD: What’s their argument?
NT: Their argument is that we’re trying to amend the Constitution and that the state should have complete power over how the Constitution is amended. And our argument is something different, it’s that because the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the First Amendment, gives us the right to petition our government and we were denied that right because of the governor’s lockdown provisions of the pandemic, and that we should be permitted to get on the ballot in spite of the actual requirements. We’ve demonstrated enough interest already that we should be on the ballot.
MD: So their argument is that the initiative drive is an improper mechanism to change the Constitution? That even if you’d gotten the right number of signatures they’d be opposed to a ballot initiative?
NT: No, they’re saying that since we didn’t get enough signatures to qualify as a Constitutional amendment by initiative that we should not be permitted to go to the ballot.
MD: Now do you suspect that if you do end up getting on the ballot one way or the other, let’s say the judge says – the Ninth Circuit says, “Naw, they’re okay, they did their diligence”; because you’re saying, I think I heard you right, which is that the judge basically said the purpose of the petition gathering in the first place is to demonstrate an interest and the fact that you guys had such a higher than average response rate on your mail-in petition drive demonstrated that interest.
NT: That’s correct. And we have no doubt that if we make the ballot the voters will agree with us, and it’s actually the voters, not the initiative, that amends the Constitution. So if the voters don’t agree then the Constitution is not going to be amended, but if they do agree it will be amended. So it’s the voters’ choice, not the initiative process’s choice.
MD: So do you think these same politicians are going to come out and try and defeat the initiative should you qualify it?
NT: Oh sure.
MD: Or do you think they’ll stay on the sidelines cause it’s too positive a – you know – an issue?
NT: Well I would hope that they would give up without a fight but it’s probably not going to happen. They’re protecting their core powers in the state. And their power to redistrict the state essentially lasts for ten years, and if they gerrymander the state it will essentially be setting in stone for up to ten years their control of the state.
MD: Again, it’s just such a head scratcher, why this wouldn’t be the case in all 50 states. How many states have a committee – cause you guys are proposing that there be an apolitical committee–
MD: Commission, okay. And that – we could get into a back and forth over how apolitical anybody ever is, but I looked into a little bit and I’d say at first glance it looks legit, it looks like your system that you’re proposing is as good a model as one could probably think of to try to keep politics away – keep money away too, that was a very significant part of the language. But how many states do something like that?
NT: There’s about 19 or 21 states that have some form of commission; now, depending on how you want to count them. There’s only a handful that do it like we’re proposing. One is California. And another is Arizona, and now Colorado and Michigan. In the last election there was actually five that had ballot measures about redistricting on the states and in all five states the voters passed those initiatives. So that’s one reason why I think if this gets on the ballot the voters will readily agree to amend the Constitution.
MD: And what percentage do you need to get a “yes” passed? Is it just 50.1?
NT: Fifty plus one.
MD: Fifty plus one, amazing. To change the Constitution. I guess that’s why the high signature threshold.
NT: Yes, and Oregon’s one of the few states where you can amend the Constitution by initiative. Most states don’t permit that. Many states have initiative process but it’s about passing statutes. New laws.
MD: Well if ever there was a situation where almost by definition you’d need to go straight to the voters. Cause I can think of some arguments against the initiative process. I’ve worked on initiative drives and overall I’m in favor, but I can certainly see some arguments against it. Voters can be swayed by big moneyed interests. Campaign ads on TV. They could do something dumb that politicians would know better than doing. But in this instance it really seems so clear that the politicians’ interest is corrupt, or corruptable.
NT: The legislature, what it does, it usually creates safes districts for the incumbents or the incumbent part – [phone rings] excuse me – and when those safe districts are created the voters have very little ability to change their representation. So having a commission that is more non-partisan or at least multi-partisan in the process creating districts that are in the interests of the voters. And also, one of the criteria is that they be competitive wherever possible. And that way the voters are better able to change their representation from the current leaders that they have elected before. And so that way the voters win instead of the incumbents.
MD: Which on the surface certainly seems like the way it ought to be, and when you look at the maps all over the country – and this has been an issue that has come up a lot, I think since the 2010 census, when, suddenly, it was the Republican strategy. My recollection – it’s been 10 years – but my recollection was that it suddenly dawned on everybody, “Oh, look what the Republicans have been doing for 30 years, they’ve been taking over statehouses so they can be in charge in 2010 when the census comes and then they get to redistrict everything and then suddenly you’ve got the craziest looking districts carved out to maximize Republicans in Congress.
NT: Well it’s not the Republicans that do this always. It’s both parties. And if you look at what the Democrats did in Maryland it’s just the opposite situation, and it’s about incumbency and party power as to who’s wielding this sledgehammer. And in our estimation, our opponents are trying to make this a political issue whereas we maintain that it’s a process issue that actually affects all political parties the same. And in the long run we compare it to a double-edged sword that can be used with both edges, and can be – either Democrats or Republicans can be wielding that sword. And often they do. And in the history of Oregon there’s examples of both Democrats and Republicans trying to gerrymander the state.
MD: No, you’re absolutely right. It’s true. I say Republicans, but the truth is they just thought of it and made it their national strategy. And then they pulled off a thing that the Democrats probably their first response was, “Egh, why didn’t we think of that?”
NT: That’s right.
MD: “We could’ve been the ones pulling that off.” So whoever’s in power is the one to watch out for. That’s interesting. Now, have you worked on campaigns before?
NT: I’ve not worked so much on candidate campaigns but I have worked on initiatives before. And it’s always been interesting. And it’s always something of an emotional rollercoaster as well, especially as we go through court cases and appeals. One thing I didn’t mention is that the Attorney General didn’t get its satisfaction in the court of appeals, 9th circuit, so they’ve also appealed to the United States Supreme Court now for a stay, and we’re waiting to see what will happen with that as well.
MD: Oh interesting, so while they wait for the Ninth Circuit they want the Supreme Court to jump in and stay the whole thing.
NT: Yes. And if that happens we’re done probably. If they agree with us and let the circuit court do its business and make a decision then I think we’ll be on the ballot. We’ll see what happens in both courts.
MD: When do the ballots get printed? Like, when’s the last day that you could be on the ballot?
NT: That’s a good question, it’s later in August when ballots have to start going out, especially to overseas voters and so we don’t have a lot of time to argue about this.
MD: Right. Well, August 8th was on your website, “sign the petition by August 8th.” That’s the day I intend to publish this interview on our podcast, is that day significant to any Oregonians that might be listening and what should they do?
NT: Well they should mail back the petitions that we’ve now mailed to – we’ve actually mailed a whole batch out to 150,000 registered voters households. And they should mail those back as soon as they can. At least by August 8th or maybe a couple days later. But still, it has to be enough time for the mail to get to Salem, Oregon, which is where we have to turn them into the Secretary of State.
MD: Now, going after people through the mail, that’s a, well, the coronavirus is novel, so’s that idea.
MD: That’s right. I’m impressed – one of the things about the pandemic is that it’s showing everybody a different way to do things. And some of those ways will certainly fall away when we’re finally through this, assuming we ever get through it, and some of those new ways of doing things may catch on, and I’m curious to know if you can tell me about the economics of the difference between paying people, you know, anywhere from a quarter to five dollars per signature to go out into the communities and gather these signatures, which I’ve been a part of many times, it’s a very cumbersome and very expensive proposition. Here you are, you’re cornered, you have really one major tactic, also not cheap – but is it cheaper per signature? Are you able to divulge?
NT: Well in Oregon, we can’t pay by the signature. We have to pay the petitioners by the hour when do, and it actually is more expensive to pay petitioners to go out on the streets. But the point is that there aren’t people on the streets, or at least weren’t initially, to be petitioned. And the petitioners would themselves be in danger of their health, so it’s a two-way argument that we decided not to do that. In any case, it was terrifically expensive to do this direct mailing as well, so it was probably more expensive to do street petitioning but we took the only choice we could with the money we had, and there was a lot of people who would’ve give us money because they said, “Oh naw, yeah, you’re not going to make it.” Well, those people were in fact somewhat right because we didn’t get the number of signatures that we were required to but it looks like we’ll get on the ballot anyway.
MD: That’s phenomenal and I’ve been noticing there’s a trend around the country of initiatives in the situation that you found yourself in, and having to go and ask judges for relief. It would seem that the weirdest thing that’s happened – I like the idea that campaigns are weird – and I would assume that the weirdest thing that’s happened on your campaign, versus previous campaigns you’ve worked on anyway, would have to be Covid, and this whole, mail it out and then go to the judge. But have there been any particular moments that, for an audience of people who may be interested in campaigns but haven’t worked on one, that might encapsulate that weirdness for you from the last few months you’ve been working?
NT: Repeat the question please?
MD: Yeah it’s a strange question. What’s the weirdest thing that’s happened on this campaign?
NT: Weirdest thing? Um. Well in the middle of our campaign to get people to mail back petitions then the Black Lives Matter protests started and that became a competing interest for people. Not everybody was wanting to pay much attention to our initiative campaign, and so they were pulled off onto the other protests. Some of them anyway. So that was weird.
MD: And that’s a good example of how you’re running a campaign and, when you’re on a campaign, in my experience, everything in the world revolves around you, right? So you’re the center of the universe, you’re trying to influence people around you, there’s so much that you can’t control. You can’t control George Floyd and that situation and the aftermath that’s, as you describe, still ongoing. Did you decide to, like, pull back a little bit? Save some resources? Wait a couple weeks on whatever public pushes you were doing?
NT: No, we didn’t really pause much. You know, we had already set in motion the big mailing, and had to continue with that. We started getting thousands of petitions back in the mail and so had to concentrate on processing those and seeing if they signed it in the right place or dated it and so on. There’s certain little niggling details that the Secretary of State will invalidate a signature or sometimes a whole petition because they didn’t do it right. And so we had to look at those and send some back where we could get them cured, as we call it, to validate the signatures. And so that occupied our time a lot. The other thing that was weird about the campaign is that our opponents are just dogged in their hyper-partisanship against us. They will do everything they can to prevent us from getting our signatures first, and then qualifying for the ballot. And we think they’ll do anything to argue against it when we do get on the ballot. So that is phenomenal.
MD: I know, it’s always interesting how an entrenched interest can fight – in some senses they might actually be fighting for their political lives. I mean, if I’m an incumbent, and I know if my district is redrawn the wrong way, I don’t stand a chance, then I’m fight. I’m going to say whatever I think I’ve got to say, like you just suggested that they would. What do you expect their talking points to be if you’re on the ballot, it’s a common sense thing, what are they even going to say? Like, it shouldn’t – a judge put it on the ballot and therefore the process was messed up? Or do they have something more substantive?
NT: Well, they certainly have substantive arguments. The initiative is actually – the text of the initiative is actually pretty long. There’s a lot of details involved in this process, and so they’re picking at some of the details. So part of the process is how to choose the 12-member commission, and one of the details there is that they have to be screened by the Secretary of State’s office for conflicts of interest. And so there’s a long list of thing that will disqualify people who want to be commissioners. People who have volunteered to do that. There are things like being a candidate, or being a political party officer, or being an office holder or family of any of those or being a lobbyist. These are obvious conflicts of interest in the process, yet they pick at that detail and say, “Why shouldn’t everybody be eligible to serve on this commission?” And there’s another qualification that you have to have been a registered voter for at least three years, and they think, “Well, what about new voters and young people and immigrants and are newly registered?” And we say, “Well, that’s a necessary part of the process because we want commissioners who actually know something about the state and something about the politics and geography and demographics of the state.” And so there’s arguments both ways and they want to pick at the detail. The bottom line is that they just don’t like it. It’s not the right petition, it’s not the right time. And so on. There’s just no way to satisfy their arguments because they’re coming at it from a whole different point of view, which is a partisan point of view rather than the nonpartisan process issue view that we have.
MD: Goodness, cause I read – I’ll confess I didn’t read the whole thing, it is a little long, but so long that if I lived in Oregon I wouldn’t read the whole thing – it wasn’t objectionably long. And of course it stank to me of thoughtfulness. And I risk – I keep doing this in the interviews, just gushing about how much I agree and appreciate what you’re doing. But it just wreaked of, “We really sat down, we brought some smart people together, we thought it through,” and here you go and you’re opposition is a very unique one: it’s the legislature. It’s elected officials themselves. And of course they’re poo-pooing it but I’ll bet they’re not offering their own bill that has all the fixes that they’re describing yours needs.
NT: We in fact offered them to pass something in the last two legislative sessions – major sessions – and they’ve just ignored us. Except for some minor details in the process about hearings, they didn’t even want to think about it. We can’t claim, really, to have the best process for redistricting the state because nobody knows what that is, but we can claim that we have a hell of a lot better process than what the legislature does.
MD: It sounds like a better process than what is happening in Oregon and so many other states. And of course this process when it’s done by politicians it erodes so much. There’s so much effect down the road on this, isn’t there? Because you end up with these incumbents who are entrenched in their jobs and they then don’t have to listen so much to the people and the parties go further apart because the districts are safer and safe and then you’ve got people primarying other people because the district becomes so safe that if you’re left wing you’ve got to be really left wing and vice versa. And it ends up coloring everything in politics and so it seems like you guys are on the ground floor of the issue that it would seem that all 50 states need to be attacking in order for America to have any chance of having representatives that truly represent the ideals and values of the constituency. I mean, did I nail that?
NT: You got it. Yeah.
Here’s a sneak preview of “Campaign Season” with Matt Dundas.