Ep. 67 The Great Battlefield x the MidPod
NATHANIEL PEARLMAN: Hi Nicie.
NICIE PANETTA: Hi Nathaniel.
PEARLMAN: Would you mind introducing yourself and giving me a quick biography?
NICIE: Sure. My name is Nicie Panetta and I am the cohost of The MidPod: The Midterms Podcast, and my partner Heather Atwood and I have been on the road for the last year and a bit, two moms trying to tell the story of the 2018 congressional midterm elections from the viewpoint of two moms.
PEARLMAN: How on earth did that become what you were doing with your life?
NICIE: Well Heather and I both had a very strong reaction of concern for our country after the 2016 midterm elections, like I suspect many of your listeners, and we decided to join what we call the drop everything club and I think a lot of Americans have really chosen this moment to maybe not drop every single thing but really reprioritize their roles as citizens in our democracy so we decided we wanted to take a year and give something to our country and we felt that maybe one thing we could do was to amplify the voices of people stepping up to run for Congress for the first time. And that's because we live north of Boston and our congressman is a guy named Seth Moulton and we knew from volunteering for Seth that he and some other key colleagues like Emily Cherniack of New Politics were going to recruit people with service backgrounds to run for Congress in this 2018 cycle.
PEARLMAN: What was it that made you concerned for our country?
NICIE: Well I would say there was definitely an element of pattern recognition. I grew up here in D.C. in the early 70s and Watergate was pretty much the topic of dinner table conversation in our household along with a couple of other things when I was a kid. So I had a very close-up view. My father wore it like a badge of honor. He was pretty low down but he was on the Enemies List. And––
PEARLMAN: How did he get on the Enemies List?
NICIE: Well he had been kind of an activist for some of the Democratic candidates like Eugene McCarthy and I guess he had done enough for him.
PEARLMAN: To come up on the radar.
NICIE: To get up on the radar. Believe me it wasn't anything.
PEARLMAN: So it wasn't it wasn't a pro-Nixon household.
NICIE: That would be a very safe statement.
PEARLMAN: That's similar to mine growing up in Boulder, Colorado where my precinct went 4 to 1 for McGovern in '72.
NICIE: Yeah so your parents they were active?
PEARLMAN: They were certainly locally active and very political and interested in labor and you know they were teachers and there was such a deep distaste for President Nixon going way back in their histories and it was merited. There are parallels. I think Trump is or the time plus Trump is more dangerous.
NICIE: I would agree with that. But there was.
PEARLMAN: They're both mendacious.
PEARLMAN: They're both...I mean at least Nixon had a an understanding of politics and I think Trump has some kind of almost animal instinct about politics. But he certainly doesn't have Nixon's interest in domestic or foreign policy and just except for a few ideological areas where he's pretty fixed.
NICIE: So I really woke up the morning after the election thinking it's all about Congress and as 17 wore on and we saw the unwillingness of GOP leadership on the Hill to stand up to President Trump in any meaningful way, just the increasing urgency of the 116th Congress. So that was really the starting point. And Heather my partner is a food writer. So we always had the idea from the beginning of potluck suppers. They had been very meaningful to us in our experience as parents of our kids' school and we were told by some that potlucks are very popular on the campaign trail. So that's been a big part of it and it's it was the way into realizing that our project ended up being just as much about citizens as it is about elected officials or candidates running for office. And it's been super amazing to connect with so many Americans around the country.
PEARLMAN: I believe that that's I mean I can see it and now you're talking about it and I also know that when I'm on a bus and talking about politics or an airplane, I was on an airplane in the spring talking to a gasket salesman from northern Ohio and he was just talking about how his small town doesn't have any non-Trump supporters except for maybe one sister-in-law of his. And this is a big country and some people are onboard with the other side and it's very perplexing. It's you know it's hard to wrap your head around when you have what some people think is a guy modeling himself after authoritarians around the world and there's enough Americans to support him to make him dangerous.
NICIE: Yes we do a fair amount of interviewing of ordinary citizens out on the streets and we love Panera. We go to Paneras a lot and try to talk to people and––
PEARLMAN: Are you interviewing people on both sides of it or pretty much Progressives?
NICIE: We have ended up spending most of our time highlighting the work that active citizens are doing to get candidates elected that share our values and the candidates that share our values. Part of it is because we've had very little positive response from Republican groups that we've reached out to. And part of it is that we're very resource constrained and we realize this is the core of our mission but we do do this effort of going around and just trying to talk to people. And what I would say is there is this group of folks who it feels like they are just taking what they hear on Fox News and repeating it. And it's really helped me to have a lot of compassion for them because it's just a limited set of information diet that they're on and it's made me very aware of how important it is to look at Fox News and listen to conservatives because ideologically our country is quite conservative in a lot of ways. I went to the American political science Association convention recently and heard a very interesting presentation that shows that people who are ideologically conservative are the modal group in our country right now and that that deserves respect and attention.
PEARLMAN: And I think that is something that has been true throughout American history and it's something that I've had trouble sometimes when I've interviewed progressive activists who are in the bubble of our side and don't necessarily grasp that and don't wanna believe that and want to think that we can you know just motivate our side and win everything whereas some of the political professionals who are battle weary and battle hardened see where that doesn't always work. And I want to get sort of the quick overview of the podcast that you've created.
PEARLMAN: So first of all, why I call it MidPod? What was the spark of this and who is the first person you interviewed or what's the the origin story?
NICIE: Right. Well we went to a breakfast actually with Seth Moulton and he started talking about how he is recruiting these candidates and he said and there's this woman in New Jersey Mikie Sherrill and she's a helicopter pilot in the Navy and a federal prosecutor and she has four kids but she's decided she's going to run for Congress this year and she's taking on the chairman of a House Appropriations Committee who's been in Congress for 30 years. And Heather and I kind of looked at each other and we were like wow we want to meet her. So that was the beginning and her campaign manager Molly took a took a flyer on us and let us come down and spend some time and so New Jersey 11 was our first district profile and that's where we sort of got together the recipe of what we were going to do.
PEARLMAN: So talk about that format. What does an episode of your podcast look like? What in the beginning, what does it involve too?
NICIE: Well it usually has an anchor interview with at least one key candidate for Congress and we usually try to explore some particular issue that's facing that district and it might be agriculture tariffs or it might be health care and we try to identify activists in the community who are working on that issue. So you'll hear from them typically and then over time one thing that's definitely emerged is American history. We have learned so much history that we did not know for example, when we went to West Virginia which was our third trip, the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921 the largest armed insurrection since the Civil War. Never heard of it till I got there.
PEARLMAN: Have to admit I have not.
NICIE: And look it up. The government of West Virginia partnered with the government of Kentucky they got ordnance from World War One and airplanes and you know strafed this ragtag band of nobody. They ended up not hitting anybody but you know it was––.
PEARLMAN: What year was this?
NICIE: 1921. And it was coal miners who just had had enough and they created this long supply line of their wives and kids to try to get food to them up the mountain. I mean it's an incredible story. So know your history. We started with servant leaders. We expanded to active citizens and then know your history became very key and we hope the fruition of all that will be to inspire people to not just be voters but inspire other people to vote.
PEARLMAN: When you name a podcast MidPod in a certain way you're saying I'm going to do it for this long.
PEARLMAN: Right? It almost terminates by its name unless you decide to rebranded as GenPod or something for the general election.
PEARLMAN: Was that your idea at the beginning?
NICIE: Our idea was we have a year to give because we finance this ourselves. I have a lot of frequent flier miles from my business career. The idea was it was a passion project as we call it as a series of Super Sad True Love Letters to our nation. So we will be wrapping it up in probably late November this year.
PEARLMAN: How has it changed you and your and your cohost?
NICIE: Yeah it has changed me Nathaniel. I am so much more aware of what wealth and income inequality actually looks like and feels like in our country than I was before. And I feel very committed to engage in the art of storytelling on behalf of that cause and also of using that as a way to bring people together and try to bridge some of the divides. Because I do feel that economic insecurity is really the biggest issue that we face as a country and yet we're being divided along these other lines that are really much less meaningful.
PEARLMAN: You've put your focus on inequality. What were some of the interviews that brought that to focus for you?
NICIE: Well if you look at some of the key issues that we face. We went to Texas we spent a lot of time on the border and immigration. But if you look at an issue like immigration it's everywhere in our country. It's in Iowa. It's our first episode New Jersey. We found out––
PEARLMAN: You mean it's an issue everywhere or there are immigrants everywhere?
NICIE: There are immigrants everywhere and the economic status of immigrants and how we have failed to properly you know welcome them treat them with dignity, figure out the right process for it.
PEARLMAN: We've left this, we've left this in regulatory limbo for so long that that we have what's it 11 million people that are really part of our country that are in the shadows. It's malpractice from a legal standpoint.
NICIE: Exactly. And education would be another huge one. You know most other developed countries have a much better process for making sure that where you're born does not determine the quality of your education. And by the way this is a bipartisan problem this is not and same with immigration, I mean you talk to immigration activists, they weep about the 90s under the Clintons when a lot of things went bad for them. So we want to look at these problems from a progressive perspective but not a perspective of finger pointing at one side or the other because it's taken a lot of work from everybody to get into the positions that we're in.
PEARLMAN: But that focus on inequality and what things have you what do you see?
NICIE: So here's a good example. We were just in Iowa and the women at our potluck were lamenting the fact that as a function of the challenges that rural America face primarily and agricultural America face the public schools in Iowa have gone from being consistently in the top to 30th or something in the country. And it's partly because Big Ag has made communities smaller and has made it harder for them to finance their public schools. So I heard a story of a niece or a grand granddaughter who's in high school her relative said well how's biology? And she said well it's been good. Well what about the dissections are you enjoying that? No dissections. So things like that.
PEARLMAN: I'd be happy. But you're not going to learn anything.
NICIE: Things like broadband. Things like the way we approach education. They are really really holding people back. Student debt, student loans, access to healthcare. Here's an example we were in California 22 which includes Fresno.
PEARLMAN: Who's running in that?
NICIE: That's Andrew Janz he is a Democrat. He's challenging Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Select Intelligence Committee. And he's fighting the good fight there, it's a tough district to win but he has a bright future ahead of him whatever happens. But the life expectancy between essentially northeast Fresno and Southwest Fresno difference is 22 years. 22 years.
NICIE: Mind-boggling these people live a mile two a few miles apart.
PEARLMAN: Is that is there a racial divide there is it a class divide is there?
NICIE: Yeah I would say it's both. And that that's a very you know majority Hispanic community there actually is that Fresno has actually a pretty big gang violence problem. So yeah it's been very very eye-opening.
PEARLMAN: Was your life before MidPod, were you in a fairly sheltered community?
PEARLMAN: Why is it. And so this is so this is really eye-opening?
NICIE: A lot of new information. Yes. Yes exactly.
PEARLMAN: Does it ever make you want to run for office yourself?
NICIE: I think what I really you and I were talking about this earlier. I love amplifying other people's stories and I have a huge amount of respect for what the elected officials members of Congress do because it's a real grind you have to stand up and sort of say the same thing over and over again. And those are important things to them and to their constituents. But it's a it's a different kind of process. Yeah.
PEARLMAN: I have steered you know one of the things that happens when I like I happened upon your podcast, from time to time I've come to realize that there's a lot of other political podcasts out there and every time I listen to one I'm like oh crap that's way better than mine. Mine is kind of a low art and very and I just listen and what am I doing, maybe these people have had such a better idea...
NICIE: No your podcast is awesome!
PEARLMAN: Thank you.
NICIE: I've learned so much truly, really. I've learned so much because change-makers that's something we are super interested in and you're just killing it.
PEARLMAN: Well thank you. After I kind of have that moment of envy then I come back. Well this is kind of the way I want to do it. And I like to do it. And I think maybe the only way I can do it so that I go on and kind of pull back to what I'm up to.
NICIE: What's the origin story for Great Battlefield?
PEARLMAN: Well let me just say so I have unlike you I've steered away from interviewing candidates because I felt like there's a lot of people interviewing candidates and that my forte is not in promoting particularly and also because of my career and my personality that I'm interested in the operatives, I'm interested in the activists, I'm interested in the political entrepreneurs, and so I focused on that and it gives me a little bit of a niche and a small niche total and and also it leveraged the relationships that I had with a career in political technology. So it's it's been a good fit. I think if you want to ask about the origin story of this podcast what happened was after the election I think like you like many people that I've interviewed more than 100, 200 people, I felt like I wanted to figure out how bad it was going to be and try to be helpful in some way. And I'm really I really kind of an academic person and I can see the other side of a lot of issues. I could see why some people find an appeal to Trump even though there are many people that I know that can't see that I can see that, I can see why sometimes when I talk to a professor they say well he's just actually I mean there's a lot a lot of fog around and a lot of smoke but he's actually acting mostly like a regular Republican. So why are you so worried?
PEARLMAN: And so my first move because I have a data visualization company and I'm interested in information was to start to chart how much to be worried about Trump on a on a bunch of different issues. And I called this thing resistance dashboard and I put it up and I thought maybe this would be useful to people. I talked to someone about funding it. Someone who's in the professional funding of progressive organizations world. And they said well there's all these things going on. I said I want to know. And so the podcast kind of became a vehicle for me to learn about what was going on and I've maybe the only way I've been helpful is I've I've used it to connect different people that I think should be connected to each other. I've occasionally helped fund a group that I thought was really good. I've ended up on the advisory board or or things like that for a small number of these progressive groups that have come up. So that's that's kind of the origin story it's been I do three a week and I don't it's odd that I don't tire of it. I really get excited during the interviews. I like listening to them again and editing them although I have an audio editor that does the actual cuts. So it's been you know it's been a fulfilling year and a half and let me feel like I'm part of history in a very minor way.
NICIE: Yeah yeah. Is there an episode that you particularly think back on or that resonates with you that stays with you?
PEARLMAN: Well there's a kind of a class of episodes I think. What I've noticed is it's female activists that are really passionately involved in what they're doing. That sometimes when I'm interviewing them I can just feel tremendous emotion. I feel like almost in awe of what they're bringing to this fight on a very personal level. And you know there's some wonderful accomplished men I've talked to. But it's it's more been that people who've really put their body and their mind and their heart on the line because they feel so strongly at this moment and I think for some of them it was the connection they felt about this first female president having who's overqualified having it taken away from her by a asshole man to have that I think that. But some of them weren't Hillary particularly Hillary supporters. Maybe they were well to her left but they are outraged by the by what he's doing on immigration or what he's doing on a race. So yes there's this class of maybe 15 or 20 women out of the 200 interviews I've done where just been so palpable during the interview. And sometimes it didn't come till like 50 minutes in when I was like oh my God, thank you for what you're doing.
NICIE: Well as I said earlier, thank you for introducing us to Cristina Ramirez and we talked to her last week in Austin about what she's doing with the Latino voter turnout with Jolt in Texas so.
PEARLMAN: Earlier today I interviewed Governor Dean who ran for president '03 '04 and he was talking about how the country and the party and sort of the groups outside the party are getting remade by young people and in general when I talk to people and if I ask them what is making you optimistic? It is what's bubbling up in reaction to what happened in that race.
NICIE: Yes, a thousand times yes. I'm still in touch with a young woman in Santa Clarita, California who organized the March For Our Lives in her community north of Los Angeles back in February. And she just graduated from high school but she registered hundreds of voters in her high school. She led this amazing gathering in a community by the way that's very lot of members of law enforcement live there. So it's a community where support for the Second Amendment ran really strong. But she found a way to build bridges and make that not a divisive event I don't think but.
PEARLMAN: I'm curious about what the reception has been to the podcast for you. Podcasts are kind of like blogs like there are about a zillion of them and very few of them come to great notice. Mine included. Who listens to it? What's the sort of the numbers on it and what's the feedback that you get?
NICIE: Well we're still I mean we're into hundreds of thousands of downloads now so that's nice. And the traffic has grown pretty consistently at about 20 percent a month since we started.
PEARLMAN: What do you do to promote it?
NICIE: Well, very little and probably should have done a lot more you know looking back on it. Not my strong suit I wouldn't say. We did a little bit of advertising on overcast and a little bit on Twitter and a little bit on Facebook. It wasn't clear to us that any of those things were really working. So we've just kind of let it do it let it do its thing.
PEARLMAN: Do you have a sense of who listens?
NICIE: Well we initially really sort of were targeted at you know the ladies in the pink hats like us who marched but at least based on our Twitter audience and from the feedback that we get from listeners we actually have a lot about evenly split men and women. And I would say definitely on the more educated and engaged side and we initially were thinking well our whole thing is getting people to vote getting people to vote. But we realize like for our listeners they're voters, the key for them is how can they get other people to vote which I think is what many of them are very excited about doing.
PEARLMAN: So when you interview a candidate do you then promote it in conjunction with the candidate? Does that work out?
NICIE: We are a little bit less explicit about some of that although we definitely tweet and we make sure the campaign knows and they can retweet and spread the word and we have not used the language of resistance that much in the way we talk about things partly because of that deep love and respect we have for all of our fellow country people that we we really want to stay away from language that feels overly divisive or unnecessarily divisive. We're very clear about where we stand. But we want our show to have a spirit of kind of fellow feeling and love to it. So and less of a...angry or finger wagging or telling people what to do. So we're encouraging. I think we have an encouraging and constructive approach to the way.
PEARLMAN: What what has been your favorite interview so far?
NICIE:] That's a good one. So many. OK.
PEARLMAN: How many?
NICIE: Well we're into 60 something episodes now and I should say that because of the constraints that we are faced with time and resources we about every third episode is a district profile or race profile and in between we have change-maker and thought leader interviews. I'll say the one that stays with me in my heart so much is Manuel Jimenez who is a community leader in California 22 in Woodlake California. He is an American citizen. I don't know if his parents emigrated from Mexico or they were Mexican American but anyway he lived a childhood of being a migrant farm worker and he welcomed us to this community Botanical Garden that he and his wife started in retirement in this pretty low income farming community and took us on a tour kind of early in the morning as the sun is coming up over the Sierras through his gardens and his citrus grove and his goal was to grow every crop that's grown in the Central Valley on a demonstration basis and get the kids and the community involved and just hearing about his childhood, hearing about his dreams for his community, and then having him reach into the trees and pluck grapefruits off the tree for us. That was something I'll never forget.
PEARLMAN: Sounds pretty memorable. Now one of the things I think about a life well lived is is having experiences that are out of your the path that you've had to that point, that are peak experiences that make you alive in that moment. When you're talking to these people do you have that feeling from time to time?
NICIE: Oh absolutely. When I was in Presidio, Texas which is literally on the US-Mexico border near the Big Bend I was interviewing a man who's just retired from the school system there and he's helping build a community golf course and just interviewing him. But he introduced me to one of his former students who's helping out over the summer. And this young man Carlos ended up being my guide taking me across to Mexico and meeting people over and the sister community, Ojinaga. Yeah an adventure, a connection, new tastes, new sites, but also a sense of what the strength of that community is and where the gaps are that was just wonderful.
PEARLMAN: If you had to pick one of the candidates that you've interviewed to win like you could wave the wand and you knew that they would enter the next Congress, who?
NICIE: Oh wow. I am just a diehard fan of Haley Stevens in Michigan 11. I don't know if you've met Haley.
PEARLMAN: I worked with Haley on the Hillary campaign in 2007. I know her. She's the only challenger I've contributed to I contributed both in the primary and the general.
NICIE: Okay then, the Haley Fan Club has assembled!
PEARLMAN: I like her. She had a complicated primary with multiple contenders running good races. She worked really hard. I interviewed her for the podcast very early I didn't air the episode because I felt like I'm not going to do candidates I decided.
NICIE: Yeah the challenges we face to developing a workforce for the 21st century. She's just ideally-suited to help us take on those challenges in a practical, open-minded, bipartisan way.
PEARLMAN: She's really a policy person. She's not she's not a grandstander she's someone who has thought about big national issues exactly the kind of person that we should put in Congress to work on the laws of the land and the way we operate as a country.
NICIE: Can I pick one more?
PEARLMAN: Please! But I'm worried that I'm not going to know the next one as well.
NICIE: I think Katie Hill is pretty special. She's running in California 25 that district I mentioned north of Los Angeles.
PEARLMAN: And who's who she up against?
NICIE: She's up against Steve Knight, his dad held held this seat and now he's got it, very conservative Republican.
PEARLMAN: It's one of the six and in California that we might that we're trying to.
NICIE: It sure is. And Hillary won it by a few points so. But the thing about Katie that you know she has a very interesting background where I think her dad is in law enforcement her mom's a nurse and she's grown up with guns so you know that whole issue she has a great way of kind of bridging but more important to me is she is pushing the boundaries of political communication. And I know we've seen this from a lot of women on the campaign trail and a lot of men too this cycle. But she made a video about a time in her youth when she thought she was pregnant and might have to get an abortion. And she talks through that time in her life so powerfully and so in such a raw and personal way. I thought it was incredibly gutsy and like you say you know this is this is our young people saying this is what politics can be. It doesn't have to be a red dress or a blue dress and a very narrowly channeled...
PEARLMAN: People are thinking out of the box now, especially the young candidates. You were talking about how you first went on to a Seth Moulton recruited candidate. Did you go to Amy McGrath?
NICIE: So I have met with Amy. We weren't able to make it work but I...
PEARLMAN: Because she really came out with a video that distinguished her candidacy.
NICIE: Yes. But by the way à la Haley, she's thought very seriously about our key policy challenges. She has a 32-page economic plan that harkens towards this restoring the mixed economy which just makes all kinds of sense to me particularly with a rural kind of district that she she would represent. So she is she's so impressive on so many levels. Big fan.
PEARLMAN: One thing that's happening right now that tends to happen in midterms is as you approach, things change and what seems like would be a blue wave is now going to be challenged by Trump's and the Republican Party's effort to tribalize this to to gin up their turnout which may end up with something a lot closer than we would like. Are you feeling any a difference yet in your interviews?
NICIE: Well we were in Texas last week and I think that some of these more longshot bids with really appealing Democratic candidates are not going to make it. It's just the districts are drawn a certain way and that they just did not have enough Democrats there for them. So there are definitely a couple of high-profile races in Texas where you could just kind of see it's not happening. But having said that, we also went to the Beta O'Rourke rally with Willie Nelson. I mean, 60,000 people. OK? And it was like so peaceful and so positive.
PEARLMAN: It's like the women's march.
NICIE: So he's probably not going to win either but but the Democrat Party in Texas is going to be a lot better off on November 7th than it's ever been in the last 25 years.
PEARLMAN: And he's got a future and if he happens to win it, which I agree is still a very long shot unfortunately, but it's very odd because I was walking in a restaurant the other day I happened to be wearing a Hillary T-shirt and a woman at one of the tables looked over at me and she said Beto. And I'm like what is going on here like this is you know this this guy running has inspired a lot of people. It would be useful to have someone like that in the Senate or running in 2020 who can have people getting excited again.
NICIE: I could not agree with you more so I think that this recent situation with the Supreme Court is probably you know I don't know what the consultants torquing or whatever Republicans in helping with their base turn out but I think the the cake if you look at the generic ballot the cake has kind of been baked for months.
PEARLMAN: Yeah I don't...
NICIE: I don't know. You tell me. We're just two moms.
PEARLMAN: Look I mean I don't think the funny thing is that about politics is that everybody's an expert. And so it's frustrating for people who think they're experts because a lot of times they're wrong. Right. I spend time in a Ph.D. program in political science and.
NICIE: Where was that?
PEARLMAN: At MIT back in my youth. And I'm somewhat a subscriber to the models of midterm elections that are based on a couple variables. Popular president, how well the economy is doing. And right now those two variables are fighting with each other because Trump is much more unpopular than the economy should be dictating but the economy is helping the Republican Party because it is just better than it has been many times going into midterms. So I'm worried that it's going to be closer than I would like because I would love to see a huge repudiation of this president in this midterm election. But the fight is on the day after this election for 2020 and he's clearly running and he clearly relishes running and unfortunately he has his odd kind of candidate skills. He he can get a crowd going. People want to see him and he persuades people somewhat to my amazement.
NICIE: Yeah people cheering at him mocking Dr. Ford.
PEARLMAN: You know because he's he's an entertainer.
NICIE: But can I say one thing the only think I want to say is I think the South has been challenging in a lot of ways but the upper Midwest, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and California these areas I mean if you just look Missouri too, OK that's a race we spent zero time on. And now that's apparently live.
PEARLMAN: I don't know who's running in the––.
NICIE: Cort VanOstran young guy. You know and apparently a great candidate.
PEARLMAN: There's going to be surprises. I just hope that we get a lot of those.
NICIE: I hear you. I hear it's GO-TV man. That's it.
PEARLMAN: Yeah what else do you want to say about your podcast or this experience that you've had this year as two moms learning about politics, showing teaching other people about politics?
NICIE: Yeah. Well we I definitely came in knowing that I was super interested in this idea of the relationship between leadership and community. Great leaders need great communities and vice versa. And we've been in this kind of negative spiral for a really long time with the U.S. Congress, our first branch of government. And this is an opportunity to kind of a once in a generation opportunity potentially to kind of try to reverse that dynamic at least somewhat. And I guess I would just say that I've seen in ways from the micro to the pretty epic that those dynamics can be extraordinarily powerful.
PEARLMAN: Do you think that you're seeing new ways for that interaction than ever before? Or do you think people are basically using the same kinds of communication that humans have had forever in a political situation?
NICIE: Well I think that our young people and the way they communicate over social media that's really a new wave. I mean you look at what happened after Parkland and the mobilization the mass mobilization that's occurring using social media that is a very positive and super interesting development. I can't wait to see where they'll take it. We're well aware of all the negative things that can happen on social media but that part I find quite fascinating and also data which you know you know more about than I do. I definitely Joseph Kopser in Texas 21 was telling us about new kinds of data sets they're getting their hands on to help them identify for example people have moved into the district or moved into Texas but have Democratic leanings in the past and how they can use that data. And then I think back to our conversation about income inequality we're super intrigued by the resurgence of the labor movement and by some of these newer models, worker centers, co-ops, other kinds of labor activism that are popping up very organically around the country. And I'm really interested because we do need to help working people get more leverage in the workplace. And so seeing some of those efforts has been really exciting and something we want to explore more.
PEARLMAN: Have you listened to any other political podcasts that you like?
NICIE: Well we really like Future Hindsight by Mila Atmos. She is like us a very independent podcast. Her topic is really civic engagement. She interviews super interesting people from a global perspective so not just U.S. And we just love what she brings out of her...
PEARLMAN: It's a tremendous name.
NICIE: Yeah Future Hindsight I know that's really good. And then Two Broads Talk, we've had a good collegial relationship with them. They are doing a lot more work down ballot which we think is completely fantastic and this is a little bit off topic but the Rambling Boy from Tex Marfa Public Radio is a history podcast by an amazing older man down in Texas and it's all about Texas history. And he's an incredible raconteur and you will learn amazing stories about our history that I think are extremely relevant to what we're dealing with today.
PEARLMAN: How do you put a podcast together? What's your process?
NICIE: We have an amazing group of freelancers that have been helping us pretty much from the beginning. And Helen Barrington has a long career in public radio has really helped us with the more highly produced episodes and the interviews. James Morrison who just now has gone on to the 1A show at NPR was really helpful to us early days going on the road when we were like you know tap tap is this thing on. And they have been kind of our key backbone along with a guy named Michael Lassel who does our digital and it's highly collaborative and where we really haven't delved into much as the editing that you were alluding to and I would like to learn more of that. We just haven't had time being on the road. So that's kind of our core team and we have great interns too who help us. We have a newsletter now so you can sign up for that. And we have a wonderful intern Pascale Bradley who helps us with that.
PEARLMAN: Wow you're way ahead of me. OK. Anything else you want to talk about or ask me about?
NICIE: Well I want to know where you think data is going in politics and just tell us a little bit about your story with NGP van and where things are headed.
PEARLMAN: Well I don't know if I know where things are headed but I I mean I guess my claim to fame in the political space is that I started a company back in 1997 that did fundraising and compliance offer for Democrats and basically was a contact management database with that did things like Turbo Tax does for taxes, helped campaigns file with a federal or state authorities what they raised and spent. And that for two and a half years was just me out of an apartment and out of the attic. And I you know I guess I sold my last share of that in August. But...
NICIE: How'd that feel?
PEARLMAN: Well it's I've been escaping the orbit of that company for quite a while now. So it wasn't it wasn't a particularly huge break but it is my baby in a lot of ways even though it's gone off to college and become an adult or something. I love many of the people there, I'm very proud of it. I think it does very good work. That has a been a big part of my life. And I think about it really only positively.
NICIE: And what about future where technology is headed for campaigns and elections?
PEARLMAN: So there is a astonishing amount of innovation going on in this space right now and one of the things I've done with my podcast is I've interviewed many many new political technology entrepreneurs that are doing startups and many of them motivated exactly the same way that you and your partner have been. Which was I got to do something. This is my skill set. I'm going to try to build a company or a nonprofit in this space to make a difference. And they somewhat because of my company and a few other players in data and software they have found places in the technology or in the data that weren't well-served along the fringes of what exists or different angles on it. And they have built something usually that does one thing better and they are both in some cases getting used and helping people do that task better or they are forcing innovation among the existing players. And one other phenomenon that is going on is that there's funding out of a group called Higher Ground labs and some other folks which is helping push that space forward. So I don't know what's going to survive among the innovations. It is a very difficult market. You get a lot of clients that disappear. It's not a giant market like you might find in a different part of the economy but I'm quite confident that some of the things that people are doing are going to succeed. Like there's a campaign budgeting application which is doing very well and it's something that that I should have done a long time ago that I didn't. And someone has found that spot people are finding new ways to use different kinds of data. They're finding ways to test whether messaging works or doesn't work. They are find different ways to communicate by text or with neighbors to allow people to have their own voice. The wiring of American politics on the progressive side is evolving fast and it's kind of fun to watch.
NICIE: Do you think the Democrats and the progressives are ahead of the Republicans on this?
PEARLMAN: There's very little going on where each side watches the other side. When when I talk to entrepreneurs on our side they're not that attentive to what the other side is doing. If you had asked me that question before 2016 I think I and a lot of other people would have said yes we are ahead. I think it's less clear now. I think that there are major ways in which we're behind including big centralized database that the other side has put hundreds of over 100 million dollars into. And in the way the other side has worked to use Facebook and other tools of social media that they may be ahead of us or at least doing it at a scale that we should be and are not some of our incentive structures are not right and where I think we are ahead I'm not 100 percent certain of it. I'm very close to that is that we are building an ecosystem of innovation and that I think is going to serve us if we can keep that alive.
NICIE: Yeah. One other question for you. I read a book a few years ago by Nicco Mele called The End of Big.
PEARLMAN: I've read it too.
NICIE: Yeah I highly recommend to listeners because at least for me it was one of the first kind of bulletins from the future to the effect that hey watch out. The internet is having a very corrosive effect on our institutions.
PEARLMAN: Not only corrosive. Disruptive. So in some cases it's failing institutions that ought to be in other cases it's like like big newspapers which were very valuable getting just mail and that's probably not good. But...
NICIE: Yellow Pages. We don't miss the Yellow Pages.
PEARLMAN: Craigslist takes out Craigslist takes out out like all the classified ads.
NICIE: Yeah. Anyway I'm really interested for your thoughts about the future of the Democratic Party and for that matter the Republican Party because according to my friends of political science you know this diverges law that says if you have single member legislative districts which we do in our U.S. House, you really can't support more than two parties and you need two healthy parties. So what do you think?
PEARLMAN: I think that law holds as long as we have winner take all elections. You know we have in our history generated new political parties and if we generate one it's very likely to replace one of the existing ones or and realign the two parties. I think there is a chance that Trump has redefined the Republican Party in a way that ends up redefining the Democratic Party also, and there's a chance that post-Trump it kind of snaps back to its previous general Republican moorings. I personally think that parties are important. When I talk to a lot of operatives activists and so on particularly as political entrepreneurs they often are highly unaligned to the parties and very skeptical of the parties and feel sort of they look with a baleful eye at what goes on with the Democratic Party. My own view is they are part of the party too and that all of the people who vote in coalition for the candidate on our side are part of the party whether they sit in a non-profit that is better than the party or not. They're part of the team and it's OK with me if they want to feel separate. Right. As long as they end up helping my candidates our candidates, then I'm happy about it.
NICIE: I have a friend from Kansas who says when we were growing up, Democratic Party was to make sure we took care of our neighbors and the Republican Party was to make sure we could afford it. And you know there's this sort of oversimplified but there's a sort of beauty to that.
PEARLMAN: But right now we've got the Republican Party waste you know like running up gigantic deficits and making all kinds of social mistakes about their neighbors. In my view also the Republican Party has gone awry as someone who has admired some of the principles of that party in the past and knows many good people who are Republicans. I got to be distressed for them and their fellow travelers at what's happening. It's been a very few people that are resisting what's what's going on on that side. And I think it's pretty likely that history won't judge that very well and that we're going to need, we're going to need leadership to renew that party whether that's coming out of the casing or the flakes or or or someone yet to come.
NICIE: Yeah. I want to just say one thing from my D.C. childhood. My parents are both activists and my mom's first husband was actually a member of Congress and he represented Northern California in the late 50s and early 60s and his big accomplishment was point race national seashore. He died in a plane crash in 1962. And my mom later married my dad. But what happened in the late 60s was that the funding for the park wasn't enough. And as a result under the Nixon administration there were all these crazy ideas about like building housing developments and resorts and stuff like that. So my parents dropped everything and embarked on an effort to bipartisan effort to get more money to finish the park off. And they used to tell me all the time about the good Republicans they worked with on the other side of the aisle who could who would take their side, believed in the park, believed in public lands and they got it done. And it's a small example but it's the kind of thing that we just need to start shampooed rinse repeating with the new Congress if if we get new leadership.
PEARLMAN: I would love to see them get back to sanity.
NICIE: We have a great country and so many wonderful people will we will get through this.
PEARLMAN: I trust you're right.
NICIE: Thank you for having me.
PEARLMAN: Thanks for being on.