Panel to discuss current state of democracy


APTOS — In a time of division across the country, a bipartisan panel will speak on the tensions engulfing the nation, and how to move forward and heal.

“Saving Democracy” will take place June 29 at Twin Lakes Church’s Monschke Hall, 2701 Cabrillo College Drive in Aptos, from 7-9 p.m.

The panel will consist of former Congressman Sam Farr, former Deputy Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Public Affairs Debbie Mesloh, USC/UC Berkeley professor and former political consultant Dan Schnur, former California GOP Vice Chair Kristin Olsen, Santa Cruz County Supervisor Zach Friend, and communications consultant Spencer Critchley.

The discussion is a continuation of last year’s event, “Is There Hope for Democracy?”, which filled the Irvine Auditorium in Monterey. Critchley, who was part of 2017’s panel and will be moderating the June 29 discussion, said there was “so much interest” last year that there was a waiting list.

“It seems clear to me that there was a real hunger for this,” he said, adding that many people attended the event from Santa Cruz County. “People across the spectrum are deeply concerned about where we are.”

Critchley, who is the managing partner of Boots Road Group and has done work for both of Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns, added that the debate will go beyond the typical cable TV and social media bickering.

“It will be a chance to hear from some people that are really smart and insightful thinkers that have a lot of valuable experience,” he said. “We are going to encourage people to develop full thoughts, to explore details and to listen to each other.”

Members of the audience will also be invited to ask their own questions.

Schnur has worked on four presidential and three gubernatorial campaigns as a Republican political strategist. He’s written for major newspapers and been a commentator for CNN, MSNBC, Fox News and National Public Radio.

“In a society that is becoming more polarized and a political landscape that is becoming increasing tribal, it is precisely these types of programs that are needed to bring a community together,” he said. “These are critically important issues for us to discuss and debate, but we believe that it is just as important for us to be willing to listen to those with whom we disagree on these issues with respect and civility.”

Olsen is the former California Assembly Republican Leader and vice chair of the California Republican Party. She has served on the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors since January 2017, after representing Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties in the Assembly since 2010.

Farr served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1993-2016. He also served on committees that addressed veterans affairs, agriculture, appropriations, rural development and more.

Mesloh was President Obama’s Deputy Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Public Affairs. She was the transition co-chair for Senator Kamala Harris, and held senior communications positions in the 2008 and 2012 Obama for America campaigns.

Friend, who has served on the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors since 2012, has worked for Barack Obama’s and John Kerry’s presidential campaigns, the White House Council of Economic Advisers, U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives and the Democratic National Committee.

He said the country is in a time of “remarkable change.”

“It’s a political environment where many feel left out and not heard but yet at our core we have a lot of commonality,” Friend said. “Discussions like this help showcase where there is common ground but also where and how we can disagree with civility.”

Friend said last year’s panel allowed for “meaningful and in-depth conversations about policy and our democratic system.”

“There will be divergent views on the panel, and from the audience, but we know that overall it is a forum where these views can be heard and explored in a positive way,” he said.

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Admission is free, but registration is required. To register, visit savingdemocracy.eventbrite.com.

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