Panelists to discuss the future of democracy

APTOS — With partisan politics in Washington dividing the nation, leaders from both sides of the political spectrum will sit down and talk about the state of the country and how to move forward during the return of “Saving Democracy.”

The panel discussion, now in its third iteration, is slated for March 21 from 7-9 p.m. at the Samper Recital Hall, located on the Cabrillo College campus at 6500 Soquel Drive in Aptos.

The panel will consist of former Deputy Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Public Affairs Debbie Mesloh, USC/UC Berkeley professor and former political consultant Dan Schnur, former California Assembly GOP Leader Kristin Olsen, Santa Cruz County Supervisor Zach Friend, Gubernatorial candidate Amanda Renteria and GOP consultant Mike Madrid. Communications consultant Spencer Critchley will moderate the evening.

Last year’s event filled Twin Lakes Church’s Monschke Hall.

Olsen, who was on the panel last year, said she was encouraged by the civil conversation the members had, especially in a time when society is becoming “increasingly polarized.”

“It’s so important to bring people together of various perspectives and political ideologies to have conversations about important issues,” she said. “We can agree to disagree without being disagreeable.”

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.

Mesloh said last year’s event was her first time on the panel, and noted she appreciated the “fantastic” questions from the audience, many of which showed a strong desire to help out in their local community.

“It’s that grassroots participation that really does make a difference for people locally and in our state,” she said.

She added that despite the different ideas the panelists had regarding certain issues, they all discovered a common ground.

“What really came through in the panel was the commonality from so many of us,” she said.

Mesloh, who resides in San Francisco, worked for Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns in communications positions. Among her work, she was a member of Kamala Harris’ district attorney and U.S. Senate campaigns.

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

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.

Renteria, a Democratic candidate for governor of California, was the political director for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

GOP consultant Madrid is the founder of GrassrootsLab, a public affairs firm that works with statewide campaigns through voting trends and other factors.

“Saving Democracy: The Way Forward” is produced by Boots Road Group in partnership with Cabrillo College, along with the Aptos Chamber of Commerce and the Santa Cruz Chamber of Commerce. Admission is free, but pre-registration is required. To register, visit

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