Brian Riedl

WI-RIEDL -- Brian Riedl, senior policy analyst for the Heritage Foundation, talks with a reporter Monday, July 28, 2008, at his Washington office. (Gannett News Service, Heather Wines)

So a bunch of weeks ago I got a little snippy on Twitter, and found myself involved in a back and forth with some guy named Brian Riedl. He was clearly conservative, and didn’t share many of my viewpoints, and I was a bit mad and skittish and … and …

I DMed him to apologize.

I don’t actually recall the full specifics, but I felt as if I’d crossed a line. And, wonderfully, Brian replied warmly and elegantly. So we had a brief exchanged, and I asked whether he’d be up for a Quaz Q&A, not unlike the one his friend Guy Benson did back in 2015. He was game.

And here’s the truth: I don’t agree with much that Brian says. As a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, Brian focuses on conservative budget, tax, and economic policies. He was also the director of budget and spending policy for Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign, as well as a research fellow at the (loathed by most liberals) Heritage Foundation.

But … here’s the thing. Brian is an open guy. He’s willing to criticize Republicans, isn’t a particular fan of Donald Trump, believes the merging of cable news and social media to be a toxic 2019 brew. In other words, he’s a good fellow who I simply disagree with in myriad areas. That’s gonna happen in life. No biggie.

Today, Brian discusses the modern conservative, talks Rubio’s failed presidential bid and explains how you might think his last name is Reidl, Riedel, Reidel, Reedel, Riedle and Rydex.

One can follow Brian on Twitter here, check out his Manhattan Institute bio here and read up on his favorite football team here.

(OK, I kid).

Brian Riedl, welcome to the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Brian–I’m gonna start with a blunt one. Earlier today, via Twitter (of course), the president mocked Sen. Blumenthal over an old false claim that he served in Vietnam—when he didn’t. The comment was re-Tweeted a bunch, Trump was given the ol’ cyber thumbs up for sticking it to the lib. And I’m sitting here thinking—this guy had five military deferments … some for bone spurs. Then he mocked John McCain for being captured. Then he ridiculed a Gold Star family. And, as someone who is conservative, and has been involved in politics for a good chunk of time, I need to ask—what the fuck? Why does the right keep going along with this? Can Trump do anything that will cause his base to turn?

BRIAN RIEDL: As background, I served on the staff of Sen. Rob Portman, and advised Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio in the 2012 and 2016 campaigns. My wing of the party is pro-growth, libertarian, optimistic, and civil. I am quite critical of much of President Trump’s behavior. But I also do not believe that the left fully grasps their role in “creating Trump” by spending so many years smearing seemingly every Republican politician and voter as the second coming of Hitler.

Conservatives have long felt slandered by “elite America” (the media, universities, and Hollywood) and leading Democrats as not just wrong or misguided, but irredeemable and “deplorable” Nazis who need to die off before progress can occur.  In the narrative of American politics, conservatives are always portrayed as the villains. Then there was the vicious treatment of moderates like John McCain and Mitt Romney – smeared as racist, sexist, warmongering sociopaths (Joe Biden also told an African-American audience that Mitt Romney planned to reinstitute slavery, and Democratic TV ads portrayed Paul Ryan murdering an elderly constituent, and accused Mitt Romney of causing a woman’s fatal cancer).

By 2016, conservatives had enough and nominated someone who – unlike McCain and Romney – would not sit idly back and “lose nicely.” That is the cultural appeal of Trump. Conservatives dislike much of his behavior, but they are desperate for someone who fights back. And the more the left attacks him, the more conservatives rally around him (just like intense conservative criticism of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez makes her more beloved by liberals). It is pure tribalism and negative polarization on both sides right now.

Finally, I should mention that many other conservatives are truly offended by the President’s behavior, but have decided that as long as he pursues conservative policies – on issues like abortion, judges, and tax policy – they will mute their personal objections and pull the GOP lever.


J.P.: So you’re a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a member of Economics21, which means you focus on budget, tax and economic policy. But … what does that mean? What are you trying to accomplish? And what are you accomplishing?

B.R.: As a research fellow, I am trying to influence the debate on budget, tax, and economic policy. I publish full studies, write weekly op-eds, testify before Congress, advise lawmakers and campaigns, give speeches, and appear regularly on TV, radio, and in newspapers. My first goal is simply to provide basic information to the public. Specifically, nearly everything the public believes about federal spending, taxes, and budget deficits is spectacularly wrong. So I spend a lot of time publishing chart books of the federal budget to help people understand where their tax dollars really go. I see myself primarily as a teacher.

My specific policy passion is addressing the avalanche of federal debt that is about to hit this country. The national debt currently stands at $21 trillion, and is projected to rise to $105 trillion over the next 30 years. At that point, interest on the debt will be the largest federal expenditure, and will consume one-third of our taxes. If interest rates rise, the cost will be even higher. Many economists fear a debt-based collapse.

While many people focus their deficit concerns on the 2017 tax cuts – and it is fair to oppose this policy – the real long-term debt driver is soaring Social Security and Medicare costs. Over the next 30 years, the Congressional Budget Office projects that the Social Security and Medicare systems will run a staggering $100 trillion cash deficit (by comparison, the tax cuts would cost $9 trillion over 30 years if extended). This is a path to bankruptcy. Even cutting the Defense spending to European levels and doubling all tax rates on the rich would, together, close about 1/7 of the Social Security and Medicare deficit. My passion is solving the long-term deficit before we collapse into economic chaos – and that means primarily fixing Social Security and Medicare. The math is clear, even if the politics are brutal.

J.P.: You served as an economist for Marco Rubio during the 2016 Republican primary. I thought for the longest time he was destined to be the nominee, if not the next president. Looking back, what went wrong?

B.R.: Two things. First, the mood of the conservative movement was more populist and combative than really any Washington Republicans realized at the time. Romney-style optimism and moderation was out of style. Second, there were 15 Republicans splitting the anti-Trump vote. Had it been just three or four Republicans from the start, Sen. Rubio had a real shot. I also think Sen. Rubio would have defeated Sen. Clinton in the general election.

J.P.: I want Republicans to care about climate change. I’m desperate for it. But I know very few who do, and see very few who do. Why? Am I missing something?

B.R.: I’m not sure all Democrats care as much either. Climate change rates low as a voter priority, and support for a carbon tax collapses when poll respondents are told the cost to their household. For conservatives, the case for global warming action has been undermined by hysterics like Al Gore, who regularly make doomsday predictions that never come true. But I think the more common conservative viewpoint is that global warming is real – but the common liberal policies to combat it would impose an enormous economic burden while making almost no difference on long-term temperatures. The developing world is projected to account for nearly 80% of all CO emissions this century. Yet the Paris climate agreement basically left China, India, and the rest of the world on the same emissions path they were already on. So America made an enormous pledge to reduce its emissions – at a huge cost to incomes and jobs – and yet projected global warming by 2100 was not even significantly altered because the rest of the world’s promises were so weak. If we’re going to grind the U.S. economy to a halt, let’s at least be sure the sacrifices matter to global temperatures. In the meantime, we can keep investing in renewable technologies to transition our energy economy without killing growth.

J.P.: I know you’re a Wisconsin kid, a Packers fan, a UW grad with a master’s from Princeton. But why a career in politics? What was your path?

B.R.: I was a rebellious, class-skipping, metal head who eventually heard bands like Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, and Queensryche increasingly channel their anti-authority attitudes into rage-filled political songs. Thus, a passionate, anti-authority libertarian was born. I started devouring political books when I was 16 – and this was the early 1990s when there was no Ann Coulter or Michael Moore, so instead I read Milton Friedman, Charles Murray, Alan Dershowitz and policy journals. Then, my senior year in high school, I joined my high school debate and forensics team. I was fortunate to win my first statewide tournament within three weeks, and by summer was part of the high school team that placed third at the national championships. That’s when I realized I could do this. Enrolling that fall of the University of Wisconsin, I just wanted to master public policy and then help fix problems like budget deficits, education, health care, and civil liberties. So I got a policy internship with the Governor (Tommy Thompson), joined campaigns, became an opinion columnist for the school newspaper, and became Chairman of the College Republicans (no, we were not all dorks). Looking back, politics works for me because I am outspoken, competitive, and want to save the world. Thank you, Metallica.

J.P.: You spent six years as the chief economist to Rob Portman, Ohio’s (very likeable) Republican senator. What exactly does it mean to be a senator’s chief economist? Because he doesn’t make any law—so is it advising him on state and national policy? And how big of an impact do you feel you had?

B.R.: As chief economist, I advised the Senator at various times on budget, spending, taxes, pensions, Social Security, health care, economic growth, and jobs. My primary role was to keep him up-to-date on all moving legislation in my issue area, and to write bill summaries and vote recommendations for bills that hit the floor. Additionally, I came up with ideas for legislation, drafted bills, and worked with other offices to build legislative coalitions. I staffed his activities as a member of the Budget and Finance Committees. I helped draft op-eds and floor speeches, while also working with the media to explain his views. Finally, I always made time to meet with constituents on Sen. Portman’s behalf.

Sen. Portman is an intelligent, thoughtful boss who would set aside politics and ask “what is the best policy?” I am proud of my role in his office. I helped him take some controversial (at the time) votes that eventually were strongly supported by his constituents, playing a role in his 20-point re-election margin in 2016. I drafted several bills that became law, and helped design his current bill to ban government shutdowns, which may be enacted this spring.


J.P.: I have a theory—the two-headed monster that is social media and cable news has made it an impossibility that we, as a nation, ever truly unites again. What says you? Is there any hope for, say, the type of American bonding we had in the weeks after 9.11?

B.R.: This worries me every day. Social media and cable news have created completely different liberal and conservative universes. We don’t want news, we want an echo chamber that confirms our biases and smears the other side as a bunch of monsters. It’s weird for me, because although I am a conservative/libertarian, I went to college on a far-left campus, attended a far-left graduate school program, live in a far-left community, and spend much of my job in Washington trying to build coalitions with liberals. I respect liberalism, and I see how my liberal friends have the best of intensions. Understanding and learning from the other side also makes me a much more effective conservative.

As for echo chambers, our only hope is for people to get out of their bubble. Read the best websites of the other side. Follow the other side’s experts on social media. Become friends with people who disagree with you. And no, do not cheat by following only the weakest advocates on the other side, or relying on your own side’s partisans to “summarize” (straw man) what the other side believes. Test yourself. Question your own assumptions and frameworks. And most of all, remember this: If you cannot come up with an intelligent, fair-minded reason why the other side supports a certain policy, the problem is that you are uninformed. That doesn’t mean the other side is right, of course. But I can assure you that there are brilliant, fair-minded people on both sides of every issue. It may feel good to get on our high horse and boil political disagreements down to “good/smart” vs. “evil/dumb,” but it is also lazy and uninformed.  Just google “Dunning-Kruger effect.”

J.P.: I say this with no personal disrespect. Truly. But I don’t get being a Republican any longer. I understood it under Reagan, George H.W., even W. But I feel like your party has surrendered itself to a lifelong conman who talks shit, reads nothing, watches tons of cable news and is a national humiliation. Honestly, I don’t understand why the GOP has done this—because its principles (even if I disagreed with them) once seemed rock solid. I dunno, Brian. Do you disagree?

B.R.: The conservative movement is bigger than Donald Trump. Look, I believe in free markets, small government, individual responsibility, and libertarianism. I strongly support the Republican governors, mayors, and Members of Congress who are still pushing that agenda. I treat President Trump like all other politicians: I am supportive when he pushes my libertarian values (paring back over-regulation, reforming Medicaid, corporate tax reform, some of the judges), and critical when he does not (tariffs, runaway spending, rejecting Social Security and Medicare reform, and not more aggressively paying for the tax cuts). But regardless of whether I vote for Trump or not, the GOP will likely remain the long-term home for those of us who still believe in limited government and free markets. I take the long view.

An interesting side note is how little Democrats have done to woo disaffected Republicans. Instead, Democrats have: A) moved so aggressively to the left on policy, and B) become increasingly adversarial and ad hominem, not only towards Trump, but also towards GOP voters. This has baffled disaffected Republicans. I guess Democrats believe they have demographics on their side and don’t need frustrated Republicans. Democrats may do well in 2020, but long-term, they are missing a huge opportunity to expand their coalition.

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J.P.: You were the lead architect of Mitt Romney’s deficit-reduction plan. OK, soup to nuts, how does one create a deficit-reduction plan?

B.R.: First, you need the CBO budget baseline – which is basically a big spreadsheet of the default budget outlook over the next 10-30 years. My baseline breaks annual spending levels into about 150 program categories (Social Security, defense, etc), and tax revenues into about 60 categories (payroll taxes, gas taxes, etc), and then projects the levels for each year outward. That is the starting point.

Then you set targets. The CBO baseline may project a $2 trillion budget deficit by 2025, but your candidate may want to cut the deficit to $1 trillion by then. So you go into the spending and tax rows, and begin turning dials. But you cannot simply write in new numbers like “cut Medicare $100 billion per year” – you need to actually have specific reforms that can provide the savings. CBO has a “Budget Options” book that lists about 200 reforms, each with the 10-year savings estimates. And for the larger programs, like Social Security and health care, I built my own models so I can plug in different reforms to get the savings. Then you turn dials until you meet the candidate’s budget target. Finally, the candidate will either sign off on the reforms, ask for additional options, or just decide that it is too hard to cut the deficit after all.

All campaigns do this, but most never dare to reveal the specifics to the public. The candidate wants to say “I have a plan to balance the budget” or “I will not add to the deficit,” but the actual spreadsheet often requires very difficult sacrifices that are left quiet until after the election. Everyone wants to play Santa during the campaign. The worst is when a candidate suddenly makes a new, expensive promise, and I have to say “um, we didn’t budget for that policy, so we either have to drop our deficit reduction target, or find more cuts elsewhere.”

J.P.: What’s the absolute craziest thing you’ve ever seen happen in politics? I don’t mean, “Trump wins” or “Obama wins.” I mean, literally visualized …

B.R.: The most surreal thing on TV was in December 20, 1998. The incoming House Speaker resigns, the President is impeached and – on split screen – the U.S. begins bombing Iraq during the impeachment vote. That was surreal.

As for behind the scenes: I wouldn’t call this “crazy,” but it is interesting how – when lawmakers are negotiating in private, with the cameras off – they often agree on a lot of policies and sympathize with each other having to “play to their base” by fighting each other’s policies in public.  I have seen former top Presidential candidates – a few years after the election – freely admit to the opposing party’s lawmakers that they knew their own campaign proposals had been unworkable nonsense, but the slogans and soundbites had been too good to pass up.



• Five all-time favorite Republicans: Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, Paul Ryan, Scott Walker, and Rob Portman. Ryan and Walker have been Wisconsin friends of mine since the 1990s.

• Five all-time favorite Democrats: Thomas Jefferson, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Tim Kaine, Mark Warner, and Michael Bennet. I don’t mind if a Democrat holds extreme positions as long as he/she is principled, civil, avoids partisan games, and treats all sides with respect.

• If you were advising the Democrats (truly), who would you say is the candidate best positioned to beat Trump in 2020? And why?: If Joe Biden gets the nomination – a big if given the current Democratic mood – he unites the Dems, does not scare suburban swing voters, and even steals a share of the working-class Trump voters.

• Who would you say is the worst?: Elizabeth Warren will remind too many voters of Hillary Clinton. Trump has a playbook there.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Lynn Dickey, Coke Zero, romance novels, Heritage Foundation, Sean Hannity, Joe Biden, Guy Benson, Travis Scott, leftover turkey, Sugar Ray Leonard: My Goodness. Um… Lynn Dickey, Heritage Foundation, Guy Benson, Sean Hannity, leftover turkey, Sugar Ray Leonard, romance novels, Joe Biden, Coke Zero….who is Travis Scott?

• Why didn’t the whole James Lofton-John Jefferson pairing work out so well for the Packers?: It wasn’t a full disaster – the early 1980s Packers were among the league’s best offenses, and were held back by an atrocious defense. But Jefferson underachieved after the trade to Green Bay, reportedly because he hated the cold weather. In fairness, it is really cold!

• Three memories from your senior prom: I actually did not go – our high school had this culture where most seniors considered themselves too cool for prom (narrator: none of these students were actually cool!)

• All the ways Riedl is misspelled: Reidl, Riedel, Reidel, Reedel, Riedle, Rydex (not kidding). I’ve been misspelled three ways in the same news article.

• One question you would ask Willie McGee were he here right now: Be honest: If Rollie Fingers is healthy and closing, do my beloved Brewers beat you in the 1982 World Series?

• What’s the worst smell in the world?: The bathrooms at Penn Station in Manhattan

Tiffany Ackley

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A Quaz can come from anywhere.

Some come from TV.

Some come off of movies.

Some are friends. Some are friends of friends. Some are recommended. Some are in the news.

Tiffany Ackley, the 383rd Quaz Q&A, arrives via a Facebook post.

A few weeks ago, while dingling around the information superhighway, I stumbled upon this Facebook post from Tiffany Ackley, a local political activist who had just won an election to serve on a nearby city council …

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And I thought, “Quaz!”

Why? Because, more than ever, we need some positivity. Some inspiration. Someone to look at and say, “Yes, it’s still worth believing.” So I reached out, and Tiffany was all in. Which brings me great joy, because this is one helluva Quaz.

One can follow Tiffany Ackley on Twitter here.

Tiffany, you are the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK Tiffany, so a few weeks ago you ran for a seat on the Aliso Viejo City Council—and won. And I wonder, do you feel like local political elections have lost any semblance of quaintness, of warmth? Like, has the anger of the national seeped into the locals? Did you need to go after opponents? Did they go after you? Were Trump allegiances factored in? Or was it a relatively peaceful process?

TIFFANY ACKLEY: When I decided to run, I wanted to be a force for the good. We were all being inundated with bad politics and politicians on a national level. I didn’t want to be that type of person, and so I kept my campaign positive.

That being said, I more than realize that national anger helped local politicians. Given the country’s temperament, people were mad, and willing to get out and volunteer. I can’t count the times I saw a Harley Rouda volunteer while I was canvassing. It was national anger that motivated people to show up in record numbers to vote.

For the most part the Aliso Viejo race was tame. I was anonymously attacked several times—for example, someone told me I was a bad mother because I was running for office. I was also attacked online by a prominent figure in Aliso Viejo who invented allegations about me. I was attacked anonymously on Twitter. There were mass emails trying to scare conservatives out of voting for me (comparing me to Elizabeth Warren). I had signs stolen. But these are pretty tame, especially considering how bad things can get in places like Irvine.

In the end, I’d say my race was more cordial than not—something I believe Aliso Viejo residents wanted.

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J.P.: On Nov. 28, 2016, you underwent a nine-hour surgery to have a brain tumor removed. You’ve said you woke up and decided to make life changes. What did that mean? And what did you do?

T.A.: When I had my surgery, my children were young—very young. Laurel was 3, and Keith was 6 months. The day before the surgery, I had to drive them out to family members and say goodbye to them for what might have been the last time.

At the same time, the world filled with hope—a world where Obama was President—was gone.  I had spent my whole life doing what I thought was improving myself: education, travel, reading, etc. But what I hadn’t done enough of was improve the world, not only for my children, but for everyone.

I woke up and really understood that life is short. I had spent so many years working at a national law firm—which was an amazing experience that allowed me to grow so much as an attorney—but the job took me away from home too much.

I would travel, work late, work on the weekends, and was on call all the time. I didn’t want that life anymore. I wanted a job where my clients were my friends, and where I was working to make this world better. For me, that eventually translated into working for water districts, helping make sure our water is clean and accessible to everyone.

I also made the decision to be happy and kind. People spend far too much of their lives focused on what is wrong, or that they are unhappy. It was like a light switch went off—I wasn’t going to do that anymore. Just being alive is amazing. There is good in everything, and in everyone. It’s our job to see the good in all situation. It’s our job to tell people what is good about them. It’s a cycle—the more we see the good/verbalize the good, the more good that comes, and the happier we get. If nothing else, I hope that people are kind to one another. Everyone has a struggle. Everyone.

I didn’t wake up thinking I was going to run for office. But I realized that if I was going to be faced with a president who didn’t represent my values, I was going to work hard to make sure this country still embodied my values.

I opened myself to opportunities to make a difference. Opportunities like going to LAX and performing volunteer legal services for incoming foreigners facing the Muslim travel ban. Opportunities like providing pro-bono legal work. Opportunities like taking part in the first-ever Women’s March up in Los Angeles. And, eventually, opportunities like running for office. And I wanted my children to be a part of that—to see that journey, win or lose. And I don’t regret any of those choices. Not for a second.

J.P.: How did you first know you had a tumor? Were there signs? Tell-tales? And what was your reaction when you were told, in fact, you had one?

T.A.: In 2009 I lost all hearing in my left ear. The hearing loss was so rapid, that I made an audiologist cry when he tested my hearing twice in a week and saw how much hearing I had lost in just a few days. I went through some crazy tests—I had a massive shot of steroids injected into my ear drum, all sorts of hearing tests and scans.

I eventually found myself up in Los Angeles dealing with experts who performed an MRI and they found the tumor. I tend to have measured responses to unusual situations, and this was no different. I didn’t cry. I didn’t scream. I just digested the information as fact and tried to go on with my life.

Because of the tumor’s location, it was too dangerous to operate on, so we decided to monitor the tumor’s grown with MRIs every six months. The tumor really didn’t grow at all for a long time. Once I gave birth to my son, I had a “routine” MRI and expected the same result I had been getting for years.

I knew something was different when I got a call from the doctor. I was at the old Redondo Beach courthouse and sent the call to voicemail. That courthouse was always one of my favorites—it was on the Redondo Beach pier. I always made it a point to park with my car looking out on the ocean/pier. That day was no different.

Once I was done in court, I got to my car, sat in the front seat, and returned the doctor’s call while looking out at the ocean. “We need to schedule surgery as soon as possible.” Those words are burned into my brain.

After the call, I sat in my car for about 45 minutes, just looking at the ocean. I’m a planner, so I started planning—who was I going to call first? What would I do with the kids? How would I tell my work? What did I need to do to prepare for the worst case scenario? It was a lot to process.

J.P.: You needed to go through physical therapy to learn to walk again. What does that mean? Like, you come out and your legs won’t listen to your brain? Do you know how to walk, but don’t know-know? In short, what is it to learn to walk again?

T.A.: There is a lot entailed in learning how to walk again. In my case, my legs didn’t listen to my brain at first- but eventually did. At that point, I had to learn how to walk without balance function.

We all use our inner ears for balance. My left inner ear had been removed in the surgery, so without physical therapy, the room spun all the time, and I’d fall over just standing up. I probably looked like I was drunk. It certainly felt that way when I would fall over just standing still. This was one of the most frustrating times in my life.

My physical therapist was amazing. She’d work with me for hours, taking very small steps, catching me when I fell, but encouraging me to keep going. I was pretty adamant about getting back on my feet, so I would go to therapy almost every day, and I would keep practicing my exercises at home for hours on end.

I still have something called oscillopsia (best described as your visual field feeling like it’s shaking)—which makes running impossible. And I still lose my balance every once in a while, but overall I function just fine.

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J.P.: How does that experience change your relationship with death? Does it make you more scared? Less? Neither?

T.A.: My experience didn’t change my relationship with death, it did change my relationship with life. Life is too short to not do something to make this world better.

J.P.: Your website bio says, “As an attorney I have spent the last decade of my life defending cities.” What, exactly, does “defending cities” mean?

T.A.: Smaller cities do not have in-house attorneys to represent the city in litigation, because the cost of such attorneys isn’t justified. As a result, the cities often participate in a joint powers authority—similar to an insurance program. When the cities are sued, the joint powers authority will hire counsel to represent the city in the litigation. My firm was one of the firms that provided that service.

The cities I represented—from San Clemente, Aliso Viejo, Laguna Beach, Rancho Palos Verdes, and more—would be sued for various things ranging from a fall that someone sustained as a result of crack in a sidewalk, to wrongful termination, to wrongful death, to discrimination.

J.P.: You posted something on your Facebook page recently that said BE GOOD TO PEOPLE FOR NO REASON. I feel like that’s a beautiful, necessary statement in 2018. I ask you—why does humanity seem so awful right now?

T.A.: I think humanity seems so awful right now for several reasons. First, things are bad, and we have elected a bully to the White House and our top governmental officials are committing crimes.

Second, bad news sells. There are more clicks on the articles highlighting the bad, and news media has to make money, so they post more of the “bad” news.

Third, we are all constantly on our devices. Seriously, when you walk into an elevator, look around and you’ll note most people are staring at their phones. And when you compare yourself to a curated image on Facebook, Instagram, etc., it’s easy to think our lives are bad comparatively.

But here’s the thing—take a second and look up. Ask the person in the elevator how his day was. Compliment her on something she is wearing.  When you are in a drive-thru, pay for the person’s meal behind you.

When we stop interacting with people, we start thinking we are the only ones with problems and we become bitter. But everyone—everyone—has a struggle. Be good for no good reason. It might take 2 seconds of your time, but it might mean the world to that person.  And maybe that person will do something kind to another person for no good reason. And the cycle goes on and on. I promise you, it’s worth it.

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J.P.: So we’re here in Southern California. The rain never comes. The fires are getting worse. We have a president who doesn’t believe in climate change. What do we do? And do you—optimistic-thinking Tiffany—think we somehow figure something out? Or is humanity doomed?

T.A.: Do I think humanity is doomed? Yes. Is that because of this president? No. Are we doomed because of climate change? Possibly. I would defer to people more qualified to answer that question.

I don’t believe the human race is meant to live forever. But I also don’t think we need to hasten our extinction. We should take care of this planet, starting with fighting climate change.  We should pour money into NASA and space exploration. We should keep doing everything in our power to move forward. In the words of Dylan Thomas, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

J.P.: Greatest moment of your life? Lowest?

T.A.: Superlatives are tough for me.  The greatest moments of my life are the births of my two amazing kids. The lowest moment of my life was struggling with post-partum depression following the birth of my daughter.

J.P.: You and I both live in Orange County. When I moved here four years ago, I was warned that it can be a very sheltered, shallow bubble where people are more concerned with their lattes than homelessness; where people rarely venture into LA because it’s “scary” and chain restaurants rule the landscape. And, eh … well, as much as I dig it here, they sorta have a point. Tiffany, you seem to love it here. So what am I missing?

T.A.: I have lived around the world—literally. I’ve lived in Connecticut, Italy, Spain, Austria, Sacramento, Louisiana, and Los Angeles. I’ve also traveled a lot. But I always come back to Orange County.

Do people here care more about their lattes than homeless? Yes. Do people here rarely venture into LA? Yes. And do chain restaurants rule the landscape? Yes. Are these statements even truer in South Orange County? Yes.

Look, we can call these things a downside or, we can chose to see them as a challenge to make positive changes. I chose the latter.

The time period from November 2016-thru-November 2018 was really inspiring in Orange County. Thousands of people came out of their sheltered lives and started to speak up for the rights of others. They marched, they volunteered, and most importantly, they voted in 2018.

Orange County of 2018 is not the Orange County I grew up in. We are changing—and the amazing thing about those “downsides” is that we have an opportunity to change for the better! It’s not as easy as saying Orange County is a blank slate, but it is a work-in-progress, and we all get a chance to participate in that progress.

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• Five reasons one should make Aliso Viejo his/her next vacation destination?: 1. Aliso Viejo has one awesome City Council woman; 2. We are ideally located- close to beautiful beaches, amazing dining, Disneyland, great parks, Los Angeles and San Diego; 3. We have some great hiking and outdoor areas; 4. We are an example of a sleepy, coastal Orange County town; 5. Soka University is one of the most beautiful colleges in America, and hosts amazing performances throughout the year.

• Who wins in a 12-round boxing match between you and Melania Trump? What’s the outcome?: I’m 5’10” and played ice hockey in high school.  She’d be knocked out two seconds into the first round.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Meek Mill, Jenna Bush, Jason Spielfogel, Good Morning America, Ryan Seacrest, Wonder Woman, Michael Lewis, cranberry juice cocktail, Harley Rouda, Bach, Donovan McNabb: Wonder Woman (DC and Justice League for the win!), Harley Rouda, Bach (Cannon in D), Cranberry Juice Cocktail, Michael Lewis (I mean, he wrote Moneyball), Jason Spielfogel (I’ve only met him once, and while he attacked me online, our democracy depends on people running for office)., Donovan McNabb (next time pick a baseball player and we can discuss), Jenna Bush, Meek Mill (I don’t know who that is!), Good Morning America (I don’t have cable TV), Ryan Seacrest.

• First legit meal you ate after surgery?: I honestly can’t remember.  Maybe sushi?

• Tell me three things about your first pet: She was a black Labrador. Her name was Pappy. I still miss her.

• What are the world’s three worst sounds?: Loud gulping. Fingernails on a chalk board. Fran Drescher talking.

• Elton John is on a two-year farewell tour. Doesn’t two years seem a bit long to say farewell?: Apparently not for Elton John.

• Five emotions you felt when Donald Trump won the presidency: Shock. Embarrassment. Solitude. Fear. Anger.

• I’m Jewish. What should we bring to your house for Christmas dinner? And what time should we get there?: Matzo Brei (i.e. MatzoEggs)-  I only recently discovered this amazing dish, latkes, wine- really anything.  7pm.  See you then!

Jeffrey Pearlman

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I’m a fan of Pearlman.

But not just Pearlman—Jeff Pearlmans. Or Jeffrey Pearlman. Or Jeff Perlmans. Could be all three.

In the past I’ve had a solid handful of Jeff and Jeffrey Pearlmans appear as Quazes. There was Jeff Pearlman, the musician There was Jeff Perlman, the mayor. There will be more Jeff Pearlmans, because we are an inherently fascinating breed of people. Based primarily on name. So, thanks mom(s).

I digress.

The new Quaz stars Jeffrey Pearlman, the director of the authorities budget office under New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. And while the title alone might cause one’s eyes to glass over, the job—and life—is riveting. In an age of political craziness and corruption and dishonesty, Jeffrey’s gig involves  promoting the transparency and accountability of public authorities. Which, again, is uber meaningful right about now.

Also, Jeffrey insists there are “way” more people than bad in politics. Which, well, hopefully is correct.

Anyhow, Jeffrey is a die-hard Jets fan who doesn’t buy into #MAGA, tries to explain Jeanine Pirro and worships at the shrine of Darrelle Revis and Emerson Boozer.

Jeffrey Pearlman, you are The Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So we’re both Jeffrey Pearlman, we both have Wikipedia pages, we’re both New Yorkers. Weird as this sounds, how do you feel about our name? Are you good with it? Did you have nicknames as a kid? Did you know I existed? Other Jeff Pearlmans? Do you feel a kinship with Ron and Itzhak?

JEFFREY PEARLMAN: I’m content with our name. I feel like a Jeff. I’ve never met a Jeffrey that I didn’t want to learn something from. Pearlman is a pretty easy name to say and hear so there’s little confusion despite the many spellings, Perelman, Perlman, etc. In middle school my classmate, actor and comedian, Adam Ferrara would sing our last name at the top of his lungs to the Blues Brothers tune of Soul Man. I’m a Pearl Man, nah nah nah nah nah nah, I’m a Pearl Man! When that wore out he moved on to the Allman’s, Ramblin’ Man. Always a treat. In college I was Jeep Jeff because I owned an ‘84 CJ-7. In law school I was Pearl Jam. Also, we live in a Jeffrocentric world.

I learned of your existence after the John Rocker article. A few distant friends that I’d bump into on the LIRR or at a high school reunion would congratulate me on my articles. I would tell them it wasn’t me and they’d appear disappointed. So, I began to read your articles. I would buy your books to give as gifts and autograph them! Because c’mon! Enter social media Twitter and now I’m a sympathetic follower! I think we have a lot in common and you’re someone I’d like to grab a coffee with at any of your favorite haunts. We could both shake our heads at the loud phone talkers. I’d like to help ease your political rage. I need some parental advice from your Mrs. P., too.

Besides you, the only other Jeff Pearlmans I know are the Mayor and the musician from your earlier quaz and the few other dentists and lawyers that pop up on google.

I have friends and former colleagues that have relationships with both Ron and Itzhak. In high school I was an exchange student in Paris and a sibling in my host family studied violin at the Brooklyn Conservatory Of Music under the direction of Itzhak. High school and Gov’s Office colleagues worked for Ron at his company, MacAndrews & Forbes. I have never dissuaded anyone from making a connection.

 J.P.: So in 2017 you were appointed Director of the Authorities Budget Office by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo. I say this with 100% respect and admiration—that does not sound like an overly thrilling job. What does it entail? What are your day-to-day tasks?

J.P.: The ABO is the first office of its kind in the nation. It promotes the transparency and accountability of public authorities. In New York there are more than 600 state and local authority boards that use public and private funds to hold ownership of something that serves a public purpose. From the largest — the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and its multi-billion dollar train, subway, bus and toll-bridge conglomerate to a small, <$1 million rural upstate garbage removal operation; from 100+ industrial development agencies to the 500+ economic development offices in between , if any of these quasi-governmental businesses receive public funds, odds are they report to the Authorities Budget Office, to which I am the Director. In total, these entities in New York hold more than $270 BILLION of outstanding debt and also may provide BILLIONS in tax exemptions and credits for third parties.

The ABO staff review and analyze the operations, practices and reports of public authorities, assess whether they follow the relevant provisions of state law and make recommendations concerning their reformation and structure. This includes rendering conclusions and opinions about their performance and helping them improve management practices and the procedures by which their activities and financial practices are disclosed to the public. These authorities’ boards’ receive ABO training on their fiduciary responsibilities and they regularly report their financials to the ABO.

We are the brainchild of the New York State Legislature, at the direction Ira Millstein, a Manhattan lawyer emeritus to fortune 500 corporate boards. Mr. Millstein is a proponent of board-centered governance – or — the notion that the board members run a corporation. He just wrote a book, The Activist Director.

My former political colleagues, many years my junior, call me a bureaucrat (to insult me). But I’m a policy wonk in a busy office, that receives daily inquiries and complaints, trains hundreds of board members annually, has subpoena and other enforcement powers, reviews board activities and comments on legislation affecting economic development and public debt in NewYork State. Maybe not thrilling work, but it’s cutting edge legal work that will hopefully ensure the public gets results on our investments.

Day to day tasks include working to grow the office budget to meet demands. The ABO has litigation pending at every level of the state’s courts — trial, mid-office counsel. The ABO is generally represented by the Attorney General’s Office. I also provide legal support to the staff that review public authority compliance activities.

In a nutshell, the ABO gathers the facts and applies the law in a niche of government that is not customarily open, but it should be. Asleep yet? Drink more coffee.

Circa 1988

Circa 1988

J.P.: In your past life you were the chief of staff to Kathy Hochul, New York’s lieutenant governor. And I think “chief of staff” is one of those positions we’ve all heard of—but have no real idea what it entails. So, Jeffrey, what does a chief of staff do?

J.P.: A chief of staff is a behind the scenes job. For example, in your previous question you used the word, “thrilling” and it reminded me of my time with LG Kathy Hochul, which might help to explain. One day in Albany I was with the LG and we were reviewing a briefing that recommended that she be “thrilled” about being at an event. I was then schooled on how Kathy Hochul doesn’t get thrilled at a work event! She may get thrilled white water kayaking or on a roller coaster, but not at, for example, a ribbon cutting. We laughed. At the following day’s 9:00am call, when all offices, Buffalo, Albany and NYC/LI called in to walk through the events of the day, critique the day before and discuss future items and assignments, I instructed the staff that the LG does not get ‘thrilled!’ Don’t use that word anymore. That’s what a COS does. I’ll add that it became a running office joke.

As Governor Hochul’s COS, I was permitted to bring together and manage a uniquely qualified 3-city office for an active, 6-event per day (3 public) statewide elected official in the best state in the nation. It was a 24/7 job with the usual ups and downs of a political life.

J.P.: I want to love politics, but the closer I get the more disgusted I become. It just all seems really scuzzy and nasty and lacking genuine integrity. So … tell me why I’m wrong.

J.P.: I have had the privilege of having a second row seat for the past 30 years in New York State’s punch-you-in-the-mouth partisan politics. I’ve had tremendous mentors every step of the way that I would be lost without. I tell interns starting in Albany politics that they will either love it and consider a career in public service or they will hate it. Jeff, I love your true New York liberal passion. I sincerely would like to help you with your political and government angst. Trust me when I tell you that there are WAY more good people in public service than bad people. My career as a policy maker has been to help the politicians build the coalitions to make change. When I worked in the state legislature I used to love when someone would say something was not legal, thinking, ‘well then let’s change the law.’ Ghandi persisted within the system to change the system; MLK, too. You can, too.

Me, I like to help people and solve problems. Period. It’s that simple. Gimme some facts and I’ll find and apply the law to provide you counsel. I’m coming at it from my long-island-jewish-middle-child upbringing by a democratic mother and a republican father. I’m a skilled cat herder, coalition builder and nice guy, but don’t make the mistake of equating being nice with being weak. As a player I want to win. As a NY lawyer I understand the power of law. Everything is a compromise, but it’s what you compromise that matters.

In my tenure here in Albany I’ve observed many who come into this business of governing as self-servers rather than holding that ideology of service to others. We’re all humans, fundamentally flawed. It is often publicly scuzzy, nasty and lacking integrity as you mention, especially most recently. There’s no utopia and there’s no better process than a NY/US republic. It’s far from perfect. It was intended to be deliberative and you shouldn’t let the politics of a 21stcentury technological world that includes nonstop attention to the flavor of the moment stop you from engaging for the long haul of consensus in some way. Enjoy it and laugh at the absurdity.

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J.P.: Among others, you worked for David Paterson before he became New York’s governor—then became his counsel. The two things I remember about Paterson—because they were big news stories–is he was legally blind and he had an affair. So, those aside, what was he like?

J.P.: Governor David A. Paterson is my hero. I believe he was maligned by NY’s tabloids as your question would infer. He’s my hero not because he is some larger than life figure. It’s the opposite. It’s not because he comes from a very strong and well-groomed, Harlem political pedigree. It’s not because in spite of his visual impairment GDAP was taught in regular LI public schools, then Columbia U and Hofstra Law. He is my hero because… he listens. David Paterson would not only hear my words, he would use them in his public remarks. He’s just constantly amazing and always fun to be with. I was with him as staff in Israel and was tasked to “body” him along the tour in Jerusalem’s stages of the cross to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher where Jesus was crucified and laid to rest. I was not able to guide him as well as I had hoped as Jerusalem is not a very level place. Nonetheless, he was so gracious and included me with his experience at a very holy Christian site that was important to him. He has a tremendous and biting sense of humor. I loved to see him laugh. He’s engaging; shares his views and listens to whomever he’s near. He relies on his staff and would let us know his appreciation in many tangible and intangible ways. It’s not commonly known that Governor David Paterson also used to do a mean standing backflip!!

I was honored to work for him in the State Senate and to be his counsel when he was Lieutenant Governor to Eliot Spitzer. I was humbled to participate in his transition to Governor. I am tremendously proud of what he accomplished in his short 3-year term. Just ascending to the position of Governor after the resignation of his running mate, it should have been sufficient (Dayenu!). But Governor David A. Paterson solved the perennial Albany riddle and finally exerted sufficient Executive Power to end over two decades of consistently late state budgets, brought together the divergent views of criminal justice reform to end the draconian Rockefeller drug law sentences, appointed a lieutenant governor and ended a legislative stalemate, permitted no-fault divorce, forced the first vote on gay marriage (which failed and was adopted the following year) and also gave unmarried gays the right to use family court in domestic violence situations, made the truly difficult decisions to close a $10+billion multi-year deficit during the great recession after years of over spending by prior administrations, established clemency procedures for immigrants to help families avoid harmful deportation, turned the crumbling rail-bridge over the Hudson in Poughkeepsie into a cool-ass state park, collected and delivered tons and tons of support to Haiti after its devastating earthquake, brought Rex Ryan and the Jets to SUNY Cortland for training camp and HBO’s Hard Knocks and created the independent ABO where I am today. Unfortunately for now David Paterson will, until a future generation looks at the record without bias, be considered a bumbling, blind and adulterous Governor rather than one of the greatest. I’ve drank the Paterson Kool-Aid; I am on the bus.

J.P.: I ask this of every Democrat I know, and I’ll ask you: How are you staying sane during the Trump years? I really mean that, because I’m losing my shit and feel like our nation is crumbling into the abyss.

J.P.: I don’t buy into the hype and think long term despite us being at like Defcon 4 three times in the past year. If I could help the President I would, but sorry, I still have three years left on my term at the ABO. I am expecting he’s nearing lame duck status.

I think the current administration is the high water mark of political incivility and divisiveness. If you weren’t sure what that meant before, you definitely know it now. It sucks. Twenty five years ago you’d hear from foreigners about how they knew american politics was sensational and the President’s absurd views were not a reflection on its people – America was still what many nations aspired to have. Today I think that’s no more and we’ve got a lot of explaining to do. But I have faith in the strength of the process and the rule of law. It’s all about the process.

Pearlman (far right) with Duffy Palmer and Governor David Paterson at Leaders' meeting on RTTT in NYC.

Pearlman (far right) with Duffy Palmer and Governor David Paterson at Leaders’ meeting on RTTT in NYC.

J.P.: According to your bio, you “prepared and organized a ballot protection effort that uncovered attempts by the opposition to suppress the vote on Election Day.” Serious question—why do people seek to suppress the vote? And I know that sounds overly simplistic, but what I mean is … it’s so preposterously wrong and sinister. How do people not see that? Or not realize what they’re trying to do is downright un-American?

J.P.: Why does anyone cheat? I am happy, again here, to feel like I’m on the side of the angels. Let’s make elections fair, right? In the case you mention, I worked for months to put a trained lawyer in every poll site (80) in Yonkers from 6 am to 9 pm. Then we waited in the “war room” at HQ with a bank of phones for the shenanigans to begin to be called-in by these Election Day poll watchers. It worked and we caught them and were able to handle the nefarious activities to permit voters to vote and for our challenger to fairly beat the incumbent.

In politics, those who are in positions of power often don’t want to give it up without a fight. There are patronage jobs or pet projects that risk being changed should a challenger win. There are demographic issues –which is code for racism. There’s always one in the group willing to go rogue and attempt to win at any cost.

People see it. Take a look at what happened that day after I called a reputable editorial board member of a local daily paper…

It's not every day someone gets to meet Christian Hackenberg.

It’s not every day someone gets to meet Christian Hackenberg.

J.P.: My mom used to deal with Jeanine Pirro when she was a judge, and she found her to be a smart, level-headed human being. I’ve actually heard that from multiple people. Not that they agreed with her, but that she was … OK. Now she’s on Fox News and she seems bat-shit insane. And I wonder … what do you think happened?

J.P.: I’d say Ms. Pirro transformed herself from being a smart jurist into being a successful sensationalist entertainer. It’s trending.

J.P.: Greatest moment of your career?

J.P.: Greatest: St. Patrick’s Day 2008, State Capitol.

Five minutes before David Paterson is sworn in as Governor and I am shepherding the Judges of the Court of Appeals to their front row seats, my legal idol, Chief Judge Judith Kaye looks me straight in the eye and says, “Jeff, with all this chaos swirling around us right now, you seem to be totally calm.” “Judge Kaye, I said. “I am in my element.”

Lowest: Election Day 1992, Queens County.

My first real boss, State Senator Jeremy S. Weinstein, lost his election after being redistricted out of his political base. I was the campaign field director and we lost by 10 points. The TV was showing Bill Clinton celebrate his presidential victory. I wanted to be happy, but I wasn’t.

J.P.: You attended Albany Law School. I very nearly attended SUNY Albany before realizing, “Shit—it’s so cold.” Wise move?

J.P.: You probably would still be here in Albany if you decided on UAlbany. It’s true, you must embrace the winter here (ski/skate) to endure the steel-gray skies of the long, half a year of winter in upstate NY. You live in sunny California. Wise? Probably, though I’m sure you’ve been softened by the easy weather and are now somehow less of a NYer.

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• You’re a die-hard Jets fan. Five all-time favorite members of the team: 1. Jerry Philbin: Family lore is he’s the reason behind my dad getting season tickets. My first memory of a Jets game was taking a bus from his restaurant in Massapequa and collecting tips for the driver. I was 3; 2. Emerson Boozer: drafted my birth year, ’66, and a fellow Town of Huntington resident; 3. Darrelle Revis: Loved Revis Island; 4. Joe Namath: I had the opportunity once to tell Joe Namath that I was a Jets fan before I was a Democrat!; 5. Brett Favre: My honey is from Wisconsin and landing Brett even if it was a short-lived 10 game success, it was an exciting time for me.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): William Shatner, Dennis Hopson, Ed Koch, Happy Feet, pears, blue hair, David Crosby, Operation (a Milton Bradley Game), Detroit Tigers, “Two out of Three Ain’t Bad.”: 1. Pears; 2. Shatner; 3. Koch; 4. Crosby; 5. Tigers; 6. Operation; 7. Hopson; 8. 2/3; 9. Happy Feet; 10. Blue hair

• Three memories from your Bar Mitzvah: 1. The money to buy a component stereo setup; 2. Trying to convince the bartender to serve me a drink now that I had become an adult; 3. Making my family proud

• One question you would ask Harry Carson were he here right now: Man, I hate the Super Bowl Giants. I’m Jets fan. OK. ‘Hey Harry, you can’t drop your helmet in today’s NFL the way you used to. Does it piss you off, you fucking tackling and interception legend?’

• Celine Dion calls. She’s looking for a kick-ass attorney. She’ll pay $10 million next year to represent her, but you have to sing “Safety Dance” to her for three hours every night—wearing a diaper, with deer antlers glued to your skull. You in?: Absolutely. Safety Dance, no problem. Deer? Only three hours? No question.

• Five greatest Pearlmans/Perlmans of our lifetime?: 1. My grandfather, Hyman; 2. My pops, Ira; 3. My brother, Eric; 4. My brother, Aaron; 5. You.

• In 25 words or less, make an argument why Blair Thomas was better than Emmitt Smith …: Blair Thomas was better than Emmitt Smith because he was drafted as a New York Jet.

• Five favorite books: 1. Yankee Lawyer: The Autobiography of Ephraim Tutt; 2. The Better Angel: Walt Whitman in the Civil War. Roy Morris, Jr.; 3. Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Tom Wolfe; 4. Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72. Hunter S. Thompson; 5. The Stranger. Albert Camus

This is one of my absolute all-time favorite songs. Being serious—what do you think?: I like hip hop’s beat. This one’s more like a ballad though. I like it, has a righteous message but it ain’t Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince!

• What happens after we die? And how much worry does that bring you?: When we die, it’s over. We remain in the memories of others. I don’t worry about it and am prepared as best as I can be for when it comes.

Walt Maddox

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On May 22, 2017, Walt Maddox was sworn in for his fourth term as the mayor of Tuscaloosa.

That seems like a pretty sweet deal. You live in a great city. You’re popular and respected and successful in your chosen career. So why not just kick back, pop open a few cold ones and enjoy the ride? Why not bask in the security of a fruitful gig?

It’s a good question, but one Maddox doesn’t struggle to answer. As you read this, he is in the midst of a fierce battle to unseat Republican Kay Ivey as Alabama’s governor. To be polite, this isn’t an easy fight. Ivey is a Trump-praising right-wing adherent in a state overflowing with Trump-praising right-wing adherents. Yet Maddox looks around at Alabama’s failing schools, Alabama’s up-and-down economy—and wants to do something. So here he is—running and Quazing. Quazing and running.

One can visit Walt’s website here, and follow him on Instagram here and Twitter here.

Walt Maddox, you are the 361st Quaz Q&A …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Walt, you’re a Democrat. Runningfor governor. In Alabama. This seems, from afar, as a super longshot in a state America views as redder than red. So … why am I wrong?

WALT MADDOX: I believe there are three reasons. First, on Dec. 12, 2017, we elected a Democrat, Doug Jones, for United States senator. Making this remarkable, it was a special election which should have suppressed Democratic turnout. Second, as mayor, in a purple city, we have demonstrated bi-partisan and effective leadership for over 12 years. Lastly, Tuscaloosa has succeeded through the Great Recession and the April 27, 2011 tornado which destroyed 12.5 percent of the city (5,300 structures impacted). Our response and recovery from both has demonstrated the type of crisis leadership we need in Alabama and that will appeal to independents.

J.P.: You spent four years on the University of Alabama-Birmingham football team. Right now, across America, there’s this ongoing debate over the sport, and—in particular—head injuries. Personally, I wouldn’t let my kids play, what with so many safer sports out there. I’m guessing you disagree. So what do you get out of your college sports career? And what can we do about the sport?

W.M.: I understand the concern, and as a parent, I have entertained the same thoughts. First, reducing the amount of practice contact is paramount. Second, continuing to use technology to enhance safety measures. Third, ensure that coaches know how to teach the fundamentals of the sport (i.e. tacking form). Fourth, contact should not begin to high school. Lastly, at all levels, require concussion protocols.

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With wife Stephanie

J.P.: You’re in a state that Donald Trump won by a large margin. And, if I’m being honest, that causes me to question the judgement of your denizens. So … how? How did he win? Why did Alabama support him? And do you see any of that fading away?

W.M.: There is President Donald Trump, and then there is the idea of President Donald Trump. I believe the idea of a person who would fight for the “little man” and shake things up was very appealing across America, including Alabama. The idea of Donald Trump is still popular, but even amongst his most ardent supporters you are seeing weariness because the issues are compounding. I believe the Trump phenomena will continue to slowly fade due to the cumulative effects of his behavior.

J.P.: The governor of Alabama is Kay Ivey. I’m guessing you’re not a fan of her politics or job performance. But will it be possible—truly possible—to run a positive campaign? What I mean is, people always say, “I plan on staying above the mud,” but then they wind up lathering in it. So how do you do this? Can you rip her without, well, ripping her? I mean, Trump’s campaign was super negative—and he won. So isn’t that the way to go?

W.M.: I respect Governor Ivey, but disagree with her policy positions and her desire to maintain the status quo which means remaining last in nearly every quality of life measurement. I believe campaigns boil down to three things: 1) Narrative; 2) Contrast; 3) Momentum. In our case, I believe we have all three areas solidly in our favor. I say all that to say, we can make our case without going negative.

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J.P.: You’re the mayor of Tuscaloosa. What don’t people understand about the gig of mayor? I mean, from afar it seems like we get it—work on enforcing local laws, keeping the city safe, etc. But what are we missing?

W.M.: In Tuscaloosa, the mayor is the Chief Executive Officer of the city, and the majority of what I do each day is not sexy. Yet, beyond the day-to-day administrative duties of overseeing the 11 departments of the city, since I have veto power, I have a unique opportunity to engage in policy making with the council. For me, it is a great opportunity because our standard of excellence is to be the most innovative and effectively managed city in the United States. Bottom-line: It should always be about results and not rhetoric!

J.P.: What’s the hardest decision you’ve ever had to make in politics? And how did you go about making it?

W.M.: The strategic pathway to recovery after the April 27, 2011 tornado was by far the most difficult-but-necessary decision thus far in my tenure. The 12.5 percent of the city destroyed had nearly $1 billion in unmet needs, including $700 million in water, sewer, road and storm water replacements or improvements. As a community, we decided to take the long view and after numerous town hall meetings involving thousands, we developed the Tuscaloosa Forward Plan.

After the first year, especially from conservative think tanks, we took a great deal of criticism; however, seven years later the results speak for themselves. It wasn’t easy, and each day we learned something new or had to confront unseen challenges. The good news is that I have been re-elected two times since April 27, 2011, which indicates to me that the people I work for appreciated our honest and transparent efforts.

J.P.: Alabama has had substandard education numbers for many moons. You’ve made this one of your big issues—but, truly, how much can things improve? Teachers are underpaid, your largely Republican state hates spending money, on and on. Are there actually steps to be taken?

W.M.: Below is a link which will take you to all four components of my education platform. We can invest $300 million without raising taxes. Check it out and I will be happy to answer specifics …


J.P.: Greatest moment of your career? Lowest?

W.M.: Greatest: Our response and recovery to the April 27, 2011 tornado.

Lowest: The night of the Coppertop shootings in downtown Tuscaloosa in 2012.

J.P.: What do we do about climate change? I mean, people seem so insanely focused on what’s five feet in front of them. So how do we get people to set aside the immediate issues and deal with a horrible trauma looming over us? In short, how do we get action?

W.M.: I believe moving from the equation of who is to blame and transition to talking about achievable solutions is how we guarantee action. Climate change is real, but those who want to prohibit real solutions divert the attention with the blame game.

J.P.: Weird one—but I’m terrified of death. Not dying, per se. But being dead. Not existing. Nothingness. I just hate the very idea of it, but I also don’t believe in any sort of afterlife. I dunno, this thing just hangs there, waiting. How much thought do you give to this? How much does it/does it not bother you?

W.M.: My faith removes my worry and teaches me there is an afterlife so I do my best to follow the guidance of St. Francis of Assisi who said, “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” Please note that I fall short each and every day of my life which is why I am glad that God’s grace is abundant. I also believe, and this is my own theology, that God gives you two great gifts. The first is the gift of free will and the second is the gift of learning. For me, I want to maximize this gifts while I am here on earth and what is on the other side will take care of itself.

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• Rank in order (favorite to least): Walt Williams, Walt Michaels, Tommy Maddox, Walt Whitman, Maddox Chivan Jolie-Pitt, Menudo, Walt Disney, USS Maddox, Walter Mondale: 1. Walt Disney (He is really first and last. He is first because of the memories and experiences with all things Disney. He is last because he has cost me thousands upon thousands creating those memories with my children); 2. Walter Mondale; 3. Tommy Maddox; 4. USS Maddox (it may have helped to start the Vietnam War, but …); 5. Walt Williams; 6. Walt Michaels (J-E-T-S, Jets! Jets! Jets!); 7. Walt Whitman; 8. Maddox Chivan Jolie-Pitt.

• One question you would ask Malik Rose were he here right now?: Why are my Atlanta Hawks so bad, always?

• Five all-time favorite movies?: A Few Good Men, Bourne Supremacy, Rogue One, Empire Strikes Back, Red Dawn (original)

• Who wins in a dance off between you and Mike Pence?: I would destroy Mike Pence!

• How do you decide what tie to wear in photos?: There is no strategy. If there needs to be, then Steph lets me know.

• You have a daughter, Taylor, who appears to be just about the age where everything in the world involving people our age might embarrass her. So how is she handling life as a politician’s child?: Taylor is amazing. She doesn’t remember a time when I wasn’t mayor so she has grown accustomed to the “political life.” Also, she has developed a true social conscience which I think is wonderful. She understands our moral obligation to serve others.

• Three memories from your first-ever date?: 1. I had a mullet. 2. I drove an El Camino. 3. Knowing the first two, I don’t know how I managed to have a beautiful girl go out with me.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: No. (thanks for jinxing me with this question)

• What are the keys to making great soup?: Buying it from a restaurant you trust!

• How did you meet your wife?: She was communications director with Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports, and so I fortunately got to interact with her on a routine basis.

Ken Shetter

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I grew up in a small town knowing I’d inevitably leave my small town.

Why? Because I wanted to see what was out there. I wanted to roam, explore, check out new places and meet new people and experience life away from the comfortable-yet-suffocating boundaries that surround my place of origin.

So here I am in Southern California, a mere 3,000 miles away from Mahopac, N.Y.

Ken Shetter is not me. Or, perhaps, you. He’s the mayor of Burleson, Texas, a Fort Worth suburb of 40,000 residents and the place where he was born and raised. Why has he stayed? Love. For the people. For the land. For the potential. And why is he the city’s mayor? All the same reasons.

Today, Ken talks job experiences and life experiences; why he would be a better president than Donald Trump and why—as the governor of Texas—he will one day mandate the Houston Texas become the Houston Oilers.

One can follow the mayor on Twitter here and Facebook here.

All hail the chief. He’s the 357th Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Ken, you are the mayor of Burleson, Texas, a suburb of Fort Worth with a population around 40,000. And I wanna start with a weird one—at this moment we have a man with no political experience in the White House. Which has people thinking, “Who’s next?” Oprah? Mark Cuban? The Rock? So, Ken, does a small-city mayor have the experience to jump to the presidency? Can that argument be made?

KEN SHETTER: The argument can certainly be made that many small city mayors are at least as well suited as those you listed (including the current occupant of the White House) to run for president. In fact, one of the things about being a local elected official is you have to learn to be accountable to those you serve very quickly. It is not unusual to encounter a constituent with a concern, complaint or suggestion in the grocery store or at one of my kids’ school events. That kind of personal accountability, if one takes it seriously, is an important element of the experience gained from serving as a mayor. In addition, local elected officials have experience making decisions that impact people’s everyday lives to a greater extent than officials at any other level. Think about it—we are responsible for making sure you have clean running water, that your toilet flushes, that your trash gets picked up, that you have a decent neighborhood to live in, that your kids have good parks to play in and that you are physically safe. Those are some of the most important functions of government at any level. Of course, the lack of national name identification makes such a leap unlikely, from a political perspective.

J.P.: You’re in Texas and you’re a Republican. Yet, judging from social media, you don’t seem to be hard- hard- hard-core far right or a Trump backer. Sooooo … how does that play? What I mean is, you’re in a state that’s run deep red for many moons. How have you succeeded with a divergent world social view?

K.S.: Actually, it’s worse than you thought—I’m not even a Republican (gasp!!!). In my official capacity, I am nonpartisan. Our city charter requires us to run and govern as nonpartisans. While it’s no secret that I lean center-left (some would say just left), I work well with folks of all political stripes and certainly promote a number of policies that some would associate with conservatism. I have promoted strong accountability and transparency practices, been fiscally responsible and prioritize strong public safety.

I think I’ve been successful in my campaigns for two reasons. First, the city has thrived during the time that I’ve been mayor. We have doubled in size, our economy has been remarkably strong, and we’ve focused on quality of life. Second, when you govern in a nonpartisan context, you have the luxury of just arguing the merits of an idea or a platform, without getting bogged down in partisan BS. In fact, when some have tried to introduce that as part of the conversation or debate, I think it has generally backfired—turns out people like nonpartisan government. Also, it doesn’t hurt that I’m a hometown boy—it’s harder to despise someone you’ve known since they were in diapers.

Delivering Meals on Wheels with son Alister.

Delivering Meals on Wheels with good ol’ Alister.

J.P.: What is the day-to-day life like for the mayor of Burleson? Soup to nuts? What are you doing? How many meetings are you attending? What are the main issues you need to address?

K.S.: Because I have a full-time job in addition to being mayor, most days are a mix of mayor and day job duties. We have official council meetings every two weeks on Monday nights. Most weeks I will have a few other city-related meetings and often speak to civic or student groups. Of course, every day involves phone calls and emails from city staff members and citizens. I know my day is about to get more complicated if I get a call from a staff member that begins, “Mayor, there’s something I need to make you aware of …” There really isn’t a typical day or week, but I would estimate that spend, on average, between ten and twenty hours per week on city business.

The main issue I deal with is management of our population growth, which implicates public safety resources, public works and transportation infrastructure and development policies.

Currently, the development of a public plaza in our Old Town district and the expansion of higher education opportunities are particular areas of focus for me.

J.P.: How did this actually happen for you? I mean, I know you attended Baylor. I know you have a law degree. I know you’re in your mid-40s. But when did you know politics were for you? When did the lightbulb go off?

K.S.: I am one of those weirdos who was interested in politics and public policy from the time I was a small kid. In fact, even when I was nine or ten I would get in knock-down-drag-out political arguments with family members. My goal was always a career in public service. When I was in my twenties a seat opened up on the city council and I threw my name in the hat. I intended city council service to be a stepping stone to higher office. Funny thing happened—I found serving in city government to be far more rewarding and consequential than I expected. Any time I’ve thought about running for another office, I always felt like there was more important work left to do as mayor.

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J.P.: You also serve as the president of One Safe Place, a non-profit that focuses on preventing crime and violence. Well, how do we prevent crime and violence? It seems rather impossible, considering the amount we have in this nation … every … single … day.

K.S.: It would be impossible to eradicate crime and violence, but that doesn’t mean we should throw up our hands—there is a lot of good we can do for a lot of people! At One Safe Place we have several different programs (including Crime Stoppers and a DOJ federal grant program called Project Safe Neighborhoods), but for our discussion, I’ll focus on our family justice center. We serve victims of domestic violence and children who live in violent homes. The idea of a family justice center is to bring all the services a victim needs together in one place, and to integrate those services so they are more effective for the victim. There are twenty-two different partner agencies working together through One Safe Place. We prioritize domestic violence because it makes up a significant percentage of all the violent crime committed, because perpetrators of domestic violence pose a danger to the community at-large and because most of our violent criminals grew up in homes where there was violence.

To drill down a bit more, we are particularly interested in strangulation as part of domestic abuse. A significant percentage of domestic violence victims suffer non-fatal or near-fatal strangulation and that has lots of ramifications. First, there are often long-term medical consequences that aren’t immediately evident to the victim, and second, victims who have been strangled are 700% more likely to ultimately be killed. It also turns that intimate partner strangulation is a warning sign for violent behavior outside the home. For instance, there are multiple studies which have found a majority of cop killers have a documented history of intimate partner strangulation.

Sometimes my work at One Safe Place and as mayor intertwine—I’m proud to say the City of Burleson was recently the first city in the US to adopt an ordinance creating a strangulation protocol for first responders. Among other things, the ordinance requires an emergency medical response anytime strangulation is alleged or suspected.

Finally, I can’t talk about One Safe Place without mentioning Camp Hope Texas. We do a week-long outdoor adventure camp for kids exposed to violence. In addition to traditional camp activities, we have a special curriculum designed to increase our campers’ level of hopefulness, which is the key to creating more resilient kids who can overcome the traditional cycle of violence.

J.P.: I just came upon a story from 2015, headlined BURLESON MAYOR’S PRO-SAME-SEX MARRIAGE POST DRAWS MIXED REACTIONS. It was about you posted a congratulatory message to LGBT friends on Facebook—and the backlash that followed. And I wonder, did you at all see that coming? Did you debate the initial messge? And how have you seen the views of people morph on gay rights during your time in office? If at all …

K.S.: The initial post was a simple congratulatory message to LGBTQ friends, with an expression of hope for LGBTQ youth that this was one more indication they were fully loved and accepted. A citizen challenged me to justify my statement as mayor, considering what the bible has to say about homosexuality. What actually got all the attention was my response to that citizen (which you can read here). I certainly expected that the post could get a lot of negative reaction. While a few responses were downright hateful, most were very positive. In fact, the large number of positive responses served to provide further affirmation to the LGBTQ community. I even got a few responses from citizens who said for the first time they felt accepted in their own community, and they had thought that would never happen for them. It was a great lesson for me—NEVER miss an opportunity to let people know they are loved and they belong in our community.

I certainly have seen the views of people morph on gay rights during my time in office. I don’t think there’s any way the post I wrote in 2015 would have received so many positive responses if it had been written in 2003.

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Meeting with first grade students at Irene Clinkscale Elementary .

J.P.: Your last election was May 2017, and you beat two challengers—Katherine Reading and John Garrison. I wonder, how do you move past an election? What I mean is, the months leading up are filled with criticisms of your performance, your stances. Then this vote happens, and it all ends. So … can you let any bad feelings go? Can you run into Katherine or John at, say, CVS and have a buddy-buddy convo? Is it awkward? Weird?

K.S.: You don’t have much of a choice—there’s always a city council meeting within a couple of weeks of the election, and the work must go on. In terms of personally letting feelings go, the honest answer is sometimes you can and sometimes you can’t. After having served in local government for almost 20 years, I’ve had lots of opponents and made lots of people mad over the years. I can almost always get over it and repair relationships … but I can’t deny there are some folks out there who wouldn’t vote for me if I was running against Satan (an actual quote from a voter in the last election) and they’re never going to feel differently.

I am happy to report there are no lingering hard feelings from the 2017 election, at least between the candidates.

J.P.: It’ the elephant here, so I’ll ask: Donald Trump. You’re in Texas. Can you explain his rise? His appeal? Because I see a lifelong conman with no convictions or moral compass. How do so many, um, not?

K.S.: I agree with your assessment and would add that I think he’s a literal threat to our democracy. My best explanation is that his victory was a combination of two things: One, there were a lot of people on the right who despised Hillary Clinton, and they thought there was only so much damage one man could do. Two, there wasn’t enough excitement on the left to turn out the vote for Hillary Clinton in places where it really mattered.

I think all the hand-wringing over the angry white voter is kind of ridiculous. Just looking at demographic forces, the focus for those wanting to elect progressive candidates should be on turning out the kind of coalition that elected Barack Obama.

J.P.: You live in a gun-friendly state. I’m terrified every time my kids leave for school. Seriously, what can we do about this? Are there ANY steps that the nation might agree upon?

K.S.: Yes! I think the most important thing we can do is pass comprehensive background checks. That’s the first and most important step to making sure we keep guns out of the hands of people we all agree shouldn’t have them. It drives me bonkers when politicians say, “We just can’t do anything until we find common ground.” About 90% of Americans agree on comprehensive background checks. For the love of God, that is common ground.

J.P.: What’s the appeal of living in the town where you grew up? Like you, I was raised in a small town where you always saw familiar faces, did things repeatedly, drew on traditions and festivals and the such. And, to be honest, I wanted out. And left. So why stay? What is it about a small town that does it for you?

K.S.: This is a great question. In fact, I often ask teenagers, “What do we need to do to make sure you want to stay or come back after college to raise your family?” For me, the fact that most of my extended family lives in Burleson (they have for generations), and that I actually like them, makes it hard to leave. We also have the advantage of having a lot of the benefits of a smaller town while being right next to Fort Worth, which is one of the most vibrant big cities in the country.

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• Rank in order (favorite to least): roller coasters, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, TLC, Justin Bieber, “Ocean’s Eleven,” USFL, puppies, Jeff Flake, peppercorn medley grinder, overly ripe fruit: Puppies, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, roller coasters, Jeff Flake, peppercorn medley grinder, Ocean’s Eleven, TLC, USFL, overly ripe fruit, Justin Bieber

• Five reasons one should make Burelson his/her next vacation destination: In no particular order: 1. Outstanding food and music in Old Town; 2. Awesome golf courses; 3. We’ve got two great wineries; 4. We have events throughout the year that are worth the trip: free summer concerts, a big bicycle race in the Spring and Founders Day in the Fall are just a few examples. Plus, we’re always thirty minutes from something amazing in Fort Worth or Arlington (but stay in Burleson and get the added value of small town charm); 5. The Old Town Ghost Tour.

• One question you would ask Kim Jong Un were he here right now?: Do you speak English?

• My nephew Jordan won’t let me chaperone his senior prom. What should I do?: Find a single teacher and go as her date.

• In exactly 17 words, make an argument for the acting talents of the late Jim Varney: He has never uttered the intolerable, fingers-on-a-chalk-board-annoying, moronic phrase, “Git-r-done.”

• What’s your secret talent?: I grew up playing the fiddle.

• Would you consider running for governor, then insisting the Houston Texans become the Houston Oilers and switch back to their old unis? Please …: Yes, absolutely. And I would pass a law that every head coach of the Houston Oiler had to legally change their name to Bum Phillips.

• If you had to hang out with three 1980s sitcom characters, who would they be?: Coach, from Cheers, Hawkeye, from MASH, Judge Harold T. Stone, from Night Court.

• Don’t get mad at me, but I’ve gotta think you received a few “Ken Shitter” ridicules while growing up. Yes? No? How bad was it?: Actually, I got a lot more Barbie cracks when I was growing up. The “Ken Shitter” ridicules have been more common since I’ve been mayor. Like water off a duck’s back.

• I’m not sure the Reds getting Cesar Cedeno from Houston was such a great idea. Thoughts?: Well, I’m a lifelong Rangers fan, so my strongest Astros thoughts involve bitterness that they won the Series before the Rangers did.

Dayna Steele


Dayna Steele is a Democrat running for a congressional seat in southeast Texas.

I need to repeat that, because it sounds sorta bonkers. So … Dayna Steele is a Democrat running for a congressional seat in southeast Texas. She’s never held a political office. She never really thought about holding a political office. But then, stuff started to change. Ted Cruz. Donald Trump. The attacks on immigrants. The attacks on LGBT rights. The anger from the right, often crossing the lines of decency, of bigotry, of hate.

And now, here we are. Best know for her longtime career as a Houston-based rock radio DJ,  Steele finds herself in the heart of a heated campaign against arch-conservative (Trump worshiping) incumbent Brian Babin, who scored an A+ rating from the NRA and thinks climate change is some sort of wacky hoax. Will Steele win? It’ll be tough. Should she win? If decency and compassion matter, absolutely.

Today, Dayna talks about entering a race for the first time; about the discomfort of asking for money, the passion of the campaign trail, her love of Sammy Hagar and dislike of Rush. One can visit Dayna’s website here, and follow her on Twitter here and Instagram here.

Dayna Steele, you are the 350th Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Dayna, you’re a Democrat. In Texas. Running for Congress. As I sit here in my Southern California home, I’m thinking, “Um … what?” Because Texas sorta feels like a lost cause to progressive thinking. Tell me why I’m wrong.

DAYNA STEELE: What you do is state your position and your solution. You find like-minded individuals and you get the word out. Texas isn’t as red and as redneck as people are led to believe. What we are is a “do not get out and vote” state. That is changing. According to a Gallup poll just last week, Texas is not longer red and is back in play for elections. This year. National news also is touting the fact that the Democratic candidate for Senator, Beto O’Rourke is kicking Ted Cruz’s behind in fundraising and grassroots.

J.P.: A couple of hours before I started typing this two were killed in a shooting at Central Michigan. Before that, of course, was Parkland. I’ve read your position on guns—“ We need a stronger background check system for all gun sales, once again allow CDC research on gun violence, ban bump stocks and more” … but I’m not seeing the majority of registered Texas voters feeling your take. The belief, fortified by years of NRA conditioning, is that once they take one gun, they’ll take another. Dayna, how do you sell reasonable gun control to those who don’t buy it?

​D.S.: Less than one percent of gun owners are members of the NRA and many of those members are horrified at what the organization has become. I am a native Texan, a Democrat who has owned a gun before and also enjoys going to the shooting range with my son. I am asking for common sense while still protecting the 2nd Amendment.

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J.P.: How do you explain Donald Trump’s rise? Everyone has their takes. What’s yours?

​D.S.: Democrats just assumed that had that on in the bag. Or people just assumed it wasn’t worth the effort in a “red” state. And the party spends more time pointing out what is wrong than what we want to do for people. Name calling and finger pointing is just like kicking an ant bed, making the ants mad and spreading them even more. Instead I like to concentrate on what’s important in my district, what people are talking about. Democrats, Independents and Republicans. What I hear is Medicare For All, publlic fiber optic broadband Internet (HUGE areas without coverage or at least really bad service), Harvey recovery help, and better public schools. ​

J.P.: Your background is super funky: Rock radio personality in Houston-turned online retail entrepreneur-turned author. I wanna start with the music—how did that happen? How does one become a radio personality? What was the climb?

D.S.: On a dare in college. The guy doing the daring was talking about the new student radio station where I was a freshman, Texas A&M University. He was a deejay at the Top 40 station in town and very cute. I thought if I auditioned, he would be impressed and ask me out. He did not but once I put on those headphones, I knew I was home. I did it for the next 22 years. And he and I are still friends! Never did get that date but that’s OK, because things worked out just fine.​

J.P.: You wrote a book two years ago, “Surviving Alzherimer’s,” that really was a collection of your Facebook posts as your mother faded away from the awful disease. I’m gonna throw a curveball here: My wife and I often talk about people who share all their struggles on Facebook. Sometimes it comes off as wonderful. Other times, needy. Other times, desperate. Other times, enlightening. Why did you choose Facebook posts as your outlet? And what is it to have a loved one with Alzheimer’s?

D.S.: It simply started as a way to let our friends and family all over the world know. I just couldn’t bring myself to say it over and over. ​I was so surprised by the hundreds of people who started reaching out with their stories. I realized they wanted to talk and I was giving them permission to talk, vent, cry, laugh, whatever helps you get through this horrible experience. It was also quite cathartic for me. I used a lot of dark humor to get through it and so many gave me permission to laugh and share.

The first half of the book features the best posts with the best comments—funny, insightful, helpful. The second half are resources I wish I had from the beginning, including a list of question you and your wife should ask each other now and keep the answers somewhere safe, written down.

J.P.: You spent a ton of your life interviewing rock stars, from Ozzy and Sammy Hagar to Bono and Keith Richards. On and on and on. And I wonder—besides mere talent, what separates the OK from the good, the good from the great? Was there a reason some singers/bands soared, while others eternally played the Stone Balloon and Milford Crab House?

D.S.: ​That’s the first book! “Rock To The Top: What I Learned About Success From The World’s Greatest Rock Stars” It’s work ethic, networking, appreciation and so much more. And working those ‘talents’ each and every day in everything you do. I’ve summed it up before by saying the biggest rock stars always called when they were scheduled to, or showed up. They were prepared, had something to say, were entertaining. they could sell themselves and the product but also make your show good.  All success comes from helping others become successful.​

J.P.: Running for office means money groveling. Tons and tons and tons of money groveling. So … how do you ask for money? And do you hate it as much as I would?

D.S.: ​I do hate it but it is a necessary evil. Hoping I can change that from the inside. I’ve never been able to ask for money starting with my allowance as a kid. But I’ve gotten pretty good at it for the campaign. ​Why? Because for 17 dead in Parkland, a $31,000 dining room table, deported DREAMers, women’s rights being attacked, racist attacks, the decimation of equal rights … I’m preaching to the choir here but you get the point. I have to ask for money, I have to drive hundreds of miles and give hundreds of speeches. I have to for all of us. And no one even ran on the ticket in 2016. Our very democracy is at risk daily.

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J.P.: From afar, I just don’t get the appeal of Ted Cruz. I know you’re not a fan, but can you explain why Texans seem to like him. Like, step outside your own feelings. Clearly he’s doing something right, no?

D.S.: He panders to the religious right who finally feel like they have a champion. But I am hearing and seeing a growing distaste from moderate and even conservative Republicans who understand separation of church and state is essential for a democracy by and for the people. ​And again, people just got complacent and thought, “How much harm can he possibly do?”

J.P.: You have kids. I have kids. I think we’re fucked on climate change. I mean, you and I will die with the earth largely intact. And maybe our kids will. But theirs won’t. And, truth be told, I think it’s too late. The oceans will rise, the earth will get hotter and hotter. Fucked. Agree? Disagree? And what to do?

D.S.: Agree, but I refuse to give up, we can at least try to save what we can. We owe it to them.​ I don’t give up that easily.

J.P.: How do you approach people you know don’t—instinctively—want to vote for you? The lifelong Republican? The #maga guy? Like, do you try? Or sometimes do you just say, “No point with this one”?

D.S.: ​So many grew up listening to me, we just talk about radio. My hairdresser loves Trump, so we talk about our kids. I interviewed people for a living, like you said, so I just interview them and give them a chance to talk and vent. I don’t get mad, I don’t yell, I don’t name call., I listen. I won’t change many of their minds but I will change some. I am hearing more and more often these days, “I can’t vote for you because I have to vote Republican, but I’m rooting for you.” And then they hug me. That’s a start …​

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• How did you meet your husband?: ​Blind date with an astronaut to a CSN show. He was a NASA pilot and came with some other folks. June 3, 1990. We’ve been together ever since.

• Five all-time favorite bands/singers: Sammy Hagar, Led Zeppelin, Frank Sinatra, Melissa Etheridge, CSN​

• Five all-time least-favorite bands/singers: Rush (only because they were so rude to a radio promotion winner one day), anything disco. Otherwise I’d be hard pressed to say. I love all music and what it does to my brain.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): The Alan Parsons Project, Oklahoma State University, Lois Lane, Troy Aikman, Tina Turner, Ronald McNair, 12 inches of snow, finger food, Thurman Munson, Flavor Flav, ladybugs: Ronald McNair (If you are talking Challenger astronaut, he was my neighbor. His widow Cheryl is who fixed me up with the above mentioned astronaut that led me to Charlie), ​Tina Turner, ladybugs, finger food, Lois Lane, The Alan Parsons ProjectFlavor FlavOSU, 12 inches of snow, Troy AikmanThurman somebody.

​• One question you would ask Candy Maldonado were he here right now: ​What do you think of the outrageous salaries players are getting now?​

• What happens after we die?: ​I don’t waste time worrying about that. I’m doing the best I can here and now.​

• Five reasons one should make Seabrook, Texas his/her next vacation destination: ​I am a helluva cook. Come to my house. There’s wine.​ And NASA. I’ll take you on a tour.

• I still think the Mets were better off with Danny Heep than Mike Scott. You?: ​Who?​

• In exactly 11 words, make a case for the Whopper: Anything served through a window is probably very bad for you. ​

​• Who is the nicest celebrity you’ve ever spoken with?: ​Robert Plant was very cordial when I hung up on him. The next week Mick Jagger was equally charming when I put him on hold. But I would have to say Sammy Hagar. His manager was my mentor and I spent a lot of time on the road with them. Sammy is a brilliant business guy with the biggest heart for people and causes.  ​

Justin Kanew

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Yesterday was a great one for Justin Kanew.

He and I haven’t talked, but he surely knows it. The gubernatorial turns. The local race upheaval. Everything pointed to the beginning of an anti-Donald Trump movement; a screaming for normalcy and decency and compassion.

Am I being overly optimistic? Perhaps. But it felt real. Feels real.

On paper, Justin Kanew is a long shot’s long shot to win next year’s congressional race for Tennessee’s 7th District. He’s a Los Angeles transplant; a young Jewish man running in a historically conservative neck of the woods. Even though Marsha Blackburn, the incumbent, has since announced her candidacy for the U.S. Senate (This interview was conducted before the change—I left Justin’s original answers, then added a few extra updated questions), the betting man would probably have to go with the new far-right nut job on the block—Mark Green.

And yet …

Justin Kanew has something snappy. He’s engaging. He’s embracing. He wants voters to send e-mails—and promises to respond. He’s a two-time contestant on The Amazing Race; a longtime media presence with a winning personality and genuine integrity. I’ve known Justin for a good while, and he happens to be a legitimately nice human being. Sincere. Honest.

Again, can he win? I don’t know. But today’s Quaz subject is willing to discuss all issues, ranging from Trump to health insurance to Tommy John v. Old Navy. You can follow him on Facebook hereTwitter here, and visit his website here.

Justin Kanew, win or lose, you’re the 334th Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Justin, you’re running for the congressional seat held by Marsha Blackburn in Tennessee’s 7th District. And, just being 100-percent honest, from afar I see no way you can win. She’s a well-known, well-funded incumbent in a conservative district in a Republican state—and you’re a Jewish Californian who has barely lived in Tennessee. Tell me what I’m not seeing?

JUSTIN KANEW: Well good morning to you too, Jeff! A lot going on in this one so let me try to unpack it. First of all, you’re right, I’m definitely a major underdog here. Marsha has been in the seat for 16 years, has $2-to-$3 million sitting in the bank, and people know who she is. There’s no question about any of that. But what’s also true is if you ask anyone on the street what she’s done to help improve their lives, for the most part they don’t have an answer.

Marsha gets on the shows and spouts her party talking points, but I don’t think that’s what most people on either side of the aisle are looking for these days, and I think this past election showed us that. Marsha takes big money from big oil, big telecom, big everything. She’s not fighting for the working families of Tennessee. I am. I’m running a grass roots campaign, and I’m not for sale. To get that message across we’re putting together an army of volunteers—we have close to 200 already—and yes raising money, and most importantly traveling the district and listening to the concerns of everyone in the district no matter who they’ve voted for in the past. And in this moment, with the renewed spirit I’m seeing out there, and with some other great state-wide candidates campaigning like Karl Dean and Craig Fitzhugh for governor and James Mackler for Senate, I think we have a greater shot at turning people out than we have had in the past.

As for the rest of your question—yes I’m “Jewish,” my grandparents survived Auschwitz and the holocaust on one side, and my grandpa was a World War II tailgunner on the other. But I think people here are less concerned with where you pray than that you pray. They’re looking for a man or woman of faith who believes in God and embodies the spirit of togetherness and community Middle Tennessee genuinely stands for, and who carries the main message of the bible which is taking care of our neighbors and the poor. Sometimes that message seems to get lost.

As for “Californian” part—yes, we moved here from California. Before that I lived in Chicago. Before that I was born in New York. I’ve been an American my whole life, and my wife and I moved to Tennessee over a year ago with our baby because we were looking for a community-oriented place where people look out for and take care of one another. Middle Tennessee is that place.

It’s a really special place, Jeff. We love it here. This is our home. I didn’t grow up here, but my baby girl Kaia will. And by no means are we the only transplants here. This area is exploding. Sixty percent of Williamson County wasn’t born in Tennessee, and that includes Marsha who’s from Mississippi. We came here for a reason, and the bottom line is this special place deserves to be represented by someone who embodies the love and compassion and mercy I see here every single day. I think most people are less concerned where a representative was born than they are about being represented by someone who will always put their interests ahead of my own and tell them the truth, and not become compromised by corporate donors just for the sake of keeping a seat, which to me is the fundamental problem this country faces every single day. It’s corporate interests vs. the interests of the people, and I know where I stand.

Sorry for the long answer, but you asked a lot there.

J.P.: You were preparing yourself to run against Blackburn. Then, bam, she announced a senate run. Now you’re up against Mark Green, a state senator/Iraq war vet who loves Donald Trump and has referred to anti-transgender measures as a chance to “crush evil.” How does that change your approach? Does it make a win more likely? Easier? 

J.K. There’s no question running for a now-open seat helps our chances. Now it’s our job to do the work and get our message out there. As you mentioned, Mark Green was even too extreme for Trump’s team and had to withdraw his cabinet nomination. I believe if you’re too extreme for this president, you’re too extreme for District 7. For instance, Williamson County voted for Rubio in the primary. I’m hopeful that the moderates and independents in the district who aren’t interested in taking that extreme turn and who may feel left behind by the party will take the time to get to know me and see that we have a lot more in common than they realize. So I don’t want to say the race got “easier” necessarily, but I do hope we can find more people on both sides of the aisle who think we need to get back to talking to one another and are tired of all the division, and who are ready to put country over party, which is what I intend to do every step of the way.

J.P.: You seem particularly agitated over Blackburn’s town hall in Fairview, then her appearance on CNN. Why is this such a huge deal to you? And do you consider her to be a dishonest person?

J.K.: The town hall in Fairview was a huge deal, because it spoke to her character in a very real way. That place was full of people who lived in her district. She ID’d them at the door. It didn’t go well (and by the way—she hasn’t done one since). Then she had the nerve to go on CNN with Wolf Blitzer and tell him “less than a third” were from her district—when those people were on video raising their hands saying they were. Then, when she gets busted for the lie, she says “big deal, we have more important things to worry about.” Well guess what, Marsha? It is a big deal. Integrity matters. If your child was caught lying, would that be a big deal? As a father I say yes.

That was the moment i started thinking “someone has to run against her.” She had very clearly started to feel invincible, and had stopped listening to the people she’s supposed to represent. And yes i think It spoke to who she is, and what she’s willing to do and say.

It didn’t stop there either—recently she held a “tele-town hall” where she didn’t tell anyone it was coming, then sent out robo-calls at dinnertime mainly to her supporters. We heard from a few people who were on there, probably by mistake, and it was just Marsha spouting her talking points with pre-screened questions. She then posted results of a bogus “poll” she ran saying 80 percent of our district wanted the ACA repealed no matter what, which is the opposite of reality (and of a real poll she herself had run on Twitter), and used that as the basis for a media blitz.

So do I consider her to be a dishonest person? Let’s just say this isn’t the stuff honest people do. This is someone who voted against bipartisan Harvey relief under the guise of being concerned with “playing politics,” and resisted a military climate change study with bipartisan support while telling us the earth is in a “cooling trend” (which might have something to do with the big oil money behind her). Someone who told us the generals were behind the transgender military ban when they weren’t. Let’s just say honesty is quite clearly not her strength. Honest people would stand there and face the music no matter how tough it gets, which is what I would do if I were in there, and what I have done and plan to continue to do as we campaign.

With Zev.

With Zev.

J.P.: You seem to be in a tight pickle, because you’re clearly not a fan of Donald Trump, yet you’re running in a region that he won easily. So is it more now a matter of convincing people you’ll find ways to work with the president, or convincing people the president sucks?

J.K.: Here’s the thing—I’m not running against Donald Trump. Do I agree with him on everything? Of course not. But would I love to see him succeed and do right by this country. That’s a resounding yes. I’m not out there calling for his impeachment, which may put me in the minority in the party—I think we need to see where the various investigations go and then see where we are, and if we’re going that route there better be a smoking gun, because if the evidence isn’t inarguable we’re going to have a real problem on our hands in terms of almost half the country losing faith in the system, and possibly reacting violently. I’m truly afraid of that.

As far as bipartisanship, I’m a big yes on that. I think we need to get back to working together. I’m hopeful that a bipartisan ACA fix is coming. It was good to see a bipartisan decision to back Harvey Relief. John McCain’s “No” on ACA repeal was heartening, and I hope he stays consistent with this Graham-Cassidy bill we’re now facing. I think people really do want to see their government stop making obstruction the No. 1 goal on both sides and get some stuff done in a real way. There’s a “Problem Solvers” caucus in congress now, and I’d be really interested in being a part of that. I’m old enough to remember when bipartisanship wasn’t a threat.

Now that doesn’t mean I’ll stop being a critic of the president—even his staunchest Republican supporters criticize him at times. But I’ll also commend him for doing things like talking to “Nancy and Chuck” about DACA. I think we need to reward that when it happens. The bottom line for the sake of this race is I’m a non-politician who wants to fight for the working families no matter who they vote for.

J.P.: Raising money sucks. Sucks, sucks, sucks. That said, I don’t really know how one goes about it. So, Justin, how does one go about it?

J.K.: It does suck. I’d be a vote for campaign finance reform every step of the way. But it’s true this is the system we have, so we have to play by those rules.

As for the “how,” it’s just grinding. Calling people you know, people you don’t know emailing, holding fundraisers … ultimately this becomes the thing you do more than almost anything else when you’re running, which absolutely sucks. It also sucks that it’s what you do when you’re actually in office, too. It’s a damn shame, and it seems to only be getting worse. We absolutely need to fix it.

It would be a lot easier if I could just knock on big-dollar donors’ doors and say, “What do you need from me? I’m your guy,” and then just do what they tell me to do when I get in there like some people do. But I’m absolutely not going to do that. Donors looking for something in return shouldn’t even bother calling me. No amount of campaign donations is worth not being able to look my daughter in the face when I tuck her in at night, and know I did what I could to help the most Tennesseans. The most Americans.

Here’s the good news—Trump didn’t out-spend Hillary. Eric Cantor got beat by a guy with nowhere near as much money as he had. I think if you have a genuine message, and people really believe in what you’re saying, you can overcome that gap. Granted, I still need money to get the message out there, and I hope anyone who hears our conversation will kick in what they can, but what I’m mostly hoping is people will embrace this campaign as their own and give us their energy rather than their money. Don’t get me wrong, both is better! But we need their belief and their energy as much as anything else.

J.P.: You appeared twice on The Amazing Race with your pal Zev Glassenberg. Soup to nuts, how did that happen? How’d you wind up on the show?

J.K.: Zev and I met at Camp Greylock in Becket, Massachusetts when we were both counselors. I had gone there as a camper for almost a decade. Zev’s cousin Greg was a good friend of mine, but Zev was younger than us. When we finally met, we hit it off immediately. Zev has Asperger’s Syndrome, which puts him on the autism spectrum, and one of the things about that is he doesn’t know when he’s not supposed to say stuff society frowns upon, which is at times awkward for people, but most of the time it’s genuinely hilarious. He’s literally the funniest guy i’ve ever met.

Funny makes for good TV. Zev knew our relationship was unique, and his favorite show was the Amazing Race, so he kept saying “We should go on the race.” He said this every day for four years. One thing about people on the spectrum, when they get something in their head it’s hard for them to let it go. So after four years of this, I finally said, “Find out when it is and we’ll apply” … figuring either we’ll get on or he’ll stop talking about this thing once and for all, so it was a win-win for me.

We made a video about our relationship, my dad shot it and I edited it and we sent it in, and I kinda thought, “You know, that actually was kind of interesting, who knows …” But then we didn’t hear anything for like five months. In the interim people kept telling Zev to get a job, and he kept going, “I can’t, we’re going on the race.” Sure enough, five months later, we get a call out of the blue to come in for final interviews. We went to a hotel with like 20 other teams, and other teams started disappearing, and the next thing we knew we were in.

It was an incredible experience, right up until I lost his passport in a monastery in Cambodia. Thankfully they brought us back a second time, because otherwise that would’ve been the other thing I never heard the end of!

J.P.: How do you convince people you’re not an outsider—when you’re an outsider? Because it’s an issue that has plagued MANY politicians who have resided in an area far longer than you’ve been in College Grove, Tennessee.

J.K.: It’s true that I didn’t grow up here, but my baby girl Kaia will. This is our home. My wife Nicole is a behavioral therapist for kids with autism and mental health issues in Rutherford County. We love this area and want to help it be the best it can be in every possible way.

By the time the election rolls around we’ll be working on our third year here. Some people may have an issue with that, and I get it, but what I’d say to those people is tell me what you think I need to know. So far what we’ve learned is people here genuinely care about one another, and they take care of their neighbors, and they’re guided by a love and mercy that I don’t see reflected in the things Marsha Blackburn stands for.

The word I keep hearing from people is “misrepresented.” Marsha talks a good game, but I don’t think the thing she stands for represents how the majority of the good people here feel, especially the youth. So what I’d say to anyone who is focused on that is this: Would you rather have someone who has been here longer but whose strings are being pulled by corporate puppet masters? Or someone with a new perspective who has a deep love for this community and would never sell it out under any circumstances?

And if you have concerns about me, come meet me. Email me—justin@kanewforcongress.com is my email. I’ll be more accessible than Marsha has ever been in her life, and we’ll be doing an “Amazing Race Through The District” to hear from everyone in every county—counties Marsha has probably not been to in over a decade.

Yes, I’m the outsider in this equation. Trump was an outsider, too, running against an establishment candidate in Hillary. He preached a message of draining the swamp, getting rid of all the do-nothing politicians who fill their campaign accounts with corporate donation—that’s Marsha. In the end this isn’t just about me vs. Marsha, it’s about what kind of District they want this to be seen as.

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J.P.: How do we convince skeptics that climate change is real? And is that an issue you can run on in a region that, again, doesn’t particularly seem to buy it?

J.K.: First of all, I think this is an issue that people are coming around on more and more, especially with the storms we’re seeing lately. I think deep down they know it’s common sense that what we’re putting into the environment is having an effect. Even the military will tell us that. Hell, even Exxon revealed that they’ve known it for 40 years.

Follow the money. It’s no coincidence that climate change deniers like Marsha get the most money from big oil. This is a long, sustained attack on reality that puts our children and our grandchildren at risk – and the kids know it. Almost every young voter I talk to on the trail tells me climate change is their biggest concern. They get it.

Ice caps are melting. Water’s rising. The planet is heating up. We have a choice: invest in America’s cheap, renewable energy economy now, or fall behind the rest of the world. Let’s not fall behind. This should not be a partisan issue. This is the future of our planet for our kids and our grandchildren.

This is also an economic issue. Clean energy is where the jobs are. There are far more solar jobs than coal now, including nearly 4,000 here in Tennessee. India will be selling only electric cars by 2030. China is heading that way too. The fact is the world is moving away from fossil fuels no matter what we choose to believe.

Meanwhile Marsha voted against a military study of climate change that had bipartisan support. Her record on the environment is abysmal. I wonder if support from people like the Kochs has anything to do with that?

As you’ll hear me say often, this isn’t about left vs. right, it’s about right vs. wrong. We need to stop letting carbon polluters dominate our public policy. I’m not willing to let my children and grandchildren’s futures be decided entirely by special interests and corporations who covered up what they knew for 40 years.

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J.P.: In 1993 you played “Rob Lansing” in the Mel Gibson film, “The Man Without a Face.” OK, Justin. Do tell …

J.K.: My acting career began and ended with that movie. Mel was awesome. I don’t defend the things he said and did, but my experience with him couldn’t have been better. That’s really all I have to say about that. And Braveheart is still one of the greats.

J.P.: Why did you leave LA for Tennessee? I mean—the beaches, the Mexican food, the weather. What was the impetus? How big of an adjustment was it? What’s the biggest change?

J.K.: Southern California was good to us. I met my wife there. But the wholesomeness and community and people here in Middle Tennessee are amazing, and the quality of life is great. Our baby girl growing up around rolling green hills and cattle and parks and horses and festivals is everything we ever wanted for her. I can’t express enough how happy we are we did this. It was a big change, but a great one, and the people here could not have been more welcoming.

On multiple occasions I’ve had women come up to me at the store and take my child out of my arms uninvited, and I didn’t even want to call the cops! It’s that kind of place.

J.P.: You seem like a very optimistic dude. Which I love. I, on the other hand, am losing hope. Trump, greed, environment, unsustainable population growth, drought. On and on and on. Justin, why should we be optimistic when so much seems to be heading down the toilet?

J.K.: My optimism comes from the people I meet on the trail every single day. It comes from my conversations with my neighbor, a conservative who probably won’t vote for me, but who I’m able talk to about the things we disagree on. Granted, every day something new and awful seems to happen, and we need to stay awake and keep calling things out and pushing back, but I think there’s a sustainable energy in this country right now, and I’m confident that as long as we keep caring and keep doing everything we can to keep this country headed in a positive direction, ultimately we’ll be OK.

That’s why I’m running—because this is something I can do, and my daughter is worth it. I’m hopeful that just like Ossoff inspired me to do this, maybe there will be some younger people with a fresh perspective who’ll see what i’m doing and think to themselves, “Hey i can do that too.” It’s time for some fresh perspectives, people willing to go to Washington and put country over party, and people over profit, and say what needs to be said. That’s what I’m here to do. Not just on behalf of Democrats or Republicans.

For everyone.

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• First three things you’d do if you win: Help support the push for universal health care, do everything I can to support the autism/disability community, help combat minority voter suppression, stop the over-criminalization of nonviolent drug offenders, push for paid family leave, expand veteran benefits however possible and be of service to them, get the wage raised to a living one, stop the fight against net neutrality, stop Marsha & co. from coming after Medicaid, Medicare and social security while pushing their trillion-dollar corporate tax cuts … is that three?

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Kaleb Cowart, Dionysus, “The Golden Child,” chicken fried chicken, Phil Bredesen, bottled water, Old Navy, deer ticks, Jonathan Eig, Tommy John, raw eggs, Adidas: Adidas, The Golden Child, Bredesen, Tommy John, Chicken Fried Chicken, Dionysus, Kaleb Cowart, Jonathan Eig, Eggs, Water, Deer Ticks, Old Navy

• One question you would ask the members of H-Town were they here right now?: “Is your family OK in Houston?”

• How did you propose to your wife?: On a show i used to do called “Let’s Get Digital!”—the video is on YouTube. Krayzie Bone from Bone Thugs N’ Harmony brought in the ring. Zev was there, as were our dogs, and her parents got to watch it all happen online. Pretty great moment.

• Four things the average person wouldn’t know about reality television: I can only speak for the Amazing Race: 1) The camera guys and sound guys who run around with all that equipment are the real heroes; 2) They can’t “make you look bad” if you don’t give them stuff to do it with; 3) Phil Keoghan is the best; 4) My wife forces me to watch the Bachelor and Bachelorette and Bachelor in Paradise. I swear

• Why haven’t Peabo Bryson and Regina Belle reunited?: Couldn’t tell ya—this one’s above my pay grade.

• Three all-time favorite political figures?: Lincoln, MLK, FDR.

• The world needs to know: What was it like working with Megan Boone on “Welcome to the Jungle”?: Megan is an awesome person who genuinely cares about the country and the world. Plus she has a great sense of humor, which is what made her such a great fit on Jungle. We had some world-class comedians there and she kept right up with them. She also wasn’t intimidated by Jean-Claude Van Damme at all, which was a plus. Or by Zev.

• What do your hands smell like in the morning?: Baby diapers.

• Greatest single line from any speech you’ve ever heard?: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” comes to mind.

Paul O’Brien

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Paul O’Brien is an openly gay Christian conservative. Which strikes me akin to being both the Dallas Cowboys’ star quarterback and a man opposed to the sport of football.

Or, to be more precise, I’m just sorta baffled. I mean, as a whole Christian conservatives seem to be very outspoken against homosexuality. It’s a group of people who brought us this guy. And this guy. And, ugh, this guy.

And yet … when I reached out to Paul, told him I leaned hard liberal and asked whether (despite that) he’d be up for a Quaz, he didn’t flinch or think twice. Which I admire in a huge way. See, we’re living in an age of loudmouth cowardice from all sides of politics. Go to Twitter and look around. The vast majority of ranters, screamers, insulters hide behind fake names and fake images. They’re tough guys sans repercussions. Which means, in fact, they’re as soft as supermarket tissue.

Not Paul.

He exists on Facebook as “The Gay Trumpocat,” and while I share exactly, oh, zero beliefs with the man, he refuses to flinch or hide. Hell, he’s even written and published a pair of books (The United Resistance of America) and From Clinton to Trump, A Gay Christian’s Shift From the Left to the Right) that confirm his outlooks on life.

Paul O’Brien, I hope Trump gets impeached yesterday.

Now welcome to the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Paul, you’re a gay Christian conservative. Which in and of itself is quite interesting, considering the church’s view that homosexuality is a sin. Basic question—but how do you accept this? I mean, aren’t you a believer in a religion that—in a sense—doesn’t believe in you?

PAUL O’BRIEN: As a Christian, and the son of a preacher, I learned a long time ago what was in the Bible and was told to interpret it myself. I don’t listen to what others believe scripture means because it is written that we should read for ourselves. Old Testament is the only book in the Bible that speaks negatively on the subject of homosexuality, but the Old Testament was written for Jews and not Gentiles. So in terms of Christianity and homosexuality I look to New Testament and what Christ said. I never found anything negative from him regarding gays. But I also came to terms with something. I believe that anyone who has sex outside marriage is committing the sin of adultery, including straight and gay people. All sins are forgivable and luckily I believe in gay marriage so therefore I don’t believe it is a sin to be intimate with your husband/wife. I don’t believe being gay is a sin as I was born this way, which means God made me the way I am. And luckily for me, I have surrounded myself with Christians who have never judged me, including my father. I believe the old school era of Christians preaching fire and brimstone are dying out. More and more churches are accepting of gays, which is fantastic.

J.P.: Along those lines, you posted glowingly about Karen Handel, who won the Georgia congressional race. Handel is an outspoken opponent of gay adoption; she literally does not believe gay couples should be allowed to raise children; that they are not morally fit to do so. How can you hear that and, as a gay man, support someone with such beliefs?

P.O.: Yes, I am very happy that Karen Handel won the race, making her the first GOP woman to represent Georgia in Congress. In terms of how she feels about gays adopting, I gave up on the belief that everyone would share my views on everything. If they disagree with me regarding adoption, that is their right as an American. That might be the one political view I don’t agree with Handel on, but I’m not a single issue voter so it helps that many of her views I do share. But in terms of supporting someone who has a belief I don’t agree with, I would say that taking money from people who slaughter gays and proposing an immigration increase of those people concerns me more than her opinion regarding adoption. I’d rather have someone disagree with me regarding raising a child than someone funded by people who want me dead.

Some of the image selection from Paul's Facebook page.

Some of the image selection from Paul’s Facebook page.

J.P.: You backed Hillary Clinton in 2008. Now, clearly, you’re not a fan. What changed? How did your thinking change?

P.O.: I was a massive supporter of Hillary and Bill Clinton. I look back on that time now and the one things that comes to mind is something my hero Andrew Breitbart said about himself. Default liberal. I was a default liberal because I believed everything I heard via the media. It wasn’t until I began doing research for a book I was writing about Hillary that I began learning things I never knew. I learned about her taking millions from men who slaughter gays and oppress women while claiming to be a champion for women and gays. I learned that the people of Haiti hate her and accuse her of stealing from them. I heard her laugh when recalling a rape case where she represented the rapist of a 12 year-old girl who was beaten and put into a coma, left infertile from her injuries [Writer’s note: Snopes largely disagrees with this take]. I learned that she blamed the victim, something she could not do now thanks to rape shield laws, telling her that she asked for it and that she fantasized about older men. Then I started learning of her dishonesty. She could not seem to tell the truth regarding anything. Whether it be landing under sniper fire in Bosnia, the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, destroying evidence after a subpoena was issued, lying to the American public about her email server, etc.

But the final straw for me was the Orlando terrorist attack. I listened to her pander to Muslims as if they had been attacked while preaching down to the LGBT community about “embracing and protecting” Muslims. She claimed we didn’t even know the motive of the attack despite 911 calls and witnesses revealing the motive. Then I heard Donald Trump, the so-called homophobe, speak and he condemned not just the attack, but Sharia law and the slaughter of gays. He vowed to protect the LGBT community, encouraging Republicans to defend my community. So I began researching him, which led to my first published book From Clinton to Trump.

J.P.: I’m gonna be honest—I view Donald Trump as nothing but a conman. If you look at his life, from discriminatory housing to Atlantic City ugliness to ruining the USFL to the scores of unpaid contractors; if you look at his charity (to which he never donated any of his own money) and his history of greed and narcissism … I just view him as everything ugly in America. So … what do you see? What am I missing?

P.O.: I remind you to look back and see how different things were 30-to-40 years ago. In the housing case you cited, I recall over 100 real estate companies being sued for discriminatory housing. Donald Trump was the only one who fought the case. It is also important to remember it was not Donald Trump sitting in an office, turning down minority tenants. The people he hired to do the job did this. But then I learned Trump’s company actually did house minorities… the scandal was that they were housed separately from other tenants. Now in terms of charity, I find it hard to believe that he never donated his own money. I recall how popular he was in the gay community back when I was living in Connecticut, only an hour’s drive from New York City. He was often featured in Advocate magazine where he was praised for his donations to Gay Mens Health Crisis and various HIV/AIDS charities. Then I see him being awarded for his work with the African American community with Rosa Parks, Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton praising him. So in terms of his charities, I don’t see it the same way you do. As for greed and narcissism, I have met many with those traits. Human beings are not perfect. I see those traits in almost every celebrity in movies, on television and on the cover of magazines. But I support someone based on policy and it just so happens that I agree with the policies Donald Trump has put forward.

J.P.: I know you’re gay, I know you’re 37, I know you work as an author and paralegal. But … what’s your story? Where are you from? How did you get interested in politics?

P.O.: I was actually the son of an Air Force veteran so I was born on a military base in Washington. My family moved to Turkey when I was five and then to the UK a few years later. My father retired and the family moved to Tennessee, which is where he was from. I didn’t like it so I moved in with my brother who was also in the Air Force, living in both New Mexico and California. When I turned 18 I moved to Connecticut and I lived there until I was 22 before moving back to Tennessee to be closer to my parents. I actually got into politics back in 2008 when Hillary Clinton ran. I was one of the only Clinton supporters in the town I live in. When she dropped out I lost interest. I hadn’t ever heard of Obama and he didn’t interest me. Same with McCain. I did like Sarah Palin’s spunk and I remember thinking she was being treated differently than Hillary had. This was probably what got me noticing things I hadn’t paid much attention to before. I watched as celebrities like Kathy Griffin attacked Palin and her children relentlessly, but saw a rodeo clown fired for impersonating Obama. The double standards was showing up everywhere. I had always been told that the GOP was anti-gay, racist, sexist, etc. But I knew this wasn’t true because my father, my brother, my sisters and my in-laws were all Republican. I started paying more attention to politics then and by 2016, as I was doing research on Clinton for my book, I became obsessed with politics.

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J.P.: I used to live in Tennessee. It’s not the most progressive (LGBT-wise) state around. What was your path, coming out? How did you do it? When did you first know you were gay? How did your family react?

P.O.: I always knew I was gay deep down, but I hid it so deep down that no one would ever guess. I dated women and was even engaged to get married when I was 20. Then I met my first partner, who I was with for 10 years, and that was what gave me the courage to come out. I was living in Connecticut, which is a pretty openminded state, so the first person I told was my sister. She was fine with it and so was my family. Now I cannot speak for all of Tennessee, but I can tell you that West Tennessee is actually very openminded. As I discussed earlier, more and more churches are accepting of gays now. So I didn’t experience the anti-gay rhetoric that someone may have back in the 1970s or 80s. Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville had many gay bars and clubs so if I wanted to be around gays I didn’t have to look far.

J.P.: I hate your Facebook page. I mean no offense, but I hate it. You source bullshit websites that don’t report; so much of it is snarky, rude, cruel; one of your go-tos is Infowars—the same place that said Sandy Hook was a hoax. Paul, I just don’t get it. Why can’t we have real political dialogue, where you have a stance, I have a stance and we agree or disagree? With civility. With dignity. Why has it come to this?

P.O.: I would say the same about sites that you may like. I dislike CNN, MSNBC and I detest Huffington Post. I read articles like If You Don’t Vote Democrat, Fuck You or Otto Just Found Out His White Privilege Doesn’t Work Outside America [JEFF NOTE: Close enough on the headlines] and I cringe. I enjoy Breitbart, Drudge Report,and even Infowars because they cover stories the mainstream media won’t. Do I agree with everything they write? No, but then I wouldn’t agree with everything liberal media writes either.

As far as Sandy Hook, I lived in Connecticut and one of my friends went to college with the mother of a child killed. So I never bought into any conspiracy theories regarding it being a hoax. What I did hear about, and believe could be true, was that crisis actors may have been used by the government and the media to take advantage of the tragedies to influence gun laws. There are websites, videos and articles discussing men and women who seem to appear in every tragedy like Sandy Hook, Boston, Orlando, etc. Now as far as taking a political stance and agreeing or disagreeing, I do that every day. I don’t believe my taste in media reflects the opposite of that. But as strongly as you feel about Infowars, I feel about CNN, who was caught rigging a debate in favor of one candidate, or New York Times, who our own intelligence called out as fake news. People get their news from sources they like. The reason for that is tone. A conservative like me would never watch Morning Joe, The View or Rachel Maddow because their tone when discussing politics is a sneering, looking down at me kind of way. Just like you would never watch Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, or Infowars. My webpage carries my own articles, as does Southern Sky Site, but it also carries videos, memes and articles that friends of mine might not see.

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J.P.: You recently wrote, “Sad to hear Sheriff David Clarke has turned down a position in Homeland Security. Our country would benefit from a patriot who puts America 1st over the globalists & 1%.” I’ve followed Clarke’s career closely, and I just don’t see it. Patriot? The guy was sheriff when an inmate named Terrill Thomas was denied water for a week—then died in jail. Three other inmates also died in jail for similar circumstances. The list is long. So … what do you like about him?

P.O.: I love David Clarke. I first noticed him when he shamed Don Lemon, who I detest, over Black Lives Matter after the shootings of Dallas police officers last summer. He is blunt, loud and I share a lot of the same views as him. Plus he looks a lot like my brother-in-law. And, yes, he is a patriot. He is not about illegal immigrants or refugees. He is about Americans first. That means our veterans, our elderly, our disabled, our children, etc. He and Larry Elder are two men who receive so much hate from the left because they are proud black men who don’t share the same opinion as a majority. That is brave to me. It takes a lot of courage to stand up and say something you know many will disagree with. As far as the people who died in his jail, I am not familiar with those cases so I can’t comment, but if you’re telling me he personally ordered these inmates to be denied water why weren’t charges pressed against him? [JEFF’s NOTE: Answers—we have answers].

J.P.: This is weird to ask you, but if you were advising the Democrats, what would you tell them? Being serious—they’re obviously floundering right now. What are they doing wrong?

P.O.: Stop trying to be the PC police. Stop relying on celebrities to spread your message (if you have one) because next to the media, Hollywood celebrities annoy people the most when they preach politics. It’s easy for them to talk about accepting refugees and illegal immigrants when they’ll never be around them because they live in mansions behind gates and security guards. Fact is that a lot of Americans are unhappy because there aren’t enough jobs for the people already here, but Democrats seem to want open borders. The Democrats have relied on identity politics and most important, they have not condemned the violence that has pushed openminded Democrats away from the DNC. Condemn Antifa. Condemn Black Lives Matter. They wanted Donald Trump to disavow David Duke and the KKK even though it was Hillary Clinton who received an endorsement and a donation from the California chapter of the KKK, so why can’t they? [JEFF’S NOTE: Read here]. And for God’s sake stop talking about Russia. No one cares! Even Democratic strategists keep telling them no voter is asking about Russia at the town halls they attend.

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• Five all-time favorite political figures: Winston Churchill, Abe Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Sandy Koufax, Brietbart, John Cena, Amari Cooper, “Batman and Robin,” Nashville, Bobby Brown, the color blue, Sean Hannity, lemonade, Milk Duds: Nashville, color blue, lemonade, Milk Duds, Sean Hannity, Breitbart, Bobby Brown, John Cena, Batman and Robin, Amari Cooper, Sandy Koufax. (last two are cuz I am not familiar with the names)

• Who wins in a 12-round boxing match between you and Freddie Prinze, Jr.? What’s the result?: I outweigh him so I think he could probably knock me out if he tired me out. Result would be a TKO or a decision.

• What happens after we die?: Our bodies die, but our souls—which is our energy/personality—transcends to another realm. What that realm is I don’t know. It could be Heaven, it could be a spaceship full of aliens, but I don’t believe when our body dies everything just goes black.

• How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?: I know a girl who did it in 20 but she had a strong tongue lol.

• What’s the worst movie you’ve ever seen?: Trainwreck

• Five reasons one should make Tennessee his/her next vacation destination: Dollywood, Smoky Mountains, Graceland, Grand Old Opry, and Tennessee River

• What do you imagine Donald Trump’s hair smells like?: Tangerines

• Can you say three nice things about Barack Obama?: He was so likeable that people liked him even when his policies sucked. He would be fun to have a beer with. He took Trump’s election maturely.

• One question you would ask Kent Hrbek were he here right now?: Who are you?

Nickolas Wildstar

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Nickolas Wildstar is seeking to become the Libertarian Party’s candidate for the governorship fff California, which would be the most fascinating thing about the man were he:

A. Not named Nickolas Wildstar.

B. Not a dynamic crusader against police abuse.

C. Not a rapper with a single that appeared in the film, Scary Movie 4.

D. Not inspired in some ways by the political movement (of all people) Donald Trump.

E. Not genuinely intelligent and fascinating.

Can Wildstar make a dent in an already crowded 2018 race? I say probably not, he says unquestionably yes. Either way, the man’s intentions seem pure, his stances seem interesting and his website, eh, well, it sorta needs work. But, hey, no one’s perfect.

Wanna meet America’s quirkiest politician? Visit his site here and follow him on Twitter here and Facebook here.

Nickolas Wildstar, you are the 315th Quaz Q&A …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Nickolas, I know about you because you sent me information about an incident from Jan 16. 2017, when you were stopped and arrested by police. Can you tell me, in great detail, what happened?

NICKOLAS WILDSTAR: Absolutely, Jeff, and thank you for giving me this opportunity to share my story. This was a Monday, so I on my way to work like most Americans and I take public transportation so I was walking to the bus stop which is maybe a mile away from my home. I just started a new job a month earlier and had taken the same route to work every day since then. My shift started at 7 am so in order for me to get there on time it was imperative for me to catch the 5 am bus. So I did my best to leave 20 minutes before then and at this time of the morning it was still dark outside. I walk at a pretty fast pace because I don’t want to miss the bus, and this day in was no different. By the time I get to the bus I’m always sweating a bit.

I was maybe a block or so away when I noticed one police cruiser after another racing toward me on the opposite side of the street blaring their lights and sirens. One of the last ones that had driven by seemed to linger and I knew instinctively that he was taking a good look at me as he was slowing down. But I kept walking. When you’re a black man and have had as many unnecessary encounters with police as I have you tend to grow a Spidey Sense, so I took my phone out of my pocket in preparation for what I knew was coming. The next thing I knew the inevitable was happening because that same cop was now following behind me and, using his car lamp, had a bright beam of light surrounding me. Before I turned around to face him I stopped my Pandora app (which I was listening to via a large pair of light blue Bluetooth headphones) and started my Ustream Widget, which I have strategically placed on my phone in the case of an event like this.

Now that I was recording I took off my headphones, held up my phone, stopped walking, then turned around and for a moment just stood there in silence as the cop exited his vehicle. Due to me being blinded by the light I couldn’t really tell when this was, so I yelled out asking about him following me. Admittedly, I was not very happy about having been stopped so my tone wasn’t necessarily friendly—however I did start by saying, “Can I help you?”

The officer responded, but I couldn’t make out what he was saying due to his distance. So I exclaimed, “Excuse me?” as he walked closer. He continued to explain as he approached me but I had only partially heard what he had said, which was, “We had a …” and since part of me thought this possibly could be about a nearby emergency I calmed down a bit and asked, “You had a what?” By this time he was close enough for me to make him out saying something about a burglary, and immediately my agitation returned. I told him that I didn’t care since I was obviously on my way to work (my wardrobe made this clear), and asked, “What the hell are you following me for?”

He attacked back and said, “I’m following you because you match the description!” He stood just a few feet in front of me as a second officer arrived on the scene and now accompanied him. The line “You match a description” is an age-old excuse for cops to mess with me, and almost always has to do with me being black. I told that to him, and—to my surprise—the second cop said, “Yes!” Hearing this pissed me off and I fired back, “I don’t give a damn! I’m on my way to work!” The cop continued by saying how it’s his job, so I snapped at him. I noted that that did not permit him to stalk me and follow me around with his light beaming on me.

Just as I finished saying this the officer who initiated the stop began to walk toward me, gesturing for me to turn around so he could arrest me. I warned him not to touch me or I would sue, yet he proceeded to grab my arm despite my protestation. He then started to aggressively turn me around. I allowed him to do so, just to keep myself from being harmed. But first I sked him to let me share my video.

The officer took me to jail, and I sat handcuffed in a cell for nearly an hour. I was finally released, but not without first being given a ticket for resisting arrest.

Nickolas and Crystal Wildstar

Nickolas and Crystal Wildstar

J.P.: I just watched the video. Let me play devil’s advocate—you were clearly not happy with the cops pulling you over and you let them know. Some people would say, “Why not just give them your ID if you did nothing wrong?” So, Nickolas, why not just give them your ID? What do you feel like white people in America misunderstand about situations like this?

N.W.: Let me start by saying how I think it’s sad and awful that after all America has faced throughout its history of basic human rights that something as simple as a person wanting to freely be able to walk down the street without being harassed can still be dissected into a problem of racial prejudice. Had there not been a description to match, I would’ve just been seen as a guy on his way to work. But due to me being black this fact of the matter becomes a matter of question and scrutiny. In the beginning of the video I included audio of the police dispatch recording describing the suspect—which I clearly did not match.

One of the three black men they were looking for was described as 5-foot-10, 150 pounds, wearing blue jeans and a dark-colored hoodie. The only details given on the other two was that one of them may had been wearing a white or tan striped shirt. I was wearing a tan striped shirt but I had also been wearing brown slacks. Both the shirt and pants were pressed and were underneath a big grey overcoat that I was wearing. Along with that I was carrying a blue lunch tote bag and a blue umbrella. I was also wearing those large blue headphones. I’m also 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, and have distinguishable shoulder-length hair.

Had any of this been taken into consideration (other than the vagueness of focusing on me being black), this whole thing could’ve been avoided. Getting my ID from me wasn’t going to fix this and it was not going to help the officer be able to decide if I had committed the crime. The only relevance in him requesting my identification was so that he could run a background check for an arrest warrant or to see if I was on probation—which, again, in no way would have helped them find the three men they were looking for.

There’s no coincidence that this took place on Martin Luther King Day—especially with me being such a strong vocal advocate in defense of civil rights for all Americans. In a funny way the universe was giving me yet another opportunity to fight for what I believe in. I’m no lawyer, but I am well aware of my protected rights as a citizen and the sovereignty of my person to be respected by oath keepers that swear to uphold the United States Constitution (such as our soldiers in the military, politicians and police officers). The Fourth Amendment is supposed to prevent these sworn officials from violating a person’s natural right to not be unreasonably searched, yet the common practice to stop and frisk black people has been widely accepted by everyone. I’m not just referring to white Americans who stand by idly and allow this to happen to another person born in the same free country as them, but also by those black Americans who do not continue  to fight against this injustice. Both sides have ignorantly assumed that these problems had went away and swept them under the rug. Now they’ve resurfaced generations later for their children to deal with.

We all know that it’s unacceptable that a dragnet be set up to pull in everyone from a particular race in search for just a few. We all know that it shouldn’t be acceptable that one person uses the color of law to forcibly assault another. The truth of the matter is we have majority of white Americans in this country who still categorically see people of color as being inferior and in need of discipline. As long as this dominative supremacist mindset exists, the spectrum of colors in this country will continue to clash with one another.

Had I turned around with my camera in hand and the officer had his weapon drawn and assumed I was armed then shot and killed me, the argument then would have been, ‘Well, why did that guy have his cellphone in his hand?” As long as a lawful argument can be made for one person to kill another (because they have a badge of authority), no justice will produce no peace. The killings of Kelly Thomas and Eric Garner are just two of the many great examples of this, yet many people still support the actions of police.

Universally this needs to stop and can no longer be permitted by law enforcement. Too many people of all races are being harmed, and until all of We The People stand united against police racial profiling then the struggle to stop this will stay broken up into groups. As as much as some people may say it was my responsibility to help him with his investigation, I would argue that I’m also at liberty to not help him. That day I simply just wanted to get to work without interruption, so I shouldn’t be persecuted for wanting to do just that. Every working-class American should understand this no matter what race they may be.

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J.P.: You are a Libertarian candidate for the governorship of California. Why? What inspired the run? What’s your political background? And what do you hope to accomplish?

N.W.: I’m a newcomer with not much of a formal political background. I’m sure this will be refreshing for most people to know, since it’s career politicians like Jerry Brown who have gotten this state into a mess. But this wouldn’t be foreign to Californians since they also elected first-time politicians Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ronald Reagan to govern. What would be firsts for a California governor is me being black and me being a Libertarian. Both would both be resounding achievements for the state. With me being of African-American descent, having a black governor would be the state’s opportune chance to once and for all put to bed its negative race relations. My own personal experiences definitely makes me more aware of where the root of these problems lie and I’m outfitted to deal with them.

Seeing as I did run as write-in candidate for governor in 2014, I guess I do have some sort of history in politics. My inspiration to run for office then was the same as it is now—a call to action due to lack of leadership. I feel it is my duty as a well-informed citizen to do what is necessary to prevent the people of this state from being hurt by the people they’ve elected to help them. The way for me to make this stand is to offer myself as a representative willing to serve the people in the highest position available. As a political activist I’ve attended rallies organized by Occupy protesters, BLM, the Anonymous group, labor unions, climate change activists, genetically modified food activists, anti-police brutality activists and many more. But no matter who I march alongside with, I constantly hear how they feel failed by corrupted politicians.

As the state and nation’s first Libertarian governor I would like to prove how the Libertarian ideals of minimizing government and maximizing freedom are more in line with the desires our country’s forefathers desired. Abolishing taxes is the cornerstone of this proposal, and—with California being one of the states that taxes its citizens the most—a reprieve could definitely be used. For the entire four years I’m in office I will offer this, but tax reform will only be the beginning. Ending the war on marijuana, eliminating vehicle registration fees, establishing a free-market healthcare system and an educational system that actually educates, preventing personal invasion of an individual’s choices, overhauling the state’s prison and judicial system, implementing the American Anti-Corruption Act by executive order and starting the groundbreaking process on moving away from a service-based economy are just a few of the plans I have in store for Californians.

J.P.: I’m gonna be blunt—I don’t see how you can possibly win. Tell me why I’m wrong.

N.W.: My pleasure! I am going to win for the many reasons you see all around you. Since the presidential election, the people of the state no longer have faith in the two-party system. This dismal fact will absolutely be a contributing factor to my success. Me stepping up to the plate as a Libertarian candidate sets me apart from the Republicans and Democrats.

In fact, speaking of them, let’s talk about my competition. There are a few names floating around on the Republican side, but only one that seems to be sticking is John Cox. He is, to be honest, a nobody no one cares about. And on the Democratic side you’ve got too many players who will ultimately split who members of the party will support. They’ve got all their money on Gavin Newsom, but with Antonio Villaraigosa, John Chiang, and even possibly Eric Garcetti mixing things up they’ll all be grasping at straws. Within the Libertarian Party my main competitor is Zoltan Istvan, who is a transhumanist who ran for president against Donald Trump and drove around the country in a coffin-shaped tour bus! Needless to say, there’s no competition there.

Looking at the complete roster with all the candidates, I’m without a doubt the strongest one running in the race if you know of me and what I’m about. Most voters haphazardly make their selections by name recognition. With that in mind, seeing a name like “Nickolas Wildstar” on the ballot will attract votes on its own. Winning in the June primary would be all that I’d need to solidify becoming governor, and with another historically low voter turnout expected I wouldn’t need more than maybe 750,000 votes to do this.

The worst thing that could happen is where Villaraigosa and Newsom are able to muscle everybody out. Since California is a ‘top two’ state voters would be forced to choose between two Democrats only during the November general election and that would be awful for both Democracy and for anyone with a clue of these guys’ pasts as public servants.

I know me winning seems like a long shot but that is only because of the indoctrinated belief that it takes money to win elections. Well, I disagree. My observance is that it isn’t dollars that win candidates elections, it’s the people who support them. People love rooting for the underdog and this would be one of the greatest Cinderella stories for the ages. Hope gets the undecided, undetermined, under-motivated voters energized and that is the base of influence I will be tapping into to help propel me into office. The grassroots of the underground has already started to settle in!

J.P.: On your website you write, “I’m gonna go out on a limb here and be brave and say ‘I CAN HEAL US ALL, I CAN FIX ALL OF OUR PROBLEMS, AND I WILL SUCCEED!’ This actually sounds very Trump-like in its absurdity. And I mean no disrespect, but how can you make a promise like that? All our problems? My roof leaks. My neighbor’s son struggles in math. The guy down the block hates his dog. Isn’t a promise to fix promises going too far?

N.W.: As absurd as the claims Trump made were, he did win the presidency. So that goes to show you there are a large group of Americans who are ready to cut the BS and get straight to the point. The statements I make do seem unrealistic, but if you really think outside the box about what I’m saying you can see how government does have major influence on more than it should … including our own personal happiness.

Figuratively speaking, I could say the reason your roof leaks is due to you buying cheap material, but with Governor Wildstar now in office you have more money due to my cutting the income tax. That creates more personal wealth for you and now you are able to buy better material at a lower cost from the company that produced the goods who chose to lower the price of their products because of an increase in profits since there is no business tax, sales tax, payroll tax, etc. I could say your neighbor’s son struggles in math because he has no interest in learning algebra, but he would no longer need to learn it since the new basic math prerequisite for public education has been met and the choice of learning excelled math skills has now been left up to the parent and the child. I could say the guy down the block who hates his dog only does so because he lost his last apartment because he has a pit bull and the complex only allowed Golden Retrievers but after Governor Wildstar removes prohibitions on breed-specific pets he no longer needs to worry about being discriminated against.

My point: Our problems have problems and when we really sit down and analyze what the origin of them may be, more often than not in some way good ol’ Uncle Sam has something to do with spoiling things. In essence all of what politicians say on the campaign trail are promises to make our lives better and as grandiose as some of their claims may be, it’s usually more of the same especially once they’re elected. I’ve gotta believe that I can heal those who need it, fix all the problems that need fixing and will be successful in doing so or else my motivation will be just as empty as my predecessors. Liberty can be a mighty tool when wielded and I hope to use it to strike at the heart of poverty, oppression, depression and all the ugly wicked ways that our broken two-party political system has created. The greatest result of liberation is the person being given the capability to take dealing with his own problems into his own hands. It would be an honor for me to be given the role to cut the ties that binds us. So if you don’t believe I can fix your problems, you can believe without a doubt that I’ll improve the ability of you doing this for yourself.

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J.P.: How does one actually run for governor? Was there paperwork to file? Do you need a certain number of signatures on a petition? Are you working with a party? Trying to get in debates?

N.W.: Me being with the Libertarian Party as a candidate greatly increases my chances of getting ballot access statewide. Since it is the third largest party, they certainly are in place to make sure that every person in California will have a chance to vote Libertarian. However, to get on the ballot I will need to either pay the $3,400 filing fee or collect 10,000 signatures. Most likely I’ll just end up paying the money, but once that’s done that’s it. I’m sure no Republican or Democrat is going to debate me until after the primary and unless more Libertarian candidates jump in I’m confident the majority of party members will support my candidacy so no need for sparing there. All a person has to do to run for governor is to be a registered voter, a United States citizen and have never served a dual term as governor before.

But, please, don’t go getting any ideas! I’d like to walk away with the victory in 2018 as easily as possible. I’ve got enough competition.

J.P.: Don’t take this wrongly, but I really can’t figure out who you are. So, um, who are you? I’ve seen you identified as a “Political activist and rap artist.” But where are you from? What do you do? How old are you? In short, what has been your life path?

N.W.: Such an existential question!

My name is Nickolas Wildstar and I’m a California transplant from Milwaukee. Shortly after graduating from high school I moved here at age 17 back in 1999, so in human years that would make me about 35 now. Asking “Who are you?” is a pretty packed question to me so on the surface I would say I am a man who is married to a lovely woman and have been for over five years now, I am a musician who is known as QBall, and I independently released an album called “The Real” with a song that was featured in Scary Movie 4. I am involved in political activism that has had me use money from recyclable materials collected to feed those in need and even had me falsely imprisoned for standing up for what I believe in. I am a working-class citizen who has for the past two decades held jobs ranging from telemarketing to cleaning toilets to project management to supervising customer service departments to seeking public office. I am these things, but the person of who I am is another something. I am loving, passionate, loyal, determined, brave, focused, caring and many other words of powerful definition but all in all I am who I am. My life path has only become clear to me over the past five years or so and that is to combine my skills, talents, and abilities to bring about true freedom to my life and the lives of others by becoming governor of California.

J.P.: As a Californian, my biggest issue is the drought. So, if you’re governor, what do we do about it?

N.W.: The drought to me has been one of those hot-button issues I think government has used for more political gain than it actually being of extreme importance. Even Jerry Brown himself has declared that the drought emergency was over. But during the driest periods over the past decade there has been wasteful use of water by government and politicians, with even Antonio Villaraigosa violating his own laws restricting water while he was mayor of Los Angeles, record rainfall that’s even caused the failure of the Oroville Dam, and even companies like Nestle siphoning 36 million gallons of water from California to sell off as bottled water. All in all, the details on the drought need to be further reviewed for negligence and other errors but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t proceed with water preservation efforts such as modernizing water treatment facilities to make drinkable safe tap water and desalinization of ocean water for mass storage in preparation for future droughts.

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J.P.: I’m gonna say something, and you’re not going to like it. But your website—which you’re using as a platform for your gubernatorial run—is overloaded with spelling errors. And I can’t look past that. It makes me wonder how serious you are. I mean, can I vote for someone to reform the state budget when he doesn’t take the time to throw an apostrophe between I and M in I’m? Does this make me a big asshole? And tell me what I’m missing?

N.W.: You would be a big asshole if writing wasn’t your profession, but since it is your scrutiny is within reason and I’d expect nothing less! I’m a one-man show so I’ll admit sometimes a ‘covfefe’ does slip through the cracks. But I’m human and to tell you the truth I don’t get paid to do this. A lot changes once money gets involved, and trust me if I were getting paid to proofread there would be no spelling or grammatical errors whatsoever. As governor it’ll be my job to avoid making as many mistakes as humanly possible and I’ll have a whole team of aides to help me in doing exactly that.

My current website was actually used to promote my earlier gubernatorial run and is now just more so a reference for those who don’t know me to learn a bit more as well as to promote my activism efforts. But soon I’ll be launching Wildstar2018.com, which will be where people can go to find out about my new campaign for California governor as a candidate for the Libertarian party. By the way, thanks for taking the time to even visit my website and for letting me know all that information about it free of charge.

J.P.: I’m very anti-gun. Your website suggests you’re worried about the government trying to disarm citizens. What do you think we should do about gun violence in America?

N.W.: Hey I’m very anti-gun as well, but I’m also pro-constitution and as much as we may not like guns I would be obligated to uphold my oath and protect citizens’ Second Amendment rights. As much as I don’t like guns, I would promote for those that do like them and have them to take a non-violent stance so they’ll only be used in an emergency for someone to protect themselves. Statistically there are more responsible gun owners than not, and the majority of crimes involving guns are those where the gun used was not registered so it is a false assumption that there is an epidemic of gun violence in our nation other than the isolated incidents that are reported in the news and we all know this is done for a TV network’s political agenda. That’s not to exclude places in our country that have an exorbitant amount of gun related crimes, but California is not one of them so more awareness of this fact needs to be made on that here. Were residents made to feel more confident about their neighbor or a stranger being armed, there would be less of a fearful environment of guns since people would know our focus would be to protect one another as a community.

History has shown us that disarmament has often always lead to some sort of mass killing of innocent people. This isn’t to insist that the government has genocidal aspirations for us, but for there to be a consistent effort by them to take away this type of property from citizens who acquired it lawfully should be a matter of question and concern. The last thing we’d want is to have a power-hungry overzealous supremacist in power who has declared martial law upon an unsuspecting unarmed citizenry. Plenty of movies have imitated life itself by showing us that this doesn’t end well, especially if there is no resistance equipped to oppose them. This is the sole reason behind why the amendment was created in the first place and with people among us that can remember Nazi and Japanese internment camps, lynchings, Waco, Ferguson, etc. it is dire that We The People should never forget the necessity of such a drastic precaution. I’m hoping one of the end results of me being governor is a more free, safer, peaceful California that became gun free by choice and not by dictatorship.

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• Five all-time favorite political figures: In no particular order I would say: Ron Paul (How can you not love the godfather of the new American Revolution?); 2. Malcolm X (I often wonder had he ran for office and became President X how that would’ve been); 3. Andrew Jackson (His last words were “I killed the bank!” Enough said; 4. Frederick Douglass (The accomplishments of this man leave me speechless!); 5. Marcus Garvey (Imagine if this guy had the Internet)

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Eric Trump, LaTroy Hawkins, bacon, Al Sharpton, Erik Estrada, Steve Guttenberg, “Good Times,” Joe Lieberman, VCRs, the number 16, scallops, Brooklyn: Oh, goodness—OK let’s see. 1. Bacon—I gave up pork this year so I’m not supposed to say that but … hey; 2. Scallops—Only because if you wrap bacon around them they’re delicious; 3. Brooklyn—Been there once and had the time of my life so the city definitely tops my list here; 4. VCRs—Still have one, but thanks to the hassle of video cassettes it doesn’t get much use other than by way of the aux setting; 5. The Number 16—I’m cool with the number 1 but that number 6 has always seemed a bit shady to me since it’s the only single digit that could resemble another; 6. Steve Guttenberg—His smile makes me think he’s just an all-around good fellow and I’ve enjoyed his movies enough. So much props to him; 7. Joe Lieberman—He’s fought for the little guy at times and his attempts to stay away from partisan politics are commendable; 8. LaTroy Hawkins—I’m not a sports fan so I didn’t even know who this guy was until I Googled him but since I saw he played for the Brewers and my hometown is Milwaukee he gets a thumbs up from me; 9. “Good Times”—The obscene level of coonery turned me off to this show at a very early age so I’ve never seen a single full episode and don’t have an interest in ever doing so either; 10. Eric Estrada—Wasn’t ever a fan of his and my choices are getting slim here; 11. Al Sharpton—If there was a need for a picture to describe the word “slimeball” in the dictionary a headshot of him should be used; 12. Eric Trump—Every time I see him I think of Ward Meachum from the Iron Fist show on Netflix!

• What’s the first thing you’ll do as governor?: Get to work on fixing the state’s budget problems which would include (but will not be limited to) an audit of the state’s finances, tax reform and reductions of state employee salaries starting with my own which will be cut from its current amount of $173,987 to $99,999. I strongly believe a penny saved is a penny earned and I will certainly practice this once in office.

• Three memories from your first-ever date?: 1. Applebee’s since it was her favorite restaurant; 2. Being called a gentleman for my chivalry because I paid for the meal and opened doors for her; 3. Feeling like I was graduating more into adulthood.

• What are your five favorite things about California?: Kendrick Lamar said in ‘The Recipe’— women, weed, and weather and I couldn’t agree more. Ha!. Also, one of my favorite things would be how forward-thinking the people of California are especially to have successfully recalled a governor which most states wouldn’t even dare to do. But I would have to say my most favorite thing about California was being able to discover my wife who was born and raised here and is one of the single greatest things that has ever happened to me!

• Five all-time favorite hip-hop artists: Again, in no particular order I would say: 1. The Roots (Hearing the ‘Like Water For Chocolate’ album as a teenager forever changed my life!); 2. Ol’ Dirty Bastard (Who can not love ODB?); 3. Black Milk (His music is like diamond needles in the stack of rap); 4. Madlib (For him to be able to go from Quasimoto to Madvillain to Yesterday’s New Quintet is just pure brilliance); 5. J-Dilla (All of his work proves without a doubt how much of an underrated genius he truly was).

• Your last name is Wildstar. That’s beyond awesome. What’s the origin story?: Appreciate the compliment! I assure you I am just as awesome of a person as my name suggests. My father named me but instead of me having his name he gave me my own. He was a huge anime fan during the early 1980s and loved the Wildstar character from the show Star Blazers. Next thing you know Nickolas Wildstar is born!

• In exactly 17 words, how do you feel about Jerry Brown?: I feel Jerry Brown has done an awful job governing California but nothing that I couldn’t fix!

• You have friggin’ awesome hair. What’s the secret?: Thanks for saying that, my man! I would have to give thanks to genetics and my wife for that. I used to have my hair shaved bald until I met her. Then she wanted me to just let it grow all out. At a point nature took control while Ladie Wildstar has maintained the style for me.

This is my all-time favorite song. Thoughts?: Wow Blind Melon! Soon as the saw the band name one of my first thoughts took me back to the video of the little bumble bee girl! Also makes me think you must be pretty psychedelic and somebody I may want to hang out with! Thanks for sharing the jam with me!

Johnny Premier


This is the 259th Quaz Q&A and, I must admit, the most difficult I’ve had to endure.

First, to make something clear: My friend Johnny Premier deserves great credit for being here. Roughly nine or 10 days ago I put out a Twitter APB, requesting a Donald Trump supporter who would consider being Quazed. I was greeted by the unmistakable sound of crickets—until Johnny stepped forward and said he would voraciously defend the man he wants to be our nation’s 45th president.

Now, anyone who reads this site, or follows me on Twitter, knows I would prefer an Oval Office starring Emmanuel Lewis, Dennis Rodman Bob Tewksbury, Lady Gaga or Ray (Boom Boom) Mancini to an occupancy of Trump. I don’t like him, I don’t trust him and I believe (deep in my heart) he’s a genuine say-whatever-it-takes-to-become-president fraud. But—and this is an important but—millions of Americans think otherwise. And if we only speak with folks who parrot our views, well, what’s the point? We learn nothing, we gain nothing, we understand little. So, again, I want to commend today’s guest. Because while I don’t share his beliefs, I do share his interest in grasping the philosophies of others.

Johnny is a huge supporter of Donald Trump. He lives in Las Vegas, where he works for StubHub as a ticket return center coordinator. He has spent a good chunk of time announcing pro wrestling and MMA events, and can be contacted (and booked for gigs) on Twitter. Although we disagree on presidential politics, I have nothing but respect for the man.

Johnny Premier, I hope you’re wrong about our next president. But I’m thrilled you’re here to make his case …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Johnny, I’m gonna kick off with something that’s been itching at me from the start of Donald Trump’s recent political rise. OK, so on March 20, 2003, Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks ripped into George W. Bush during a London show, saying she was “ashamed” of the president. And this was a HUGE thing for the right. The Dixie Chicks were berated, shamed, damned. There were CD smashings, death threats, etc. And the general take from the right was an unambiguous, “This crossed a line.” OK, so now Barack Obama is president, and it’s 2011. And Donald Trump is a leader in the birther movement. He is, literally, saying the sitting president of the United States is not an American. Over and over and over again. I found this disturbing then, and even more disturbing now. I mean, this is YOUR candidate for the presidency. Why do you guys not find this disturbing?

JOHNNY PREMIER: I remember that Dixie Chicks controversy well. You’re totally leaving out the context of when the comments were made. We were nine days from invading Iraq, and a declaration of war. To me, that’s a time when, after the debates are done, you as an American should support the troops wholeheartedly. And it’s kinda rich how these liberal ladies who made so much money from our free-market economy were “ashamed” of President Bush.

I supported the Chicks’ right to speak their mind, but their timing was poor. I also supported their sponsors’ decision to disavow that relationship. Here’s the deal, though, with supporting Donald Trump—every once in a while, he says or does something where you say to yourself, “Aw, c’mon, man, let’s not go there.” And for me, the “birther movement” is one of those times. There’s so much about the Obama administration and his specific policies worth criticizing.

But that’s what’s so refreshing about Trump—he doesn’t test out his opinions in front of focus groups or pollsters before rolling them out. There’s an authenticity there!

JEFF PEARLMAN.: You find it refreshing that your preferred presidential candidate repeatedly accused the sitting president of the United States of lying about his place of birth? You’re telling me if Obama or Hillary did something similar you would just chalk it up to, “Hey ho, no biggie”? Really?

JOHNNY PREMIER: Well, there’s never been a Republican president with a Muslim name, so I don’t see how that question is relevant.

Also, whether they agree with him or not politically, I think the American people find Trump refreshing. It’s amazing to think about, but Jeb Bush was at one point the favorite to be the GOP nominee. I don’t think enough is made of that fact. The guy who finished fifth or sixth in the early primaries was once the favorite. Talk about your establishment candidate, with the family name, the big money donors, and the support of the party.

It made no difference. His campaign stalled because there was no refreshing honesty or transparency there. And that is a critical reason why Trump is the nominee, and “low energy” Jeb has no career, no future.

JEFF PEARLMAN: What’s your political background? First presidential election where you voted? Favorite politicians? Etc?

JOHNNY PREMIER: My parents are independent, and raised me to think that way. In doing so, I’ve found that I have always had a deep mistrust of big government. Part of that has been growing up in Connecticut, and our history of crooks (Weicker, Rowland, Dodd—I could go on). The other part is just seeing how ineffective the government is at solving most problems, compounded by how much politicians— mostly Democrats—love spending taxpayer money. The money gives them the power, and the ability to brag at cocktail parties about how they solved problems. It’s all a farce.

The first election I voted was in 1992, for the first President Bush. Ross Perot’s impact siphoned votes from the Republicans and handed that election to the Clintons. It was hard to take, because I knew how dangerous a Clinton presidency would be.

JEFF PEARLMAN.: You mentioned on Twitter that I don’t get Trump’s appeal. And, in a way, you’re right. So explain it …

JOHNNY PREMIER: Look, man, the last two Republican nominees were John McCain and Mitt Romney. Career politicians, mediocre public speakers, establishment guys. Trump has branded himself to be an absolute rock star, through the power of television. You see it at a Trump rally, the excitement that they’re seeing a celebrity. People respond to him because they know he’s going to tell you exactly what he thinks. How many Republicans through the years elicited this response?

That’s why the news channels, and the public, can’t stop talking about Donald Trump. I like him because he happens to be right on a number of issues that are important to me.

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JEFF PEARLMAN: Donald Trump seems to enjoy calling everyone who disagrees with him a liar, or a crook, or whatever insult pops into his head. Yet in 1986, while testifying in a trial about the NFL-USFL, he lied under oath about Pete Rozelle offering him an NFL franchise. In Scotland, as was reported repeatedly on HBO Real Sports, he is loathed for a crooked golf course transaction. Recently there was a tape of him pretending to be his own PR guy back in the day—he lied and said it wasn’t him, after admitting it was him. He also said, on 9.11, he saw Muslims celebrating the World Trade Center attack—an observational that proved to be 100-percent fictional. One. Hundred. Percent. Fuck, the list of total bullshit is v-e-r-y long, v-e-r-y detailed. But I know many folks who simply feel like his supporters don’t give a shit. They always blame the media, or the haters. And, to me, it feels like a cult-like response. What am I missing?

JOHNNY PREMIER: OK, Jeff, so I see what’s going on here. You’re writing a book on the USFL—I’m guessing you were a fan of the league, and in doing that research you’re finding out things about Trump that bother you. Here’s the thing—revisionist history says that the quality of play was good. I remember it to be a poor, second-rate league whose only hope was to merge with the NFL. Trump knew that, and it’s why he tried to merge the Generals. Easy to play armchair quarterback with the benefit of hindsight.

I understand if you’re not going to put this quote on your book jacket, but look, Trump moved on. So should you.

I saw the Scotland golf course hit-piece by noted liberal Bryant Gumbel [JEFF’S NOTE: The reporter was actually Bernard Golberg, who is arch-conservative. Just saying]. It is a beautiful piece of land. They tried to make the old guy who didn’t want to sell into this martyr. I mean, come on.

JEFF PEARLMAN: Donald Trump recently announced his tax plan, which—according to the Tax Policy Center (a nonpartisan outfit)—gives the wealthiest .1% of Americans an average tax cut of $1.3 million and raises the national debt by $34.1 trillion by 2036. Have you looked into Trump’s fiscal policies, besides, “I’m gonna make this country great!”? And what do you think of them?

JOHNNY PREMIER: This question is just loaded with sarcasm. You, clearly, think Trump’s supporters are just these silly people who can’t think for themselves. Of course I’ve looked into it. I love the fact that Americans who are single and make under $25,000 or married and combine to make less than $50,000, will not pay federal taxes. They shouldn’t. I love the simplification of the tax code with four brackets—0 percent, 15 percent, 20 percent and 25 percent. I love the reduction in taxes for business—small and large—which I believe will incentivize companies that have moved overseas to come back. And the elimination of the “death tax” is huge as well.

The beauty is, we’re going to pay for this with a specific plan that will reduce the size and scope of government.

JEFF PEARLMAN: How do you explain the super strong dislike for Hillary Clinton from the right? For the record, I’m not a big fan. But the apparent hate perplexes me a bit.

JOHNNY PREMIER: She’s just a dangerous person, Jeff. When she was secretary of state, four Americans died as a result of the Benghazi, Libya attacks—including the US ambassador. There were real security breaches that leaked from her office. She conducted State Department business from her personal email account in direct violation of State Department protocols and procedures, and federal law. Do we really want someone so irresponsible with classified information to be our next president?

There’s a history here that shows she is a long-time advocate for big government. Based on Hillary’s stated positions from the 1990s to today, and incorporating her senate voting record, the non-partisan Political Compass has her on a scale from -10 Libertarian to +10 Authoritarian as a +7 liberal. The Americans for Democratic Action love her. What else do you need to know?

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JEFF PEARLMAN: People like myself hear the Obama bashing from the right and we scratch our heads. I mean, if you look at the economic figures, the auto industry, the job numbers, Osama’s death, etc—were these the results of a Republican presidency, the right would be crowing … and I’m guessing you know it. So why so much hatred for a guy who, by most measures, has been transcendent?

JOHNNY PREMIER: I take issue with the entire premise of this question. Transcendent?!? There’s not enough time to focus on each issue, but with increasing boldness, Obama has argued for more government action and spending, and unilateral actions on his part to circumvent the GOP majority in congress.

I noticed you left out Obamacare, which has been an unmitigated disaster. Millions of Americans who were promised they could keep their existing insurance plans found their insurance canceled, and millions more who managed to enroll learned they couldn’t keep their doctor, as Obama had promised. Obamacare was a huge grab of government power, and a dismal failure.

JEFF PEARLMAN: Non-partisan estimates place the number of once-uninsured Americans who are now insured between 14 million and 16.5 million. Clearly Obamacare has had its flaws—no doubt. But I don’t see how it’s a disaster.

JOHNNY PREMIER: The Obamacare website cost $2.1 billion to build, and was supposed to encourage competition. It has not. Of the 11 million who signed up you reference, more than 3 million have dropped out by the end of the year.

Obama promised that it would not disrupt existing doctor-patient and health-care insurance arrangements. Completely false. The American medical scene is extremely complex, admittedly, but to resolve them in once comprehensive government program is the wrong solution. And the prohibition against crossing state lines to buy insurance was wrongheaded and must be repealed.

The congressional budget office estimates it will add $1.7 trillion to our nation’s debt over the next decade [JEFF’S NOTE: With all due respect to our guest, this is a very misleading figure]. And for what? Hillary has proposed new, sweeping additions to Obamacare that would paid for by … you guessed it, a new tax! This is part of what makes her and the tax-and-spend liberals so scary. Once a federal program gets started, the size and scope will expand as far as you let them.

JEFF PEARLMAN: There’s no way Donald Trump builds the wall, and has Mexico pay for it. There’s also no way Donald Trump rounds up 11 million illegals. So, if those two things—both lead elements of his campaign—don’t happen, does that mar his presidency? Do you think the right will hold him to it?

JOHNNY PREMIER: Really, there’s “no way” the wall gets built, and there’s “no way” Mexico pays for it? Again, your question is based on a fallacy!

Estimates I’ve seen are that the wall would cost $5-10 billion. The Mexican economy is so dependent on the United States, specifically here the $24 billion annually it receives in remittance from Mexican nationals working in the U.S. We can prevent those wire transfers to poor families in Mexico. Patriot Act Section 326 is a great “stick” to make this wall happen.

The important point here is that immigration to the U.S. is a privilege, not a right. Having a free flow of undocumented people is not in America’s best interest. And I applaud Trump for taking on a politically tricky issue!

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JEFF PEARLMAN: Donald Trump suggested Megyn Kelly was bleeding from her vagina. He insulted Carly Fiorina by saying, “Look at her face! Look at her face!” He said John McCain—a POW in Vietnam for four years—is not a hero because he was captured. He said Ted Cruz’s father was involved in JFK’s assassination. He mocked a handicapped reporter, Serge Kovaleski, by mimicking his disability. He has called Mexican immigrants rapists. He said Seventh Day Adventists were weird. Back in the 1980s in New York he said a bunch of African-American kids deserved the death penalty for raping a woman—and then it turned out they were innocent. It’s a nonstop insult cycle, and, again, I don’t understand why anyone would support a guy like this. Hate Hillary? Fine? Third candidate? OK. But this is REALLY the man you want representing America?

JOHNNY PREMIER: It’s interesting—you started this list with Megyn Kelly. Fox News wanted to be relevant for the 2016 election, so of course they extended an olive branch to Trump for the Kelly interview that was so promoted so hard by the network.

The one soundbite that the liberal media harped on was Kelly pointing out that Trump called her a “bimbo”—OK, fine—but the balance of the interview was great and I believe strengthened Trump in the minds of “establishment” Republican viewers.

As for the rest … eh. It doesn’t bother me, on balance, when you consider the great things a Trump presidency can do for our nation.

JEFF PEARLMAN: One of the HUGE criticisms from the right (HUGE) is Obama negotiating with Iran. I mean, it’s a Top 5 slam. Recently Donald Trump said he’d negotiate with Kim Jong Un. Again, had Obama or Hillary said this—the right would be SLAUGHTERING them. Are you OK with it? And why is this any different than talking with Iran?

JOHNNY PREMIER: Again Jeff, love ya but jeez, you love asking me questions out of context! I saw this interview—his main point here was that we should pressure China (who we have plenty of economic leverage on, but are not using thanks to Obama) into making North Korea change his ways. And that is a main difference between Trump and Hillary.

JEFF PEARLMAN: Trump has said—then said he didn’t say, even though it was on tape—that he would “take out” the families of suspected terrorists and that the military would follow his orders even if they are illegal. This probably doesn’t trouble you. Why?

JOHNNY PREMIER: I know the comments you were referring to, in December on Fox News. I do not support the killing of innocent women and children. However, I think you’re taking them out of context. Trump’s point was that the war against terrorists and ISIS in particular was too politically correct. There’s too much concern with the “rights” of these people. ISIS must be stopped, and if it takes torture of a member who we capture to get valuable intel, I’m all for it.

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JEFF PEARLMAN: Trump has said the minimum wage is too high, but also that he would maybe raise the minimum wage. Do you think he has an actual position on the minimum wage?

JOHNNY PREMIER: In fact, he stated his position on this issue very clearly. He believes the states should decide this issue, and it will foster healthy competition between states, and with other countries. Slightly more than 50 percent of the states have a higher floor than the current $7.25 an hour. And that makes sense. Cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York are obviously a hell of a lot more expensive to live in than rural areas.

And let me make this point very clear, Jeff. It is critical to the success of Trump’s candidacy that he support deferring to the states on many issues, not just minimum wage, and he has begun to do that. The majority of Americans believe there is too much power concentrated in Washington, D.C. This is one issue we can hammer Hillary on!

JEFF PEARLMAN: In your gut, Hillary-Trump—who wins this election, and what’s the margin?

JOHNNY PREMIER: I remember a year ago, the odds that a leading offshore sportsbook gave Trump to win was 20-1. It is now 2-1. At the risk of this Quaz ending up on @OldTakesExposed I’d suggest you bet on Trump. The Democrats were not inspired by Hillary in 2008 when she resoundingly lost to Obama in the primaries, and they’re certainly not inspired now after the Benghazi and e-mail mess, the big PAC money, and everything else. Bernie Sanders is still mathematically alive on May 23, 2016!

Meanwhile, Trump is a superstar. The Republican Party is getting in line, and that will happen more and more as the election draws near. Plus, you’ve gotta remember, Jeff … politics is in large part a “work.” I think WWE Hall of Famer Donald Trump learned a lot through his association with the company, dating back to hosting two WrestleMania’s at Trump Plaza in the 1980s. Underestimate him at your peril.

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• Five all-time favorite political figures: I’m going to resist being a wise-ass and writing “Ronald Reagan” five times. An absolute legend. The way he handled the 1981 air traffic controller strike inspired me at a young age. Put it this way—if Jimmy Carter had still been in office, that union would have owned him. 1. Ronald Reagan. 2. Jesse Ventura. Absolutely shocked the world—it’s awesome that a guy with muluti-colored hair who spent 20 years as a pro wrestler and commentator could become Governor of Minnesota. Brilliant guy who sometimes gets in his own way with the conspiracy theory stuff. Definitely appeals to the more Libertarian side of my brain; 3. Trump; 4. Rush Limbaugh. Might have lost a step, but people forget how much impact he had in the early 90s in stopping the left-wing agenda of Bill Clinton and his cronies. I went to liberal Clark University for undergrad, and he helped get me through those years; 5. Gonna leave this open for a politician who will come to lead the Republican Party into the future. Someone like Trump without the baggage?

• How did you become a Jets fan?: Mark Gastineau and Joe Klecko, the New York Sack Exchange! They were awesome, man—so much so that I’ll forgive Gastineau for giving America his reality show family. And of course the image of Joe Namath walking off the field after Super Bowl III. Iconic. I was hooked.

In the years since there’s been the Dan Marino fake spike, Browning Nagle, loud boos at the NFL draft, Belichick “I resign as Head Coach of the New York Jets” … you and I both know the pain. The Jets have taken a lot of money from me and given back precious few satisfying moments. Life as a fan, I suppose. On a personal level, I’m finding it hard to root against the Rex Ryan Bills. I really like Rex—he worked hard to change the culture.

• If Hillary Clinton wins, how do you think Trump supporters will respond/react?: Well, I can tell you what won’t happen. You won’t be reading whiny things from us like, “if Trump loses we move to Canada” like you hear from the liberal elite. The Barbra Streisand/George Clooney types. Trump supporters are proud Americans, and we respect the democratic process. Huge difference!

• Who should be the next appointee to the Supreme Court?: Joan Larsen from Michigan, used to clerk for Justice Scalia. Solid!

• Five reasons one should make Las Vegas his/her home?: Man, it is awesome here! I used to be a loyal Bill Simmons reader—before he became a professional podcaster—and found his transition from Boston Sports Guy to LA to be interesting. He’d always remark how you get “sucked in” by the weather here and how hard it is to go back. And I didn’t buy it … until I got sucked in. Jeff, it rains here, like, once a month! Every day is sunny! Spending the first 39 years of my life in the northeast, you do not take that for granted. And the cost of living is ridiculously cheap. I spend half the money for a place that’s twice as nice as my New York City apartment.

People always talk about the casinos, Vegas has every type of entertainment possible, the best restaurants, high culture, low culture … everything except a pro sports team, which will be rectified soon by an NHL team or the Raiders (and, possibly, both)!

• What’s the grossest thing you’ve ever eaten?: Was paid $20 to eat a bug when I was a kid. Blew it at the arcade.

• In exactly 17 words, make a case for Rich Kotite: Is this a serious question? Worst. Jets. Coach. Ever. Clueless Rich Kotite does not deserve seventeen words.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Can’t say that I’ve had a moment like that great scene in “Almost Famous.” As Slammin’ Sammy Sosa would say, airplanes been berry berry good to me. So far …

• What’s your take of Bernie Sanders?: It’s wonderful to see how Bernie continues to win states—he trounced Hillary in Oregon. He continues to destroy her on the issue of accepting huge PAC donations from the biggest corporations. And the $250,000 speeches … look, I support free enterprise, people should make as much as their talent merits. But those on the socialist side of the Democrats hate it. Also, there’s something overtly corrupt about Hillary, and Bernie’s supporters sense it. I don’t think there will be a unified party coming out of the Democratic Convention.

• When was the “again” Donald Trump is referring to, as far as America’s greatness?: Let’s not over-analyze an awesome slogan! Look, people use nostalgia to market themselves, as a way to harken to better days … whether they actually were really better or not (I do not want to go back to life before cell phones and Internet).

Trump is awesome at marketing and branding, and it fits beautifully. Think about it … how many national campaign slogans can you remember through the years? Come on Jeff, you know you want the hat.