Let the record show that Ryan Coonerty was the first to declare that Elizabeth Brown will be elected president of the United States in 2036.
He’s kidding … sort of.
Don’t sweat it if you’ve never heard of Brown. She’s one of seven members of the city council of Columbus, Ohio, and she’s not quite nipping at Kamala Harris’ heels yet.
But projecting unknown political talent onto the national stage is an understandable side effect of Coonerty’s new side gig. The Santa Cruz County supervisor is now the host of a new podcast called An Honorable Profession. And its mission is not unlike that of a grizzled old baseball scout traveling the roads of rural America looking for the next starting shortstop in the big leagues.
An Honorable Profession is a political talk show that makes no mention of the current occupant of the White House, or the daily circus of Washington, D.C. Instead, it casts its eye to the state and local levels of American politics in order to identify bright young potential leaders of the future, to demystify the experience of running for and holding political office for anyone thinking of making the jump, and to fight the pervasive and cynical notion that politics is by definition a sleazy game.
“There are two purposes,” Coonerty says of the podcast. “The first is we are in a crisis of democracy, and we need thousands of people to consider giving up their comfortable lives to run for office, especially at the state and local level. The second is we need millions of people to have faith in … government, so we start to solve some of these problems we’re facing. Hopefully, by hearing from a really impressive group of people about what they do and how they do it, that will start to restore some of that faith.”
Besides Ohio’s Brown (whose father is U.S. senator and possible 2020 presidential candidate Sherrod Brown), Coonerty’s show has thus far featured interviews with former California assemblyman and combat veteran Jason Kander; Columbia, South Carolina, Mayor Steve Benjamin; Oregon State Treasurer Tobias Read; South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg; and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.
In each case, Coonerty explores with his guests the nature of their work, their decisions to pursue public office, and the political values that drive them. Because he’s one of them—Coonerty served on the Santa Cruz City Council and as its mayor before being elected supervisor—he has a natural rapport with the people he interviews.
Talking with politicians on the state and local levels is, Coonerty says, an invigorating antidote to widespread political despair.
“I would go to these [political] conferences and I would meet these people at the state and local level,” he says, “and I would feel incredibly inspired and fired up. Then I’d come back home and people are just hopeless because of the rhetoric that we’ve had for 35 years about how terrible the system is.”
The podcast is sponsored by an organization called The NewDEAL (Developing Exceptional American Leaders), a nonprofit devoted to finding young and promising (and progressive Democratic) elected officials in state and local government.
“Republicans have been good at supporting young leaders,” says Coonerty, a Democrat. “They really do a good job at pulling people up through the ranks and giving them opportunities. Democrats have never been good at that. This is an effort to identify some younger folks, and supporting them, helping them with policy ideas that they can bring back to their constituents.”
As a first-time podcaster, Coonerty did not want to do another political talk show that re-hashed the news of the day and fed the dysfunction of the federal government. Instead, he seeks to have conversations that avoid partisan posturing and talking points.
“I’m interested in three things: How did you make the leap? What’s your typical day like? And what are you getting done that people should know about?” he explains. “When I talk to people running for office for the first time, they’re often worried about the impact on their family. So there’s a professional part and a personal part. Elizabeth Brown was campaigning seven months pregnant, gave birth three days before a debate, and between speeches and interviews, she was pumping for her baby.”
“That just proves, no matter what, this is doable.”
This article originally appeared in San Jose Inside/Metro Silicon Valley’s sister publication, the Santa Cruz Good Times.