democracy v. fossil fuels
Professor at University of California, Santa Barbara & Author
Founder & Former Executive Director of the State Innovation Exchange (SiX)
Crystal M.C. Davis
Vice President of Policy & Strategic Engagement, Alliance for the Great Lakes
Senior Researcher, Ohio River Valley Institute
Chair, Climate Reality Action Fund & Author
Editor, The Plain Dealer and Cleveland.com
Executive Director, Ohio Environmental Council (OEC)
CEO, The City Club of Cleveland
Democracy and wealth have a long and troubled relationship. Democracy requires openness, transparency, accountability, and a reasonable level of economic equality. On the other hand, wealth unrestrained, often works in various ways to buy influence, power, and votes. The uneasy relationship between democracy and money became even more troubled with the rise of large corporations, particularly those selling coal and oil.In this episode, we focus on how money undermines democracy and what we can do about it. We’ll look at two cases: House Bill 6 in Ohio, a bill that one expert described as “the worst piece of energy legislation he’d ever seen.” According to a federal criminal complaint, it became law with the help of an alleged $61 million corruption scheme that created $1.5 bilion dollars in benefits to an energy company. The second case involves construction of a massive plant on the Ohio River to make plastics for the global market. For reasons still unexplained, the Pennsylvania legislature rolled out the financial red carpet for the plant and its investors.
Leah Stokes, Professor at University of California, Santa Barbara & Author
Leah Stokes is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science and affiliated with the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management and the Environmental Studies Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). She works on energy, climate and environmental politics, and within American Politics, her work focuses on representation and public opinion; voting behavior; and public policy, particularly at the state level. Within environmental politics, she researches climate change, renewable energy, water and chemicals policy.
Stokes’ book, Short Circuiting Policy, examines the role that utilities have played in promoting climate denial and rolling back clean energy laws. She has also contributed to the anthology, All We Can Save, which is a collection of essays written by influential women in the climate space. Stokes’ academic research has been published in top journals including the American Political Science Review, American Journal of Political Science, British Journal of Political Science, Nature Energy, Energy Policy, and Environmental Science & Technology. I have also published articles in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The Boston Globe, CNN and elsewhere.
She completed her PhD in Public Policy in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning’s Environmental Policy & Planning group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Leah also received a masters from MIT’s Political Science Department. Before that, she completed an MPA in Environmental Science & Policy at the School of International & Public Affairs (SIPA) and the Earth Institute at Columbia University. Stokes also has a BSc in Psychology and East Asian Studies from the University of Toronto. Prior to academia, Leah worked at the Parliament of Canada and Resources for the Future.
Nick Rathod, Founder & Former Executive Director of the State Innovation Exchange (SiX)
Nick Rathod has spent his career working in state and local politics, successfully building institutions and winning electoral and policy campaigns for twenty years. Nick most immediately was the founder and Executive Director of the State Innovation Exchange (SiX), which was created and designed to build progressive power in state legislatures around the country. During his time at SiX Nick merged several similar organizations together, grew SiX from an idea to a multimillion dollar enterprise with more than 30 staff and significantly impacted progressive state policy making and established a pipeline of training for elected officials in states across the country.
Prior to SiX, Nick served as Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Director for Intergovernmental Affairs at the White House, and Director of Intergovernmental Affairs for the Obama-Biden Transition Team. In these roles, Nick served as President Obama’s liaison to states and U.S. territories, handling political and policy engagement as it relates to the states. Nick also worked with Senator Elizabeth Warren to help build and establish the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and later served as the Bureau’s Assistant Director in charge of Intergovernmental and International Affairs. Nick has also served as a Senior Advisor to former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, Senior Manager of State and Regional Affairs at the Center for American Progress, and Director of State Campaigns for Mayor Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety. A lawyer by training, Nick has also worked as a civil rights attorney and community organizer, with a focus on language access, housing discrimination, and immigrant rights issues. He is a founding member and former Chairman of the Board of Directors of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), a national nonprofit dedicated to empowering the South Asian community.
Nick currently lives in Virginia with his wife and three children. He is active in the state building progressive infrastructure like the donor table, sits on a number of non-profit boards and runs a consulting practice.
Crystal M.C. Davis, Vice President of Policy & Strategic Engagement, Alliance for the Great Lakes
Crystal M.C. Davis is a respected professional with a career in government affairs that bloomed in Columbus, Ohio and Washington D.C. Crystal is currently with the Alliance for the Great Lakes as its Vice President of Policy & Strategic Engagement, leading the organization’s efforts related to Lake Erie, drinking water policy advocacy and relationship building across the region. In this role, Crystal has spearheaded the Alliance’s commitment to diverse engagement of Great Lakes communities and authored the organization’s seminal report Step One: Shut Up and Listen. She also developed and executed the organization’s environmental policy and strategy on Lake Erie water quality issues. Moreover, in 2016 Crystal founded the Thornton Buckeye Group, which is a government relations and public affairs firm that provides clients tactical advocacy, policy, communications and other related services. Crystal has developed local, state and national clients. To return to Greater Cleveland, Crystal left a position in D.C. as the Federal Relations Director for Kent State University, where she established KSU’s federal office and policy agenda on Capitol Hill. Her previous experience includes stints with the Ohio House of Representatives, the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus, and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
Crystal is a graduate of Kent State University, a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., winner of the 2015 Ohio TRiO Trailblazer Award, an Environmental Commissioner for the City of Twinsburg, Ohio and 2018 Crain’s Cleveland Business 40 under 40 Honoree. She is an Akron, Ohio native and now lives in Northeast Ohio with her husband and their two young children.
Sean O'Leary, Senior Researcher, Ohio River Valley Institute
Sean O’Leary is a senior researcher in the areas energy, petrochemicals, and economic development at the Ohio River Valley Institute. Sean He has written extensively about coal and natural gas and their roles in the economy of Appalachia. Examples of Sean’s work can be found in his blog and a companion book titled, “The State of My State: A Native Son’s Search for West Virginia”. Prior to joining the Ohio River Valley Institute, Sean served as communications director at the NW Energy Coalition in Seattle, Washington where he worked on many of the climate change and clean energy transition policies enacted under Governor Jay Inslee. Sean is also an accomplished playwright whose plays have been recognized by the National Endowment for The Arts and been produced Off-Broadway and internationally. In 2004, Sean was named to The Literary Map of West Virginia.
Larry Schweiger, Chair, Climate Reality Action Fund & Author
Larry Schweiger serves as the chair of Climate Reality Action Fund and an author of two books The Climate Crisis and Corrupt Politics and Last Chance: Preserving Life on Earth. Larry was the president and chief executive officer of the National Wildlife Federation where he served as President for ten years and served an additional fourteen years as Federation’s senior vice president of conservation programs and in other Federation capacities including publisher for National Wildlife and Ranger Rick. Under Schweiger’s leadership, fighting climate change became the Federation’s top priority. He was also CEO of PennFuture-a statewide environmental advocacy organization dedicated to addressing the urgent energy and environmental threats to assure a safer future for all Pennsylvanians. He was also first vice president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and President and chief executive officer of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy for more than eight years. His book, Last Chance: Preserving Life on Earth, won first prize for nonfiction in the 2011 and first prize for science at the Next Gen Indie Book Awards.
Randi Pokladnik, Climate Activist
Dr. Randi Pokladnik was born and raised in the Ohio River Valley. She earned an associate degree in Environmental Engineering, a BA in Chemistry and an MA and Ph.D. in Environmental Studies. She is certified in Hazardous Materials Regulations and has a teaching license in Science and Math. She worked as a research chemist for eleven years at Nationals Steel’s Research Center in Weirton, WV. She has taught both secondary and post-secondary science courses. She is retired but keeps busy as a volunteer for several environmental non-profits in the Ohio Valley including the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition in West Virginia; their goal to stop the petrochemical buildup in the region. She also does some free-lance writing about environmental issues and conducts presentations about the health and environmental impacts of plastics and climate change.
She has received several awards including Eastern Gateway Community College’s Outstanding Alumnus of 2018, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition’s Community Networker of the Year for 2015, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition’s Fractivist of the Year in 2018 and the Laura Forman Passion for Justice Award in 2020 for her work to educate people about the petrochemical industry. She resides with her husband at Tappan Lake near Cadiz, Ohio in an eco-log home that they have built using sustainable building and design practices.
Chris Quinn, Editor, The Plain Dealer and Cleveland.com
Chris Quinn is editor of cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer. He started in journalism in 1980 as a staff writer at a New Jersey weekly paper before moving on to reporting positions in Dover, Del.; Harrisburg, Pa. and Orlando, Fla. He joined The Plain Dealer as a crime reporter in 1996 and covered Cleveland City Hall from 1999 to 2002, when he moved into editing. In 2006 he became metro editor and headed newsgathering at the paper until August 2013, when he joined what is now known as Advance Ohio as vice president of content. Chris is a native of New Jersey and received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Temple University in Philadelphia.
Heather Taylor-Miesle, Executive Director, Ohio Environmental Council (OEC)
Heather Taylor-Miesle has more than 20 years of experience advocating for greater environmental and public health protections, and working with our nation’s top decision-makers to bring environmental issues into the political spotlight. Prior to serving as the Executive Director of the Ohio Environmental Council (OEC) and President of the OEC Action Fund, Heather was the leader of the NRDC Action Fund, where she grew the organization from a mere concept into an environmental powerhouse in national politics. She also served as the NRDC’s deputy legislative director, worked with Fortune 500 companies to strengthen their sustainability practices, and held key aide positions on Capitol Hill working on energy and natural resources issues. Heather studied political science and communications at Marietta College in Marietta, Ohio and earned her master’s of public administration from the University of Southern California.
Dan Moulthrop, CEO, The City Club of Cleveland
Dan Moulthrop is CEO of The City Club of Cleveland, one of the nation’s oldest free-speech forums, and co-founded The Civic Commons, a Knight Foundation project creating a social media environment designed for civil civic dialogue. He’s worked as a print and radio journalist, including as former host of WCPN’s “Sound of Ideas.” Moulthrop is co-editor of A Race Anthology: Dispatches and Artifacts from a Segregated City and co-author of Teachers Have it Easy: The Big Sacrifices and Small Salaries of America’s Teachers, which provided the basis for the 2010 documentary American Teacher. He serves on the boards of the Teacher Salary Project, MedWorks, Teach for America in Cleveland, and Borderlight.