Fixing Politics in an Era of Partisanship and Distrust: IOP Fellows Unplugged

Dan Balz
Friday, February 2, 2018 - 5:00pm

A conversation with IOP Spring 2018 Resident Fellows
Adam Conner
Former Government and Public Sector Lead, Slack Technologies
Ed Gillespie
Virginia Gubernatorial Candidate (2017)
Chairman, Republican National Committee (2003-2005)
Betsy Hodges
Mayor of Minneapolis (2014 – 2018)
Scott Jennings
Founding Partner, RunSwitch Public Relations
Political Commentator, CNN
Symone D. Sanders
Strategist, Priorities USA
National Press Secretary, Bernie Sanders 2016
Dan Balz (Moderator)
Chief Correspondent, The Washington Post
Fall 2017 Resident Fellow, Institute of Politics

Panelists Adam Conner, former public sector lead at Slack Technologies; Ed Gillespie, former Chairman of the Republican National Convention; Betsy Hodges, former Mayor of Minneapolis; Scott Jennings, former special assistant to President George W. Bush; and Symone Sanders, former national press secretary to the Bernie Sanders 2016 presidential campaign joined moderator Dan Balz for a discussion on how to fix politics in a time of divisiveness and distrust. The panelists emphasized the need for unity, respectful disagreement, and responsible social media strategies in today’s political environment. 

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Panelist Biographies

Adam Conner has spent the last decade working at the intersection of technology, politics, policy, and elections as the first Washington, D.C. employee for several Silicon Valley companies.
Most recently, he was the first D.C. employee for Slack Technologies, the fast-growing workplace communications startup, and engagement with federal, state, and local governments.
Prior to that, Conner was Vice-President of Politics for Brigade, a civic engagement platform co-founded by Sean Parker.
In 2007, he founded Facebook’s Washington, D.C. office. He spent seven years on the Facebook Privacy and Public Policy team, where he created the company’s government and political outreach efforts and directed the company's election efforts.
His congressional and campaign experience includes the House Committee on Rules and as the Deputy Director of Online Communications for Mark Warner.
Conner is a graduate of George Washington University’s School of Media & Public Affairs and serves on its National Council and on the board of the Roosevelt Institute. He hails from Los Alamos, New Mexico.

Ed Gillespie has been a national and state Republican Party chairman, top White House and Congressional aide, Republican nominee for both the U.S. Senate and Governor in his home state of Virginia, and founder of three successful businesses.
In 2017, he lost his bid for governor in the first major statewide election held after the 2016 presidential election in what analysts see as the first sign of a national wave that could threaten Republican Party control of Congress in 2018.
As Republican National Committee chairman in the 2004 election cycle, Gillespie became the first GOP chairman to preside over his party’s winning the White House, House and Senate in 80 years.  In 1984, he was a principal drafter of the Contract with America, which led to Republicans winning control of the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years.
Gillespie has been successful in the private sector, where he provides strategic communications advice to CEOs and major corporations. 

Betsy Hodges was the 47th mayor of Minneapolis (2014 – 2018). Among key accomplishments of her administration were: creating a Zero Waste Minneapolis, improving police-community relations, helping small businesses thrive, and launching the city’s successful efforts to raise the minimum wage and mandate sick leave for all workers.
Some of Mayor Hodges' key initiatives included: her Cradle to K Cabinet, creating a Zero Waste Minneapolis, improving police-community relations, and helping small businesses thrive, and launching the city’s successful efforts to raise the minimum wage and mandate sick leave for all workers.
Prior to becoming mayor, Hodges served on the Minneapolis City Council for eight years as the council member from Ward 13. During that time she served as chair of the Ways and Means/Budget Committee and the Intergovernmental Relations Committee. One of her major accomplishments was leading the fight to reform a broken closed-pension system that served neither the pensioners nor taxpayers well, which helped avert a $20-million increase in the property tax levy in 2012.

Scott Jennings is the Founding Partner of RunSwitch Public Relations and a political commentator on CNN. RunSwitch is Kentucky’s largest PR and public affairs firm, providing communications counsel to clients worldwide with his ability to analyze data and reconcile it with gut-level political instincts.
Jennings’ career has taken him across the country as part of four presidential campaigns and numerous federal and state races. He served in key roles in both of President George W. Bush’s campaigns before becoming Special Assistant to the President in 2005, serving under top Bush strategist Karl Rove.
He held senior campaign positions for U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (’02, ’08, ’14), Congressman Brett Guthrie (’08-present), and Mitt Romney for President (2012). He has advised numerous political leaders and is regarded as one of Mitch McConnell’s closest outside political confidants.
Jennings has been an award-winning journalist and today writes a regular newspaper column for the Louisville Courier-Journal. His writing also appears in USA Today, RealClearPolitics, and He is a native of Dawson Springs, Kentucky.

Symone D. Sanders is a strategist and CNN political commentator who rose to prominence during her tenure as the national press secretary for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. At 25, she became the youngest presidential press secretary on record and was named to Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of 16 young Americans shaping the 2016 election.
Currently she is a strategist for Communications and Political Outreach at Priorities USA. She also serves as principal of the 360 Group LLC where she provides strategic communications guidance to organizations, businesses, individuals, campaigns and candidates and helps clients find sound solutions to tough political and social problems.
A communicator with a passion for juvenile justice, Sanders is the former chair of the Coalition of Juvenile Justice Emerging Leaders Committee and former member of the Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice, where she worked to raise the profile of young voices in the fight for juvenile justice reform and bring millennial perspectives to policy conversations.
She has been featured on multiple news networks and profiled in national newspapers and magazines.

Dan Balz is Chief Correspondent at The Washington Post. He joined the Post in 1978.  As a reporter or editor, he has covered every presidential campaign and midterm election since 1978. In all, he has covered 21 national political conventions, beginning with the tumultuous 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago.
He is author of four books, including two New York Times bestsellers: Collision 2012: Obama vs. Romney and the Future of Elections in America and, with co-author Haynes Johnson, The Battle for America 2008: The Story of an Extraordinary Election.
His awards include the Robin Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting, the White House Correspondents Association’s Merriman Smith award for deadline writing, the Gerald R. Ford Award for coverage of the presidency (shared), and the American Political Science Association’s Carey McWilliams Award. He is a regular panelist on PBS’s “Washington Week” and is a frequent guest on the Sunday morning talk shows and other public affairs programs