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NCSL Celebrates 100th ‘Our American States’ Podcast

By Ed Smith | July 13, 2020 | State Legislatures Magazine

The well-known idiom is “seeing is believing,” but NCSL’s podcast over the past 3 ½ years has made the case that “hearing is believing” as well.

The “Our American States” podcast debuted in December 2016 with an interview with William Pound, NCSL’s then-executive director, who offered an assessment of the upcoming 2017 legislative sessions. The podcast posts its 100th episode today with a roundup of some of its most interesting interviews and engaging topics.

Many of the podcasts have focused on topics of keen interest to legislators, legislative staff and other policymakers: election security, marijuana legalization, cybersecurity, responding to natural disasters, addressing the opioid crisis, the historic number of women in legislatures and many more.

The podcast also has hosted a number of remarkable people, some well-known and others you might have met for the first time on “Our American States.”

Those in the first category include political consultant Frank Luntz, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, chef and restaurateur Hugh Acheson and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

Before listening to the podcast, however, you might not have known author Matthew Desmond, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize–winning book “Evicted.” Or Kentucky Senator Whitney Westerfield (R), who shared a powerful quote from the abolitionist Frederick Douglass during a discussion about juvenile justice reform.

Among the most popular episodes was “What I Wish I Knew,” parts one and two, in which four veteran legislators discussed what new lawmakers should expect when they begin serving in a legislature. Former Illinois Senator Toi Hutchinson (D) offered these parting words: “If you don’t like people, don’t do this job.”

The podcast also has explored topics of particular interest to legislative staff. Most recently, management consultant Laree Kiely talked about how to sustain readiness and resilience during the pandemic. Earlier episodes looked at mindfulness, debate thinking and brain science. And way back in episode 23, the guest was Martha Wigton, NCSL’s current staff chair and the director of the House Budget and Research Office in Georgia.

Since March, the podcast has turned its focus on COVID-19 and produced a series of episodes looking at education, continuity of government, fiscal challenges, rural health care, the challenges of feeding kids who usually get meals at school and what elections will look like during the pandemic.

Before retiring in 2019, Pound made it clear how meaningful he found his more than 40 years at NCSL. It was, he said, “a chance to do things rather than just talk about them. … And I think most of the people here really believe in legislatures.”

The podcast may have even been a little prescient, devoting episode 5 to a conversation with Tim Storey, an NCSL staffer who took over as executive director when Pound retired.

The podcast recently had its own passing of the baton. Gene Rose, the host and producer for the first 82 episodes, became NCSL’s communications director in late 2019. He passed the podcast duties on to Ed Smith, who was NCSL’s director of content until he retired at the end of February.

Enjoy this 100th episode—and keep listening for more!

Ed Smith retired from NCSL in February 2020 and currently hosts the NCSL podcast “Our American States.”

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