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Deep Dive with Laura Arnold

Podcast: Bootleggers & Baptists: The Unlikely Coalitions Behind Criminal Justice Reform

During a time of unprecedented polarization, left-right coalitions can be the unsung catalysts of meaningful change. Peek inside the policy playbook of two institutional frenemies: the ACLU and Right On Crime.

Image: The latest episode of "Deep Dive with Laura Arnold" asks, “How can individuals or groups who are diametrically opposed to one another on a particular issue still find ways to work together in separate areas?” (Andrew Harnik/The Associated Press)

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Economist Bruce Yandle made the argument that coalitions of opposing interests — which he referred to as “Bootleggers and Baptists” — can be especially successful in policy making. Both are in favor of prohibition but for very different reasons: The bootlegger is motivated by economics, while the Baptist is guided by a moral imperative. But they collaborate effectively to further a common goal.

One such unlikely coalition has formed between the conservative think tank Right on Crime and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). 

In the fourth episode of “Deep Dive with Laura Arnold,” Arnold Ventures Co-Chair and host Laura Arnold sits down with Marc Levin, Vice President of Criminal Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Right on Crime, and Anthony Romero, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, to ask the question: “How can individuals or groups who are diametrically opposed to one another on a particular issue still find ways to work together in separate areas?”

Levin and Romero acknowledge their differences but find an expanse of common ground surrounding criminal justice reform. If fiscal responsibility is the appetizer that brings people to the table, Romero says, then “the main course is public safety, redemption, keeping families together, and getting people employed.”

Our latest podcast episode takes listeners behind closed doors to pointed discussions with Jared Kushner as the First Step Act was first floated. Above, Kushner, with Vice President Mike Pence, left, and Ivanka Trump, attends the First Step Act Celebration in the White House in April. (Andrew Harnik/The Associated Press)

They take listeners behind closed doors to pointed discussions with Jared Kushner as the First Step Act — initially described as “anemic” — was first floated. The policy wrangling continued as both Levin and Romero sought to maximize the opportunity by including sentencing reform. 

Their work underscores a fundamental challenge: When you have a moment of bipartisan interest, how do you reconcile a politician’s incremental approach with the need for — and possibility of — meaningful change?

How to listen

Listen to the podcast here or on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, or your favorite podcast app.

About the host

Laura Arnold is the Co-Founder and Co-Chair of Arnold Ventures, founded in 2010, and an attorney and former oil company executive. Read more about her here.