Unlocking Policitcal Polarization With Deke Copenhaver


Apple | Google | Spotify | Stitcher | iHeart


Need some quick advice? Jump on a call with me, and I'll provide some insight and action. This is NOT a sales call where I try to get you to hire me. Promise!

Click here to schedule a call. 

Episode Overview:

Deke Copenhaver, former mayor of Augusta, shares his experiences in politics and the importance of engaging with the public. He emphasizes the need for bipartisanship and the negative impact of hyperpolarization in the current political landscape. Deke also discusses the power of grassroots engagement and the importance of serving the people rather than political parties. He shares his personal journey with cancer and the lessons he learned about hope and resilience. Overall, Deke encourages individuals to fight for positive change and to never give up on making a difference. The conversation explores the themes of polarization, discourse, bigotry, personal growth, catering to the people, hope, bridging divides, and impacting Georgia. It emphasizes the importance of curiosity, open-mindedness, and engaging in conversations with people from different backgrounds and perspectives.

Additional Resources:

* Website

Skot Waldron (00:01.602)
Deke, Mr. Mayor, whatever I'm supposed to call you. I'm just kidding. Do you, do you demand that people call you Mr. Mayor? So when you walk around.

Deke Copenhaver (00:06.974)

Hell no, man. I mean, I've been called, I'm sure I've been called a lot worse things than that, but no, Deke is perfectly fine. And even when I was in office, I'm like, you know, no Mr. Copenhaver, no Mr. Mayor Deke.

Skot Waldron (00:18.279)

Skot Waldron (00:23.766)
No, okay. Mr. Mayor Deek. Wow. That's, that's deep. No, I know.

Deke Copenhaver (00:26.546)
No, I say no Mr. Mayor, just Deke is full of them. And I would tell people, I'm like, when you say Mr. Copenhaver, I'm like looking over my shoulder for my dad.

Skot Waldron (00:36.782)
Mm-hmm. Yep. Yeah, exactly. It's a, when we lived up in Chicago for a little while, being from the South, um, we went to a grocery store up there and there was a, you know, 17 year old, uh, woman across the thing ringing us up. And, uh, she said, y'all need anything else? I said, no, ma'am. She goes, she looked at me with like this stink face and she goes, you don't need to call me ma'am. Like that's my mom. And I was just going,

Deke Copenhaver (00:59.53)
Just listen.

Skot Waldron (01:06.474)
It's just what I do. You know, it's just what I do. So it was it was different.

Deke Copenhaver (01:11.514)
No, man, but, you know, I think we sometimes take for granted the civility in the South and the, you know, the manners to a degree, and I think people, well, I'll tell you this guy, you lived in Chicago. I saw something this week that said, you know, say what you want to do about the South, but nobody's retiring to the North.

Skot Waldron (01:36.078)
That is true. That is true. I don't even know. There are no, there aren't a lot of people there like, yeah, I'm done. I'm going to move up to Minnesota because they hear that's a great retirement area. So.

Deke Copenhaver (01:47.642)
Yeah, I'm going to Chicago where I can shovel snow and just, that sounds great.

Skot Waldron (01:57.594)
Yeah, I'm not. Sign me up. Sign me up. Speaking of living in awesome places, you're in and around Augusta. It's been your place. It is where you've transformed the landscape, I would have to say, of the political space a bit down there. So, I don't know. Give us a little background on your story. I think your story is so interesting to me. So, I want to hear it.

Deke Copenhaver (02:00.337)

Deke Copenhaver (02:19.105)

Deke Copenhaver (02:24.934)
No, but I'm happy to. So, you know, I'm not originally from Augusta. I was born in Montreal, Canada, moved here when I was four, but I was in banking and real estate and development before I moved back to Augusta when I married my wife in 98, but I was like, man, everything's good in Augusta, I thought. But we had a very, very bad reputation for local politics.

particularly race-based. So I went through Leadership Georgia in 2004 and traveling around the state, I mean, it's the oldest statewide leadership program in the nation. Every place I went was like, man, what's wrong with y'all's politics? So my graduation weekend in Thomasville, Georgia, South Georgia, in November of 2004, we had our third current or former elected official go under indictment. And it was...

black, white, Democrat, Republican, male and female. So it was covering everybody. And so Eric Tandenblatt, who was then Governor of Purdue's Chief of Staff was on the Board of Leadership, Georgia. And I get off the bus in Thomasville, he's like, man, where are you guys putting in the water up there? And I was like, bam, that's it. If a position comes available, I'm just gonna go for it. So our mayor at the time, Bob Young,

became Southeast Regional Director for Housing and Urban Development. So he left, you know, without fulfilling his term. So I'm like, man, I'm in. And had no idea that the protocol was supposed to be that I go kiss this person's ring and kiss that person's ring. I'm 37 years old. I'm like, I didn't know that.

So I get called into a back room of business leaders who I know and respect, but they're like, no, you can't run. You haven't paid your dues. And I'm like, I've run a small business. I've run a nonprofit. I've chaired boards of directors. You know, what's the difference between that and being mayor? And they're like, we haven't paid your dues. I was like,

Deke Copenhaver (04:34.646)
Okay. I'm very competitive and I'm like, okay, man, well, I'm going to run it. I'm going to win whether your candidate's in the race or not. So it was just a bunch of 20 and 30 something year olds with no clue of how to run a political campaign, but we had fun and the energy around it just sort of sucked people in because it wasn't politics as usual. I mean, it was positive and not fear-mongering. So.

I'm like, if it can be done here, it can be done other places too.

Skot Waldron (05:07.394)
So you ran a campaign based on hope and positivity. Is that what I'm hearing? And it worked? Imagine that, Deke, imagine that.

Deke Copenhaver (05:13.498)
Yes. And yeah, man. And so, yeah, man. And sir, for nine years in office, I never threw rocks at anybody that, any of my colleagues, I never threw them under the bus. I'm like, and people would ask me, they're like, you know, why don't you just go off on your leggy colleagues? I'm like, because my mom and dad raised me to be professional.

And I don't care if it's in politics or whatever I do, I'm not going to adjust my character to be what you think a typical politician should be. And I won.

Three elections with 64% of the vote on average. So it was my own experiment in democracy. I'm like, if you give somebody an alternative to the status quo of negative name-calling, just stuff that I think most of America has tuned out now, I mean, they're sick of it. But if you provide an alternative, people will go for it and they did.

Skot Waldron (06:20.622)
Did you run as a Republican or Democrat?

Deke Copenhaver (06:23.582)
So all municipal elections in Georgia are nonpartisan. I mean, and I think you and I have discussed this before, the problem that I see is, you know, you have a lot of mayors, not everybody, because I mean, I was on the board of the Georgia Municipal Association for nine years, but anybody looking to take the next step in politics are gonna affiliate with a party. I had no interest in doing that. And I'm like,

Why would I cozy up to one of the two parties and basically alienate a huge percentage of the people I serve when I don't have to? So somebody, I had a friend from Savannah tell me people are like, what, what's these political parties like? He's either a Johnny Isaacson Republican or a Sam Nunn Democrat, and I'm fine with either of those. But I'm like, somebody asked.

Never once when I was in office did I have a constituent call me with a problem and ask for my political party. Because all they want is their problem solved.

Skot Waldron (07:32.726)
That's it. They want their problem solved. And if you're the person to solve the problem, then I'm gonna bring you in. But emotion plays a huge role in politics. So if we talk about that angle of things, I mean, I'm sure you had people coming to you, advisors or advise people or whatever, who wanted to throw in their two cents and saying, no, you need to affiliate with one party or another. And yes, you're gonna alienate some of these people, but

Deke Copenhaver (07:33.93)
That's it.


Deke Copenhaver (07:43.733)

Deke Copenhaver (07:55.135)

Skot Waldron (08:02.75)
If you don't, you're going to alienate a little bit of both.

Deke Copenhaver (08:05.97)
Yeah, and then I did, man. So I'll give you a great example of that. So when I was in office, I joined a group called Mayors Against Illegal Guns. So I'm naive, right? I'm like, well, who wouldn't be against illegal guns? So it was Bloomberg had started it.

I didn't realize it was controversial. So Georgia Gun Owners Association or something like that, I mean, which I think is to the right of the NRA, puts out this statewide hit email. These are Georgia's anti-gun mayors. Call them and tell them your mind. They said they had 20,000 members. It generated maybe 100 calls and emails, which I took every one. And I'm like, man. I grew up.

a hunter. I am a gun owner myself. I'm not anti-gun, but yeah, illegal guns make no sense to me. And to a person, everybody that called me is like, well, they didn't tell us that. I'm like, of course they didn't. Two weeks later, my first day in office, we started a prayer breakfast, inclusive, you know, across any denomination, any place of worship.

So about two years in, but two weeks after I get targeted by the Georgia Gun Owners Association, I get targeted by the Freedom from Religion Foundation. And they tell us to say, you need to cease and desist the mayor's prayer breakfast because you're violating the separation of church and state. And I'm like, just bringing people from all walks of life together to pray for the city seems like a good thing for me. No city resources ever used it.

But so we just changed it to the community prayer breakfast. We'll have the 18th year anniversary next month. But so I met with a guy who was out of Madison, Wisconsin, which is where the freedom from religion foundation is headquartered and I go, yeah, man, there are some people up there that are really mad with me. He said, well, who's that? I said, the freedom from religion foundation. He's like, Oh my gosh, man. I hate that group.

Deke Copenhaver (10:20.874)
They have this picture on their website of this palatial building in Madison. It doesn't exist. There are five guys in a storefront, in a strip mall, that just troll the internet every day looking for people to sue. So...

That's the problem with politicians. They think the vocal minority is, you know, prevailing public sentiment, but I'm like, okay, Freedom From A Legend Foundation, people think it's this huge thing, five guys in a strip mall, and the Georgia Gun Owners Association saying they've got 20,000 members, but in a statewide email hit, they can generate 100 touches? They're paper tigers.

Skot Waldron (11:08.478)
So you're defeating the odds, you're kind of moving on beyond. It's like the petty stuff is the petty stuff. You've been able to rise above it and you've made a career out of rising above the petty stuff. And not necessarily taking a side, but taking the side for what's right and what I believe is going to help everybody.

not what I think is going to help this party or that party, whether it's Fox News or MSNBC or whoever. It's like, what am I doing to help the people?

Deke Copenhaver (11:30.611)

Deke Copenhaver (11:41.074)
Yeah, man, and so I'm a founding partner of a national nonprofit called starts with us. That's focused on moving America away from hyper polarization. So we've, I mean, all these studies and I don't believe necessarily believe in polls, but show basically that 75% of Americans want to see Congress work in bipartisan fashion to solve our big picture issues.

So in this whole debacle over the Speaker of the House, I saw Jim Jordan, it was one of the, and here again, I just call it as I see it. I'm not a Democrat or Republican, but it was one of the nominees to be Speaker of the House. They talked about a coalition government and he said, well, I'm not ready for that because nobody in America wants to see that. And I'm like, based on all the

research, 75% of Americans want to see Congress work together in bipartisan fashion. I'm like, but you're in this silo to where you're totally out of touch with the American people. And that's, I don't exist in a silo. I mean, I love grassroots engagement. So, you know, I mean, I was diagnosed with esophageal cancer back in April. And

Here again, the odds. First thing I told my doctors is, I don't wanna know any odds because I've beaten the odds my whole life and the best way to beat them is not to know them. But I love grassroots engagement. I'm very unusual, I guess, but I love going through chemotherapy because I'm sitting in a room with, you know, 50, 60, 70 people, everybody's on the same playing field. You know,

And we've got four and a half hours just to have a conversation without any distractions. I'm like, but you know what? Politicians aren't in those rooms. And they, and I say, you know, a staged press event for even a community forum. That's not real grassroots engagement. Grassroots engagement is when you go someplace without the cameras around.

Deke Copenhaver (14:05.914)
and you have a real honest conversation with people. Politicians don't do that. So they're out of touch. Am I preaching?

Skot Waldron (14:14.794)
So how, yeah, and I hear, I'm gonna amen you after everything you say. So what is the, how do we get politicians to listen then and be in those rooms? Cause you know, they're not all going to get cancer. Well, half of them will if they're male, according to stats, right? So if we're in that space, how do we get politicians more?

Deke Copenhaver (14:20.712)
Oh, fuck.

Deke Copenhaver (14:33.752)

Skot Waldron (14:40.978)
involved instead of getting, they're stuck in their silo. How do we get them out of the silo?

Deke Copenhaver (14:45.49)
Well, and Scott, I will tell you that's, but that's a question of what your purpose is. So I'm very, I'm a literalist, I guess. So the idea of being a public servant means you're there to serve. You're there to serve the public, not a political party, but it seems like, you know, a lot of politicians, not all,

they're more concerned with being reelected than they are with serving the majority of their constituents. And so I'll give you a great example. I'll write an op-ed piece for the Fulcrum, this national publication. So Matt Gaetz, you know, congressman, no seniority. You know, he was ultimately responsible. He led the charge to get the Speaker of the House

removed first time in American history. So I'm like, okay, well, I did some research. He won District 1 in Florida with 67% of the vote last year, 2022 midterms. I'm like, well, that's pretty impressive. Then I looked up the total population of District 1. So that vote number versus the total population, 25%. So I'm like, ah.

He's got 25% of the people he serves. It's a hugely Republican district. I compared that to the population of America. It was like 0.006%. So he's focused on getting all this attention, potentially running for governor. So he's been elected by 25% of the people in his district. What are you focused on?

Are you focused on serving the majority of your district? Are you focused on maybe a potential run for governor? And that's what we need is more people focused on public service. And people talk about courage. I'm like, if you're afraid to speak truth to power because you're gonna lose your cush position in Congress, that is not courage, that's cowardice.

Skot Waldron (17:05.098)
So where's an instance where you used courage during your time in office that you... I'm gonna make you walk the talk here, Deke.

Deke Copenhaver (17:15.73)
Yeah, man. Oh, I mean, and I could use a lot of examples, but okay. 2010 was my, I ran an 05, 06 in 2010. So it was an election year. So we had our first pride parade in Augusta in 2010. So somebody within the government leaked that, you know, the

Permit is on the mayor's desk and he's the only one standing between us and Sodom and Gomorrah. So I get emails and letters and I'm a Christian. I mean, as I say, I started a prayer breakfast that if you allow this to happen, you're never welcome in our church again, but it was a very slim minority of people that felt that way. But I'm like,

So I asked for a legal opinion to show that the pride organization had every right to have the parade. And so, but something the local paper was like, oh, he's hiding mine. I'm like, but I talked to a commanding general friend of mine, he's like, the military, we don't make any decisions unless we have a legal opinion. But I met with the organizers and I'm like, okay, man, I'm going to take the heat this year. But

you know, next year it'll be fine and everything. So it's 2023, it's been going on for 13 years. It's been embraced by the community. You know, it's a great economic driver. And I mean, who am I to condemn, but I did a proclamation declaring it Pride Day in Augusta because the only...

proclamation request I ever turned down was the Church of Scientology. Cause I'm like, eh, I'm not sure about that. But I'm like, let's people complain about me doing a proclamation for the pride parade. I'm like every organization that I do it, you know, democratically.

Deke Copenhaver (19:13.614)
I do it for everybody. And if I start picking and choosing organizations that, oh, well, somebody has an ax to grind with them, I'm like, I could do no proclamations. This is a public service to recognize all these groups. And sorry to the Church of Scientology, but other than that, I never turned one down.

Skot Waldron (19:37.506)
So you're serving the public. That's your job.

Deke Copenhaver (19:40.648)

Skot Waldron (19:43.118)
and doing it in a courageous way, sometimes not aligned with all of your personal beliefs or your personal agenda or your personal whatever, it's what is good for the people.

Deke Copenhaver (19:56.506)
Yes, I mean, and that's to me, it's about being fair. And I'm like, but I would speak to kids when I was in office and I'd use it as a teaching moment. I'd say, how many people do you think live in Augusta? Ultimately, they didn't know. I'm like, it's 200,000 plus. I said,

Every decision I make is going to make somebody mad. I mean, I'm fully aware of that, but you can't let that stop you from making a decision. And if you're fair, ultimately it all comes out in the wash. So the guy who ran and took office after me, pulled on my approval rating when I was leaving office, 72%. So I'm like, okay, so 28% of the people

never agreed with me, were never going to agree with me, but if that number is correct, by being fair and balanced and not skewing to one side or the other, 72% of the constituents thought I was doing a good job. So even if they didn't agree politically, I became the common ground that they could agree on. Well, we might not agree with everything politically, but we think the mayor's doing a pretty good job.

Skot Waldron (21:19.522)
Let's talk about current events, current politics. This may be outdated when people are listening to this in 10 years, but let's talk about the landscape right now. What's going on? What's your observation of the current landscape of the political sphere, what we're in? And we've got different parties doing different things, different people doing different things. What's your thought on all this?

Deke Copenhaver (21:41.863)

Deke Copenhaver (21:45.542)
Well, and I hope things will have changed in 10 years when people listen to this. But, you know, you and I have discussed the media. So starts with us, the National Law and Profit I'm working with. We did a study during the midterms leading up to 2022. So the ultra partisan sides, Democrat and Republican, get four times more coverage.

in Congress than the Congress people that are working in bipartisan fashion. And there are those that are, but we are from Georgia. And I mean, probably 10 years down the line, people will remember this name, Marjorie Taylor Green, a super, you know, right wing Congress person from Georgia.

So she is the most controversial member of Congress. She gets 10 times more coverage than anybody else in Congress. And I'm like, if people in the nation think that she represents the majority of the views of Georgians, that's not true. So basically, the media is giving us a skewed view of what's going on. They're feeding into the hyperpolarization. So it's not that there aren't.

politicians out there trying to do the right thing, but it's almost like we reward bad behavior. If you're, I mean, our former president, President Trump, he, I think he set the tone and there are people trying to parrot him and be the next Trump. It's like, if you're the most controversial member of Congress, you get the most media coverage, which is to my mind, Scott, that's screwed up.

And I've said, you know, I said when I was in office, it's the tyranny of the minority. I'm like, you give in to the vocal minorities and the press feeds that? I don't have kids, but I'm like, okay, I would compare this to if you had a child and every time they had a tantrum, you gave them their way, you know, what kind of a child would you raise or what kind of a community would you build? What kind of a business would you build?

Deke Copenhaver (24:05.598)
But that's what we're doing. You know, we're letting the angry tantrum-prone child get their way to the disservice of the majority of the people in America, which is just, I mean, it's messed up. I think I have faith that it can change, but what I'm trying to do now is I'm like, I wanna engage the majority of people that feel like they have no voice and say,

You guys need to speak up. I mean, to disengage and to say, we're just gonna check out on this because it's always gonna be that way. You know, our democracy is fragile and the more people that check out, but I think the extremes want people to check out because it's like, it's easier to control a small number of people. My two cents worth.

Skot Waldron (25:00.835)
That's good. What do you think about, uh, Robert Kennedy?

Deke Copenhaver (25:05.45)
You know, I think he is hitting a nerve, honestly. And I think he's gonna get more support than most people think, because it's interesting. You know, he's from the biggest, the family, the biggest political dynasty in the United States. But I don't, so he's got name recognition, but I don't think that's what people, because you've gotta think, I mean, for...

20 and 30 something years old, they don't really remember JFK, Robert Kennedy, any of that. But they're like, this guy's, you know, he's kind of a rebel. And I think people are responding to that. I don't agree with all his views, but he's an alternative. I mean, scary enough, as was Donald Trump. I mean, people voted for him. So I was not a part of a political establishment.

And I saw that somebody coming from outside the establishment can generate a lot of support. Hopefully, you know, I never went establishment and I was, I mean, I think I was more moderate, but anti-establishment candidates. And I think Vivek Bronswami is trying to do that. I don't, I think he's, I mean, he comes across as being.

kind of an obnoxious punk, but I think that, you know, Kennedy, he's got some gravitas. And the interesting thing about, you know, when you talk about no labels and you talk about Kennedy and, you know, just all the, we could have a situation where nobody wins the electoral college, which is, I mean,

That's bad to me. I don't want to see the election go to Congress because that to me, you know, that's maybe a fail safe, but that's not democracy to have. Whoever is the majority party in Congress, choose the president. You know, talk about the tyranny of the minority. You know, that you've got millions of Americans whose votes didn't count if that's the situation.

Skot Waldron (27:28.066)
So you're talking electoral college versus majority vote.

Deke Copenhaver (27:31.826)
Yeah, so that's if nobody wins the Electoral College, which is a possibility when you've got whoever the Republican and the Democrat nominee are, plus Robert Kennedy, plus, you know, other candidates out there running, there is the potential that nobody wins the Electoral College, which in that situation, it goes to Congress to decide.

Skot Waldron (28:02.898)
Yes. There's a couple of things that, uh, you know, I've talked about multiple times with, with my family members about, you know, that whole thing and it's, it's stuck, you know, how we're stuck in our ways of past ways of doing things. And they serve a certain person and those people that it serves tend to be the ones who make the decisions about if that changes or not.

Deke Copenhaver (28:24.796)

Deke Copenhaver (28:30.698)

Skot Waldron (28:30.702)
Uh, which is also a problem, which is also like we gave the car keys to the person driving the car that we're going in the wrong direction, but it serves them to go in this direction when they have the keys, we don't, you know, it's like, it's a little messed up.

Deke Copenhaver (28:46.378)
Yeah, well, I mean, you know, I was speaking at an event a number of years ago and we were talking about so Augusta where I live is a consolidated government, city, county. And somebody said, do we need more city county consolidation for efficiencies in Georgia? And somebody said, well, then.

constitutional officers, you know, will have to give up their positions and everything. I was like, man, let me tell you about politics. Politics is not about Democrat and Republican, male and female, black and white and other. It's about power and control. And once you give somebody a little bit of it, good luck taking it away from them. I mean, but it's like, you know, I believe that we should have campaign finance reform and I believe we should have term limits.

But it's almost like seems like to me at times that either side will float that. But is that ever really going to happen with Congress? You know, cause you're giving up. If you have campaign finance reform and term limits, you're giving up your power and control.

But here again, you know, my dad flew B-17 bombers in World War II. He was a teenager flying missions over Europe, putting his life on the line to protect our democracy. He taught me about service above self. And I'm like, if your focus is just on getting reelected, you know, what's your, I mean, what is your...

Skot Waldron (29:55.544)

Deke Copenhaver (30:21.566)
Mantra, what are you? Are you there to be a public servant? Are you there to serve your party?

Skot Waldron (30:30.498)
What do you think about the people that say, if you don't vote for this Republican or vote for this Democrat, you're just throwing away your vote, so you might as well not vote at all.

Deke Copenhaver (30:43.214)
I, well, I'll tell you, I mean, I spent nine years in office. So in the last election in 2016, I voted for the independent candidate. And in 2020, I wrote in Ronald Reagan. Cause I liked Reagan and I was never old enough to vote for him. I don't, I did. That's, I think that's manipulation by the political parties because I couldn't in 2020.

I could in good conscience stand up and say, if somebody said, why did you vote for Biden? Or why did you vote for Trump? I mean, it was an indefensible position because I didn't particularly agree with either of them. But I can tell you exactly why I voted for Reagan. Because

He worked with Tip O'Neill. There actually were Reagan Democrats. I mean, there were bipartisan efforts, and that's not that long ago. I will tell you, Scott, I am a good friend of our governor, Brian Kim. I've just met Brad Raffensperger this year. I'm like...

the leadership that they exercised in not, I mean, when they were pressured to try to overturn an election, they didn't do it, they did what was right. And I've talked to so many, I mean, I've talked to a lot of Democrats that voted for Raffensperger and Kemp that said they had never voted for a Republican in their lives. So exercising leadership, and I think that is a prime example of they spoke truth to power.

People still respect that, you know, if you're willing to do it. And that's that speaking truth about does not have a party affiliation. Both major parties can do it. But are they willing to do it?

Skot Waldron (32:39.882)
What is the thing that you feel helped you the most when you were in office? Managing both sides, both parties, like you were a leader in that space and you had to, you know, listen and digest and argue and...

Debate and do all those things. What helped you the most when you were in those positions?

Deke Copenhaver (33:11.706)
Man, I am so glad you asked me that. So I'm a huge rock and roll fan and punk rock fan, but I'm like, so I use a lesson that I learned from the Grateful Dead. You know, people, oh, overnight success.

they toured at the grassroots level for years and years, constant engagement. So I never existed within that silo. I spent time with the man on the street, went to the Y every morning, you know, spent time in the lowest income neighborhoods. So when you say, you know, the critics and the sakes, the right and the left, I'm like, I didn't exist within the silo. I existed

with my people on the street. And I'm like, if you wanna know how you're doing, don't.

I mean, a stage press event where you're bringing a camera saying, you know, what do you think about this issue? I'm like, people are not going to shoot you straight when you've got a camera sticking in their face. I'm like, but if I'm sitting at the Y in the steam room with a bunch of sweaty dudes and politics comes up, you're all on the same level. I'm not on a dais above anybody else and people will shoot you straight. So it's that constant engagement. You know,

I mean, it keeps you grounded and it keeps you in touch with really what prevailing public opinion is. But it's like, here again, people in Congress, how much engagement do they actually have in a non-scripted forum with the American public?

Deke Copenhaver (34:58.302)
going to the grocery store and just talking to somebody in line, or going to the Y and talking to somebody sitting in the steam room. I mean, there's just this fundamental disconnect. And I, you know, I believe in the next generation of leaders. And so I'm focused on mentoring them, but, but I think that it's cross-generational learning, you know, 20 and 30 somethings want mentors.

But here's a fundamental disconnect for you. So next year, 2024, 40% of registered voters in the United States will be either millennials or Gen Z. But the average age of Congress people is 67. So it's like, okay, you know, the majority of the people that you're representing are...

I mean, that is the biggest voting block and starting next year, but although last year Gen Z and Millennials increased their representation in Congress by 40%. So I have great friends with an organization called the Millennial Action Project, which is now they've changed your name to the Future Caucus. So Leila Zidane is their CEO, amazing lady.

But so they basically train 20 and 30 something year old legislators in Congress and in state houses across the nation about, you know, conflict resolution. So that age range is getting more bipartisan legislation passed than any other in Washington, but they get no media coverage whatsoever. I spoke to the young professionals of Augusta two weeks ago.

all 20 and 30 something year old professionals and spoke about the Future Caucus, formerly Millennial Action Project. And I'm like, these are your peers that are in Washington doing amazing things. How many of you have heard of them? Not one hand in the room.

Skot Waldron (37:13.814)
That's a problem.

Deke Copenhaver (37:13.874)
So there is hope, you know, but I just don't think it fits with the mainstream media narrative.

Skot Waldron (37:24.618)
and his long-

Deke Copenhaver (37:26.336)
Which is why we do our podcasts. And I think, I mean, your listeners, your viewers, that's where mainstream America is.

Skot Waldron (37:38.658)
Well, I think that it is because we are doing this out of the passion, out of the message, out of the relationships that we build, out of the things that we find interesting, you know, and the people that we meet. And you're referred to me by another podcast guest. And

Deke Copenhaver (37:52.233)

Skot Waldron (37:57.518)
And that network and serving each other is where it comes in to play. And that's when we produce the good stuff is when we look to serve each other. And I don't have, you know, a backing of this political party and that agenda and this association and that thing over there, it's talking over my shoulder saying, you need to have these kinds of guests, you need to talk about this kind of message because then I'm serving them, I'm not serving my people and I'm not serving you. And I think that.

Deke Copenhaver (38:12.98)

Deke Copenhaver (38:25.371)

Skot Waldron (38:27.126)
That's what we're talking about here. And if we take this from a leadership standpoint, leaders that are there to serve themselves or serve the board or serve their shareholders, there has to be some of that weigh in. I get it, I get the pressures of all of that. But until you serve your people, serve your employees, serve your customers,

that you're going to have some problems.

Deke Copenhaver (38:55.11)
Well, you know, so as I say, I grew up a rock and roll fan, a punk rock fan. I, I think I've channeled my punk rock ethos into positive channels. But to me, the status quo right now is extreme polarization. So rebelling against that is about as cool as you can be because that's fighting for the people. You know,

And I just, I feel for people that are, and I understand they're so frustrated. I mean, I've had people say, you know, friends of mine that are, I'm 56, I just turned 56, they're like, man, I mean, I was Republican or I was a Democrat. I'm checking out, you know, I'm just done with it. And I'm like, you can't do that though. You know?

I mean, you've got to be engaged and what I'm trying to do, and then you'll appreciate this. So I'm like, I constantly with all these bridging organizations, I work with nationally, I'm like, okay, look at Taylor Swift. Her audience is not all teenage girls. Now you've got people, fathers and daughters and everything going to these concerts.

They're positive, they're uplifting. You probably got disaffected youth that are like, I don't feel like I fit in any place, but I go to a Taylor Swift concert, she makes me feel special. I'm like, so if, through the bridging organizations, let's create that vibe.

I mean, for people that are just wanting to check out and going, man, I don't fit in with the far left or the far right, which I think is the vast majority of people. Well, let's provide them an alternative, which is what I did for nine years in office. I'm like, you know, come on, man, join the party. Let's have a good time together. I don't want to be around a bunch of angry, negative people. You know, where's the fun in that? You know, it's like.

Deke Copenhaver (41:02.366)
let's establish this movement where we can be a part of this positive vibe and feel like we're really making a difference for our country. Because I'm like, man, you know, and for this dystopian future that certain political candidates are painting, I'm like...

Look at what's happening in Israel. Look at what's happening in the Ukraine. And you say our country is going to hell in a hand basket? Look at the freedoms that we have that people have fought to protect. And go, I mean, God bless, I pray for Israel. I pray for Israelis, Palestinians, both. Every day, they're caught up in a war that they didn't create. But...

look at our lives. I mean, you and I, on a Friday morning, it is Friday for your listeners and viewers, but we can have this free-flowing conversation uneditorialized. There is nobody that has stopped. And that's what people are like, man, you're saying stuff that no politician says. I'm like, nobody can editorialize me. And I can say stuff that other people are thinking that they might not have the courage to say because

Skot Waldron (41:56.594)

Deke Copenhaver (42:19.342)
I survived cancer this year. I'm like, so what are you gonna do? Give me cancer again? I'm like, been there, done that. But truth to power and saying what needs to be said, not what people wanna hear, that to me is leadership. And trying to please the extremes on either side to placate them, that is not leadership at all. That might win you an election, but that's not leadership.

Skot Waldron (42:49.294)
We're going to start a thing called punk rock politics and you are going to lead it. So punk rock politics with Deke. So that's it. Um, can we, uh, I want to, I want to wrap this up, but I want to, I want to focus just a minute on, on your cancer diagnosis. And that, that journey and now where you are,

Deke Copenhaver (42:52.006)
Yes! I've got politics.

Deke Copenhaver (43:09.334)
in a

Skot Waldron (43:15.698)
What does that mean to you? Usually when people experience a traumatic event, something so big as that in their lives, there's something that changes in them. What has that change been in you? What is now your opportunity? You've survived cancer to this point. What is the opportunity and the hope that you have?

Deke Copenhaver (43:22.323)

Deke Copenhaver (43:38.494)
You know, it is, and as I say, I'm a Christian, I pray that, and I don't disparage anybody's faith, tradition or lack thereof, but I'm like, I want to use my story to help other people and to give people hope because I've talked to people, you know,

cancer nurses and everything, there are so many advancements have been made that it's not a death sentence. But I mean, I will admit, the first thing when my doctor said you might have cancer, first thought that hit your head is, am I going to die? OK? Well, I didn't die. And I'm like, but I understand people out there, when they get the diagnosis, I was talking to my sister about it last night, a friend of hers.

it's it is scary and there are a lot of people that just shut down and that just disengage again i mean that term and i'm like no don't do that you know and that's what i shared with people in chemotherapy i'm like man i have got your back we are in this together you know

So my goal is on that side of things, just to deliver that message of hope and to keep people that are scared and afraid because I get it, I've been there from disengaging. I'm like, you have got to fight. You know, you've got a choice in the matter, you know, and added, I mean, my faith helped get me through it. I know.

but it's an attitude. So the week before I got the definitive test, I went out, the weekend before, I went out and ran four miles. And I told my wife, I'm like, I did that because I want to tell that doctor on Monday, hey man, I might have cancer, but I did four miles on Saturday. And I think that was the beginning of my.

Deke Copenhaver (45:48.806)
mindset not even realize it to fight not flight, you know, so that just kicked in with me. But if I can encourage people to do that, to choose to fight and not the flight, if I have one person that's enough.

Skot Waldron (46:08.662)
That's awesome, man. I'm, I'm so, when we were talking on our, you know, a little while ago about doing the show and just introducing ourselves to each other, I went out immediately out of my office and I told my wife all about our conversation. I was like, this is the most interesting guy. Right. Like, and it was, I've just, and we're, we've been talking about a lot of different things with the political landscape and different viewpoints about things, and I said, you'll like this guy. Like you're really going to like this guy. I mean, we're, we're.

I get here was my thing. When we lived in Chicago, I worked in a design agency, a graphic design firm in the arts, in the creative arts, which is more liberally minded. Okay, well, it leans more Democrat. I was surrounded by a lot of political talk about this and about that Democrat party and those Republicans are ridiculous and they don't care about people and all this other thing. And then I would...

Deke Copenhaver (46:52.766)

Skot Waldron (47:08.766)
I was raised in a very conservative household growing up in the South. And so what would happen would I would, I would inevitably, I would be in Chicago. And then at Christmas time, we would drive South and we would go hang out with family and we would be down there and they would be talking about all the things, all the politics going on. And I would, as I naturally do, cause my family calls me the fence sitter. I would take the opposite side. I would argue, I'd say, well.

Deke Copenhaver (47:35.26)

Skot Waldron (47:36.81)
have you thought about this? Well, what about this? And then maybe this happens and you know, and they go, oh, so what are you a Democrat now? And they're so they like start throwing the stuff at me. Then I move back up, I go back up to Chicago and I'm working and I started taking opposite sides and I started arguing the point and they start going, whoa, Mr. Republican, whoa. And they're like throwing that at me. So it's this polarization and the people that

sit on those opposite ends of the spectrum that if you argue one side or the other, you're immediately either against them or you're taking on this opposite viewpoint and it just creates all of this turmoil.

Deke Copenhaver (48:20.494)
Well, man, I mean, so people are like with these bridging organizations starts with us. Oh, you want everybody to come and sit and go come by and agree on everything? No. I mean.

discourse is good. That's how you make progress. But it's interesting, it's probably the streams that are saying that. They're the ones with the litmus says going, okay, you know, you have to agree with everything on the far right to be a part of that or everything on the far left. But I'm like, no, we can, I mean,

I mean, just discourse is the way that we make progress, but I'm going to read you a definition, okay? And I'm going to ask you, what word do you think this defines? Obstinate or unreasonable attachment to a belief, opinion, or faction, in particular prejudice against a person or people on the basis of their membership of a particular group.

Bigotry, bigotry. Yes. And I'm like, that defines the extremes to me because they won't listen. I'm like, man, if you've got, there's a philosophical tenant that when philosophers come together and they debate a point, if one has the better argument, the other takes that argument and tries to further it and accepts that.

Skot Waldron (49:26.198)
So really? Oh, wow. Okay.

Deke Copenhaver (49:53.494)
as better than their own perspective. You know, that's what I'm about. I'm like, man, if you've got a better way for me to do anything, tell me. You know, but I'm like, that's, but a big, I mean, part of this is curiosity. I just turned 56. The older I get, the more I realize, I don't know crap.

I've got so much to learn and I'm like, how are you gonna grow as a person if you only hang around people that look like you, think like you and act like you? I mean, personal growth comes from being around.

different groups of people. And I think that's a big problem that's feeding the polarization is, if you've got extremely wealthy people that live in a silo, that their perspective of the world is what they see in the news, or going to the country club and that's it, or you live in an extremely poverished area where you never get outside of the neighborhood, your worldview is gonna be a certain way.

But if we come together and have those conversations and curiosity about not just, why do you think that way? But what made you think that way? You know, I grew up in a country club neighborhood. My worldview as being raised was one way I've chosen to get outside my comfort zone and to interact with people from all walks of life because it's interesting.

You know, but if you just, I mean, if you just raise and socialize in a certain silo and never make an effort to get out of that silo, your worldview is never going to change.

Skot Waldron (51:41.458)
Amen. Pastor Deke, I'll call you pastor Deke instead of mayor. So let's do that. Um, good stuff, man. I, the hope that, you know, we're too little people in this grandiose world of what we're talking about. And this is talking about politics, but this is talking about humanity as a whole. Um, there's all kinds of polarizing positions that we can take. And I think it's the idea of curiosity of hope of, you know,

Deke Copenhaver (51:53.46)

Skot Waldron (52:09.902)
how do we cater to the people, not the party and the protocol and the agenda and whatever else somebody else has, but what am I doing that's right for my people, not what am I doing that's right for me or right for the person that's there trying to bark orders and oh, there's a thumb right there because I did something. So nobody could see that. But I think that's interesting.

Deke Copenhaver (52:21.398)

Deke Copenhaver (52:30.822)
Well, no, well then, but... So I spoke to sort of a mastermind group in London earlier this week, the Elevation Collective. Another introduction by our mutual friend, Don Barron, but I coined the term just riffing. I'm like, what we need is a contagion of hope. And I'm like, that's...

I'm trying to be the catalyst and be out there and be the infecting agent to instill hope to people and be an infectious disease, a good disease, contagion of hope that spreads. Because there are 500 bridging organizations doing phenomenal work in the US. I mean, bringing people together, bridging divides.

getting no press whatsoever. So I'm like, just people don't know. And I'm like, there's good stuff going on out there. But if you're just watching, you know, your mainstream media, you're not seeing it. But if you don't want to get out there and engage, at least trust me, I can tell you, I'm out there in the middle of it. And it's pretty damn cool.

Skot Waldron (53:53.89)
That's beautiful, man. Beautiful. Deke, people want to hang out with you. They just want to talk punk rock. They want to talk whatever with you. What, where do they, where do they get in touch with you?

Deke Copenhaver (54:00.209)
I don't know.

Deke Copenhaver (54:04.722)
Um, they, they can email me at D at me at decopenhaver.com. I'm on Instagram. I mean, just Google decopenhaver. I think I'm the only one in the world. Probably the world can only take just one, but it's D E K E C O P N H A V E R. Just call me.

Skot Waldron (54:27.694)
Cool. Well, lots of people are calling you and we're not going to talk about that on this show, but you have, uh, some, some pretty, some pretty influential people, uh, calling you and asking you some, for some, uh, some, you know, to take on some roles that I think it's really, really going to impact us. Um, I'm grateful that we have you in our state and that, uh, you know, there's, there's like-minded people out there that are trying to bridge that hope, bring that contagion of hope to Georgia. I hope that.

Deke Copenhaver (54:33.476)
That's for next time.

Skot Waldron (54:56.99)
You know, there's some stuff that we can do there. And I loved having you on the show, man. Thanks for being here.

Deke Copenhaver (55:00.562)
man, it's just kindred spirits. And I'm like, I'm just an Olympian heart trying to unite the tribes. And you're in the tribe of the majority, not the extremes. And I mean, it's a lot cooler hanging out with cool people like you than it is with angry, negative people.

Skot Waldron (55:22.783)
That's the best compliment I've heard all day. So thanks buddy. I appreciate it. It's good to talk to you.

Deke Copenhaver (55:24.779)
Ha ha!

Deke Copenhaver (55:28.426)
All right, man, appreciate it.


Set up an account on GiANT (it's free forever) and access the same content that Google, Delta, CDC, and Chick-fil-A use to train their leaders.