Full Audio Transcript
Joe Sudbay 00:01
Good afternoon. And welcome back to the Michelangelo Sinoreli show here on Sirius XM progress on this very historic day in just a couple hours, three hours from now the House Committee on the January 6, attack on the Capitol is going to hold its first public hearing. We've been talking a lot about that and we'll talk about it some more.
But right now we have a guest and you guys this is someone I have talked to on this channel before. I know he's talked to John Fugelsang on Tell Me Everything. And someone who really knows a lot about the politics of the upper Ohio Valley. Welcome back to Sirius XM, John Russell.
John Russell 00:48
Well hey, Joe! Hello, everybody. I am very glad to be back and a warm welcome from that upper Ohio Valley.
Joe Sudbay 00:55
You write a newsletter called The Holler that as you describe it, it's for rednecks and hippies worldwide.
John Russell 01:08
Yeah, that's an allusion to the Willie Nelson audience. I'm a massive country music fan. The newsletter is out of Bridgeport, Ohio, just a minute from Wheeling, West Virginia, this sister city to the Grand Old Opry. So we're going for those rednecks and hippies.
Joe Sudbay 01:25
Well, it's interesting because you live in a congressional, it's something we've talked about before because I feel like, you know, obviously, the juxtaposition of Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, we know Pennsylvania has a really important Senate race and a race for governor this year. We also know, you know, people look at West Virginia through the lens of Joe Manchin, but then I think what's happened, John, is a lot of people have just decided that Ohio is a red state. And there's not much we can do. But there's actually a very, very competitive United States Senate race in your state. And as you have told us before, and I hope you tell us again, that there are a lot of voters who actually are swinging in Ohio, talk a little bit about let's go to them in the background, and then we'll work our way into the Senate race.
John Russell 02:21
Yeah, you know, eastern Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, we're kind of our own little region, but it's politically fascinating. And that bears on what you're talking about with Ohio. You know, one thing that people might not know, is, that we have the river valley congressional district.
That's Ohio's sixth district, its spans, just south of Youngstown, all the way down to around Kentucky. But what's interesting about that, is it has had the quickest and most intense shift in the entire country of all the congressional districts from voting union working-class Democrat to one of the reddest, you know, MAGA districts in the country. Nowhere else has that shift been quicker, or more intense than in eastern Ohio.
So I look at it as a kind of lens to look through the rest of the country and understand what's shifting around. And bringing that back to the Senate race that we have... we have Tim Ryan from Youngstown, from that area just talking about going up against grifter in chief, JD Vance who I really cannot wait to talk about.
Joe Sudbay 03:40
Yeah. All right. Well, let's dive in. Because JD Vance is a rich guy, a very rich guy supported heavily funded by Peter Thiel supported by Donald Trump barely won the primary a couple of weeks ago, Republican primary, and he is extreme on many issues. I mean, and like you said, a grifter. I mean, this is a guy who wrote a book called Hillbilly Elegy. And, you know, the way he writes the way he describes the, you know, the way you think of Hillbilly Elegy, it's almost like a term of derision. Well, JD Vance, is he from your part of the state, John, because he's kind of a suburban guy, isn't he?
John Russell 04:30
You know, the thing to remember about JD Vance, is that he really changed himself for a chance that money and political power. He grew up in a very similar area to mine. Although it's a lot more south towards Kentucky, but you know, about a third of Ohio is Appalachian Ohio, and the culture there is very similar. I grew up in a place that might not be, you know, very close to JD Vance about four hours, but it's very cultural, culturally similar.
And the reason you know I want to talk about him so much is we actually traded emails. Back before Donald Trump was elected before Hillbilly Elegy became such a media spectacle to kind of explain Donald Trump, I reached out to him to find out why two guys who grew up in a really culturally similar area ended up on such different sides of the political spectrum. And what I noticed back then, is that's so stark right now is that he was willing back then before there's any shot of the Senate race or any prominence or any Netflix deals before anybody knew his book was gonna blow up, he was willing to have a good-faith exchange about that conversation. And that's just not the man he is today when he's so close to power, which is unfortunate and really important for all of us to realize, in this election.
Joe Sudbay 06:06
It's really a fascinating story to show just the lengths people will go to, for power. And just yeah, he didn't even like Donald Trump. That was one of his big issues going into this Republican primary, and it was hurting him until Trump endorsed him. He spoke out against Trump back when you when you were emailing him. And now he's like, you know, the best friend. It's such a transition. So it's a disturbing transition, it seems to raise a lot of questions about the character of the man.
John Russell 06:46
Oh, that's for sure. Well, let's talk about that a little bit. Because, you know, one of the really, I think under-covered parts of his campaign, is how it is being run. It's really unlike any other campaign in that it is so reliant, I mean, all campaigns are so reliant on on Super PAC money, on billionaire money, of course, tied to Citizens United, but there's none like JD Vance's campaign.
It really was dragged out of obscurity by a single billionaire, a right wing billionaire Peter Thiel, who's $15 million super PAC is really the only reason why he (Vance) is the candidate now. And just recently, there has been an FEC complaint about the coordination between that super PAC run by a billionaire and Vance's campaign. Of course, they're not supposed to coordinate, they do it through a wink and nod. But what happened was there was 175 Page opposition research document so that JD Vance could know all of his vulnerabilities, and how they communicated that to the campaign, since they can't do it directly, they buried it in a public blog post.
So actually, one of the things we're going to cover on The Holler here, that's the newsletter, is combing through that 175-page document. But it's just full of things that paint a picture of how this person changed as they got closer and closer to power.
You mentioned how he is a Never Trump guy. Just in the first page of this thing… Let me read a couple of quotes that are from Vance himself. This was before he was running for Senate it was before there was any chance of him going into Washington. Vance said he is, "A Never Trump guy." He "will never vote for Trump." He, "loathes Trump." He said Trump's election was "terrible for the country." He said he voted of course for Evan McMullen and even teased voting for Hillary Clinton if it looked like Trump would win. And even put a tweet out there that said, "what percentage of the American population has @realDonaldTrump sexually assaulted?"
Does that sound like the man who's cozying up to Trump today? It really does not. But it shows how much this man is willing to forget where he came from, forget the voters he grew up with, and really cozy up to a dangerous political movement.
Joe Sudbay 09:22
One of the things I had, I've looked at some of that, dropping that a lot of that information came out after the primary, and a lot of folks swarmed it and pulled through it. One of the things that seemed that he was most cynical about to me, there's a lot of cynical stuff, is his SuperPAC, Our Ohio Renewal. Now the part of the state you're living in, in that whole general area is an area that has been hugely impacted by the opioid epidemic and you know, I, I spent a lot of time in Maine. Maine was another state that was hugely impacted by the opioid epidemic. And what we've learned is that Purdue pharma went to places like that, where there were mills and where they're, you know, people were in, they really pushed the drug, the Oxycontin, on the doctors, it was a really concerted effort and very profitable for them. And I read about it in a book called Dreamland by Sam Quinones. And then I read Dope Sick by Beth Macy, which is now on Hulu, in what's been interesting, John, just as an aside, I mean, I have friends working the issue, and I have had more people talk to me about the opioid epidemic and the role of Purdue Pharma because of what they saw watching that show on Hulu than it ever picked it up before. So kind of nationally, it wasn't a big issue, but locally in these areas, it was, it's been a huge issue. So he sets up a not-for-profit to help, and it does nothing. It does nothing. Talk a little bit about that. Because this to me, this is I found this completely enraging.
John Russell 11:14
I mean this, I really can't underscore this enough. It's what it's why I want to talk about his race. It's very personal. I grew up in Wellsville, Ohio, that's Columbia County. I had a public high school, my graduating class was 55 kids. More than 10 kids that I went to high school with have passed from opioid addiction. It is impossible to quantify how hard that hit this area. It's almost equally unimaginable how little accountability there has been with the things that have come to light with just how hard and intentionally companies like Purdue pushed this on everybody here.
Now, like you said, one of the things, you know, Vance styles himself a person who's going to fight this problem. He said it's the reason why he's coming back to Ohio. He started the Our Ohio Renewal nonprofit, you know, ostensibly to do that. The thing about that is it's been defunct since 2017. And records show that it's actually spent literally $0 on charitable activities and grants, but that's not even the thing that gets me the most about it.
What gets me the most is JD Vance styles himself, you know, a fighter against these companies that push pills on the region on people he grew up with. But he was an attorney at Sidley Austin LLP, that's a white-shoe law firm in Washington DC, at the same time, the lobbying arm of that law firm represented Purdue Pharma. He was there, while his employer was letting Purdue pharma and the Sacklers off of the hook for the very problem that he, you know, claims to care the most about.
It was things that you know, what else to say about it? The grift is monumental and the fact that he's willing to pose as something he's not is pretty... reprehensible in my book. I don't think he deserves anywhere close to the Senate.
Joe Sudbay 13:34
One other piece of that one of the people that he hired as a fellow for that entity was a woman named Sally Sitel. And Pro Publica wrote a piece that focused on her role as being part of Purdue Pharma's media playbook. And yeah, you know, I mean, you say you're going to help on this crisis that is gripping the community, you laid it out very clearly, John, how impactful it has been? And how you do it is to hire someone who has worked with Big Pharma? It's just like, the hypocrisy and the cravenness...
But the question I have, John is, does this resonate with voters when they hear this story? Will they hear this story? How do you think it will impact because JD Vance needs to have Republicans show up. He needs to do... he needs to win, and you're a part of Ohio. So how does the ability to tell this story about who he really impact him there?
John Russell 14:50
Yeah, you know, I think when voters hear the whole story about who JD Vance is, especially around here, they're not going to go for it. I mean, the hypocrisy on opioids is certainly enough to do it. The flip-flopping to get himself closer to power is enough to do it. I mean, even if you keep going back to how much he's changed, you know, when he was really attacking Donald Trump, you know, back before he realized that's going to help them he likened Trump's candidacy to heroin for his supporters. Right? So just that brazenness, when voters catch a whiff of that I don't think he's going to go anywhere. But it is a fair question.
When we're up against the megaphone of the right wing media network that's had billions invested into it and decades of time to hone its trade. It is a fair question of whether or not they're going to get the whole story. And that's really up to us. Everybody listening, using, you know, your own personal media network, reaching out to your friends and families making sure that you know, you know, you might know this information, but you definitely know folks who are going to be voting that might not know it. So everybody needs to be their kind of own media network there. And that's one of the things that can help help us.
But also, I think, you have to pass the smell test in politics. And I think when voters look at JD Vance, they can smell a venture capitalist, coastal elitist poser. When they see… His smell precedes him, right? I mean, this is a guy whose current living situation is a mansion that's valued at $1.4 million. It's on six parcels of land, it's got a carriage house, a pool, and a pool house. That's not how people are living in Bridgeport, Ohio, where I am.
And when you contrast that with Tim Ryan, a guy from Youngstown. You know, Tim is has been good on unions from the start. He has a normal person's net worth that might get you a modest house in Columbus, unlike a lot of people who go to DC and get very fat and happy. I think that comparison is going to be favorable. And, you know, hopefully, we send Sherrod Brown, a favorite, somebody he can work with in the Senate.
Joe Sudbay 17:27
Well, I think that's really important to remind folks, Sherrod Brown won in 2018. Democrats can win statewide in Ohio. And I mean, you don't get much more authentic than Sherrod Brown. I mean, I love the guy. And he's been on this channel a lot, too. And with Tim Ryan, like you said, he's been pro-union. And it was interesting. I saw one of his ads, it was actually a day I was hosting here, it was early May. And he ran an ad that said, if you want culture wars, I'm not your guy. And then at 8:32 that evening, Politico broke a story about the Roe case. And Tim Ryan was tweeting about abortion. He was leaning into it and pointing out it was the day before the primary, he was leaning into it, and pointing it out. And I think that's going to be important, you know, yes, you can talk on the economic issues, but you also have to rally your base, you have to rally the base statewide. And it's a complicated state. No, no doubt about it. But how, you know, at this point, we know it's still early, but we have seen a couple of polls. There was a public poll that had JD Vance up three and then I think there was another one that had Tim Ryan up too. That's like, that's a lot closer than people would have expected. So where do you think things are? And how does it play out?
John Russell 18:43
Going back to the one person who constantly wins in Ohio, despite the headwinds, and despite all the projections, or or even super PAC money, I mean, Sherrod Brown would beat all of those things.
But his formula was no secret. And Tim Ryan's a study of Sherrod Brown. You brawl for the working class, unapologetically. And you don't lie or beat around the bush on where you stand on other issues. I think if people know that you're being straight with them, and they can, and they know that they can count on you to be on their side. That's what it comes down to. I mean, most of the country has to go to work for a living if you do that you're working class. And are you going to trust JD Vance to be on your side more than a guy from Youngstown or than a guy who's you know, taking cues from Sherrod Brown?
I think that's an easy question to answer. And that's… if he sticks to it, and we really get the message out about how JD Vance has changed himself as he's gotten closer to power and about the difference between you know, probably calling himself a hillbilly and also living in a multimillion-dollar mansion, then I think it's going to go our way. But it's not a guaranteed thing by any means we ought to make sure the voters hear the right version of things because we know that there's an entire media network that's very well funded to give the wrong information out.
Joe Sudbay 20:23
Absolutely. Right. And he's well funded by a guy named Peter Thiel, you mentioned the $1.4 million mansion that Vance lives in Peter Thiel just bought a $13 million mansion in DC last year. I mean, he's a billionaire’s billionaire, Peter Thiel is, and that is, that is something you talk about. You talk about billionaires a lot on The Holler. Which is your newsletter. You did talk a little bit about that. Because I think that's important. You know, we we need to have this conversation, especially as we're seeing more and more and more of them think that they can buy up politicians.
John Russell 20:59
Yeah, you know, we're really at an inflection point in the country. I mean, folks can feel it in their bones. But yeah, we're, this statistic isn't even fresh. I mean, three men own more wealth than the bottom half of working Americans. It's just insane.
And just to put in context, in the context, of what a billionaire is, imagine spending $10,000 every day of your life. Okay, if you did that, for 274 years, you would reach a billion dollars, we have one person that's worth $250 billion. I mean, the scale of wealth inequality, which let's be honest, that came directly from the working class, nobody can earn $1 billion. That comes from power and control over hundreds of thousands of people that work for you, who clock in every day, who create the value for your company, and then the value that they create goes straight into your pockets.
We've had that for so many decades, that we, you know, we get around to ridiculous statistics that I just mentioned. I think people without hearing anything about that can feel it is true in the economy. I mean, there's a great point that Katie Porter made the other day on gas prices. We hear a lot of narratives about why they're so high but consider this.
How you know a company is price gouging is just by looking at their profits. If the cost of oil were going up, and that's why the price of gas was going up, then you wouldn't see profits of oil companies doubling, jumping exponentially, because they will be covering that increased price of oil. But what's happening is the profits of the oil companies are jumping exponentially. So we know that the cost of oil is holding steady, and they're just layering it on top and blaming everybody else so they can make an extra buck.
This, this system is what people feel. It is created by people like Peter Thiel, it is enabled by the people who Peter Thiel buys like JD Vance. They want that to continue. But it'll only continue if we let them really, and I think voters know that and we have a chance to stop it.
Joe Sudbay 23:32
Right. And it's why Republicans try and create issues to divide us. It's why they attack the queer community. It's why they attack immigrants. It's why they're making a big deal about gas right now. But it's really their buddies who are funding them in the oil industry who are giving it up. And how do we know that because the House took a vote last month on a price-gouging bill, and not one Republican voted for it. And it won't go anywhere in the Senate because Republicans would never go after their benefactors, their financial benefactors. John Russell, it is just it's really great to talk to you. Tell folks where they can find you. Online and for your newsletter.
John Russell 24:15
Yeah, you can subscribe for free to my Appalachian working-class newsletter. It's called The Holler. But The Holler is gonna come out every week. We'll talk about billionaires, and talk about unions, and class solidarity, and we'll even dig through these 175 pages of the dirty details on JD Vance. Go to theholler.co and sign up to follow along.
Joe Sudbay 24:45
It's excellent and you're on Twitter @heyjohnrussell. I subscribe to The Holler and I really get a kick out of it. And I'm glad you could come on and share some of your wisdom and yet we got to tell the story of JD Vance and you're gonna be telling it and we're gonna have to lift up the work you're doing to make sure it happens. Thanks for talking to us today, John.
John Russell 25:05
Joe, you do great work. I always love the show. Thank you so much for having me on. Can't wait till the next time.
Joe Sudbay 25:11
We'll do it again. Definitely. My name is Joe Sudbay. This is the Michelangelo Sinoreli show. We're gonna take a break. We'll be back in just a few minutes is the Michelangelo Sinoreli show on Sirius XM