“Policy Wonk” Duo Joe Nappi and Cael Shaw: CSU newest podcast phenomenon

Give two policy wonks some microphones and you are in for at least an hour’s worth of top-tier political discourse…at least.

Meet junior Joe Nappi and senior Cael Shaw. Two political science majors at Cleveland State University, each with their own fascinations and quirks, but when you put the two together, they make for a foolproof podcast duo.

The two students launched their weekly podcast, fittingly titled “Policy Wonk,” earlier this year as the ultimate forum for local, statewide, national and international news banter. With each 60 minute episode, they manage, without fail, to simultaneously inform and entertain the public as they address the most relevant, pressing issues within their communities.

Come on, get yourself some hosts that can do both!

Joe and Cael fatefully met through their political science major—specifically, in CSU Professor Dr. David L. Stack’s Congress & Legislative Process course (shoutout!). Eventually, they would cross paths in multiple major courses and become good friends with not only shared academic interests, but also shared political perspectives.

Both affiliated with the Democratic political party, their stances on a variety of hot-button issues including education and abortion overlap frequently, which makes their podcast-hosting energy so undeniably engaging and harmonious for any listener.

That is, if you excuse the differing outlooks on the complex ethics behind gerrymandering. Indeed, no duo can agree on every single minute thing, but that’s what discourse is all about, right?

Launched early February, Joe and Cael’s podcast “Policy Wonk” was first brought to the table by the duo after they both expressed interest in having a podcast of their own. Almost four months, eight episodes, two specials, one side-show (Shaw’s Talk), and a number of featured guests later, their podcast is a five-star hit on Spotify with an ever-growing crew and social media influence. And is that even a surprise? The hosts deliver every time, with class and chemistry!

Growing up, both Joe and Cael showed interest in politics. However, neither were set on the path of political science early-on. In fact, Joe went down a pipeline of college majors over the course of multiple semesters before finally settling on political science. Today, he uses his experience as a college student and adult to better understand the politics that shape his communities.

For example, Joe’s keen interest in public transit has made its way into episodes of Policy Wonk, as well as an opinion piece published by The Cauldron. Being an adult and realizing just how expensive it is to own a car ignited Joe’s passion for better funding, quality and accessibility of public transit, including the local RTA.

Another important component to Joe’s political interests is his unshakeable political fixation of electoral systems—more specifically, the changes he wishes to see and intends to work towards in his future career.

“I’m also a really big advocate for electoral reform in the U.S., because of the history of disenfranchisement of Black people and Native Americans–how they’re not properly represented in Congress,” Joe shared in an interview with The Cauldron, “but also changing it so that people have more choices, more parties, and just trying to make Congress look more like America.”

Cael, on the other hand, before he chose political science, originally wanted to enter the medical field. The 2020 murder of George Floyd, however, changed his mind.

“I realized that up until that point, I had used my voice more passionately for policy, whether it was climate or social justice or even weird things like taxation–which most sophomores in high school don’t really care about,” Cael said. “I had realized I was more passionate about those things than the human eyeball and stuff like that.”

However, Cael’s political fixation, mitigating climate change, had its roots much before his decision to study political science. He represented his high school’s environmental club as an officer and, up until today, wishes to work towards more environmentally-friendly public learning institutions.

Policy Wonk is not just an outlet for Joe and Cael’s liberal tendencies and tangents, but ultimately, a forum for political discourse, inclusive of varying political perspectives. Our hosting duo is interested in having a conservative voice join them for episodes in the future.

“I don’t agree with Republicans on most things, but if you can see that both sides just want what they think is best for their communities and the country, I think you’re gonna kind of deescalate all the vitriol that we’ve seen in the past 20 years.” Joe said.

In fact, Joe and Cael find that Democrats and Republicans are capable of finding common ground more often than many believe, particularly when it comes to local community issues. 

“Sometimes the answer to a problem is something new, liberalism. Sometimes the answer is what we’ve been doing, conservatism.” Cael shared. “Most of the time the answer is somewhere in between. And I feel like a conversation between us and an educated conservative would lead to agreement.”

Currently, there are no conservatives lined up to join our beloved hosting duo. However, they are excited to welcome a conservative onto the show!

By facilitating an environment for political discourse, the Policy Wonk cast and crew hope to shine a light on the issues affecting their communities. After all, engaging with the political scene, they feel, is important, and in fact, practically unavoidable.

“I challenge anyone I meet that says they don’t care about politics,” Joe shared. “Name something that the government isn’t involved in. You can’t, because it’s involved in everything, for better or for worse.”

Victoria Fields, the Policy Wonk crew’s triple threat who uses any pronouns, works behind the scenes on the podcast’s graphic design, PR and equipment management. In fact, the official logo is under Victoria’s name. However, Victoria has been featured in a number of Policy Wonk episodes to offer their two cents on whatever issue is at the table. She, too, shared her insights on the importance of being informed politically:

“If you’re not paying attention to politics, you wouldn’t be able to tell that we are in a time where we’re regressing, actually. We’re going backwards.”

Cael added that the responsibilities of a citizen are not limited to casting a ballot each election, and that those who are willingly disengaged don’t have the right to complain.

“Talk to your legislators, be involved with your local party, be involved in your local community. I’m a firm believer that you don’t have the right to complain if you’re not involved. And a lot of people just complain.”

If you tune in to an episode of Policy Wonk, you can guarantee an equally entertaining and informative political experience with the most relevant, engaging discourse. In fact, Joe and Cael always make sure to have their laptops in front of them during a recording session in order to access any updates and changes with regard to the issues on the episode’s agenda.

Now, what better podcasting duo can you ask for?

You can follow Policy Wonk Productions on social media and check out the Policy Wonk website.

Author: Mays Turabi

Avid writer, coffee-drinker, art lover. Oh, and Editor-in-Chief for The Cauldron.

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