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Pete Peterson

Braun Family Dean's Chair
Senior Fellow at Davenport Institute
School of Public Policy


Pete Peterson is a leading national speaker and writer on issues related to civic participation, and the use of technology to make government more responsive and transparent. He was the first executive director of the bi-partisan organization, Common Sense California, which in 2010 joined with the Davenport Institute at the School of Public Policy to become the Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership. Peterson has also consulted on several of these projects with local governments, and has directly facilitated public meetings.

Peterson has co-created and currently co-facilitates the training seminar, "Public Engagement: The Vital Leadership Skill in Difficult Times" a program that has been attended by over 3,000 municipal officials, and he also co-created and co-facilitates the seminar, "Gov 2.0: What Public Officials Need to Know," which explores the ways in which technology is changing local government processes. Peterson recently co-developed the new Professional Certificate, "Leading Smart Communities," with govtech practitioner Dr. Jonathan Reichental.

In 2017, SPP launched a new initiative titled the "American Project: On the Future of Conservatism", which is co-directed by Dean Peterson and Rich Tafel. The "Project" is a unique effort to gather scholars and activists from a variety points on the conservative spectrum to deliberate over, write about, and discuss the future of the conservative movement.

Peterson writes widely on public engagement for a variety major news outlets including the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, and San Francisco Chronicle, as well as numerous blogs. He is a regular guest on the "Politics Roundtable" with host Larry Mantle on KPCC radio. He has also helped write several survey-based reports on the subject, including "Testing the Waters: California's Local Officials Experiment with New Ways to Engage the Public" (in collaboration with the League of California Cities), and the "California Civic Health Index" (in collaboration with the National Conference on Citizenship). He contributed the chapter, "Place As Pragmatic Policy" to the edited volume, Why Place Matters: Geography, Identity, and Civic Life in Modern America (New Atlantis Books, 2014), and the chapter "Do-It Ourselves Citizenship" in the volume, Localism in the Mass Age (Wipf & Stock, 2018).

Pete has been a public affairs fellow at The Hoover Institution, and he serves on the Leadership Councils of the Public Policy Institute of California and California Forward, and on the boards of the Homeland Security Advisory Council and the Da Vinci Charter Schools.

Peterson was the Republican candidate for California Secretary of State in 2014.

Panels and Presentations (2017-Present):


  • Moderator, "Getting History Right" / Hosted by the National Steinbeck Center - WEBINAR (OCT 22, 2020)
  • Moderator, "Race & Disaster Response" / FEMA Region 9's "Readiness Day" WEBINAR (OCT 14, 2020)
  • Moderator, "Why Should Policy Leaders (and Policy Schools) Care about Loneliness?" / Hosted by Faith & Law - WEBINAR (OCT 2, 2020)
  • Panelist, "America's Public Forum: An American Civic Renaissance?" / Hosted by Braver Angels - WEBINAR (AUG 26, 2020)
  • Moderator, "Smart Cities for Dummies w/ Dr. Jonathan Reichental" / Hosted by SPP - WEBINAR (AUG 20 & 27, 2020)
  • Moderator, "When Policy Is Personal: Race & Public Safety" / Hosted by SPP - WEBINAR (JUN 25, 2020)
  • Panelist, "Social & Economic Wellbeing in California in Challenging Times" / Hosted by Legatum Institute - WEBINAR (JUN 24, 2020)
  • Moderator, "Rebuilding Better After COVID-19" / Hosted by C-Suite Quarterly - WEBINAR (JUN 3, 2020)
  • Moderator, "Coronavirus and Truth Decay" / Hosted by LA World Affairs Council - WEBINAR (MAY 29, 2020)
  • Panelist, "Vocation and Calling in a Post-Pandemic World" / Hosted by The Trinity Forum - WEBINAR (MAY 15, 2020)
  • Moderator, "The Role of Religion in Politics and the Role of Politics in Religion" / Hosted by SPP (Pepperdine, FEB 12, 2020)
  • Moderator, "The Lost History of Western Civilization" / "The Lost History of Western Civilization Conference" (Pepperdine, JAN 31, 2020)
  • Panelist: "The Threats to Free Speech on College Campuses" / 2019 State Policy Network's Annual Conference (Colorado Springs/OCT 31, 2019)
  • Speaker: "Why We Should Care about Loneliness" / 2019 TFAS Board Retreat (Colorado Springs/OCT 26, 2019)
  • Panelist: "Introducing the PIT-UN Network: Teaching GovTech in Policy Schools" / 2019 NASPAA Annual Conference (Los Angeles/OCT 17, 2019)
  • Panelist: "Introducing the PIT-UN Network: Teaching GovTech in Policy Schools" / 2019 NASPAA Annual Conference (Los Angeles/OCT 17, 2019)
  • Moderator: "Freedom to Speak: Threats to Campus Speech from the Administrative State" / SPP's "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Permission? Conference" (Costa Mesa, CA/OCT 16, 2019)
  • Moderator: "America's Loneliness Problem and the Challenge to Social Capital" / American Project's "Social Capital Summit" (Washington, DC/JUN 4, 2019)
  • Panelist: "The PIT-UN Network: Encouraging GovTech Education in Academia" / Code for America Conference (Oakland/MAY 29, 2019)
  • Interviewer: "How do we keep a sense of place as we grow? (with Rick Cole) / SPP's "A Home in California Conference" (Pepperdine/MAR 26, 2019)
  • Moderator: "Future of the Conservative Movement – A California View" / CPAC (Pepperdine/MAR 2, 2019)
  • Moderator: "GSE Reform: Will 2019 Finally Mean an End to the Conservatorship?" / SPP's "California to Capitol Hill Conversations" (Pepperdine-DC/FEB 19, 2019)
  • Speaker: "Viewpoint Diversity in Higher Education" / Liberty Forum of Silicon Valley (Mountain View, CA/JAN 8, 2019)
  • Panelist: "Beyond Polarization: Finding a Viable Center" / Niskanen Center's "The Center Right After Trump" Conference (Washington, DC/December 11, 2018)
  • Interview: "California politics and President George H.W. Bush"/  Townhall Review, Hugh Hewitt National Radio Show (Los Angeles/December 5, 2018) Listen
  • Presenter: "Public Engagement: The 21st Century Leadership Skill" / ELGL's "Pop Up Conference – Los Angeles" (Los Angeles/October 12, 2018)
  • Moderator: "Cross Sector Leadership in Crisis Management" / SPP's "Conference on Cross Sector Leadership" (Pepperdine/October 1, 2018)
  • Moderator: "The Future of American Retirement" / SPP's "California to Capitol Hill Conversations" (Pepperdine-DC/September 25, 2018)
  • Panelist: "Mapping the Future of California: Where and How Will Californians Live?" / California Association of Realtors' Real Estate Summit (Century City/September 6, 2018)
  • Moderator: "Finding a Public Policy Platform for a Conservatism of Connection" / SPP's "Toward a Conservatism of Connection" Conference (Pepperdine/June 29, 2018)
  • Moderator: "Viewpoint Diversity in American Higher Education" / SPP's "Toward a Conservatism of Connection" Conference (Pepperdine/June 28, 2018)
  • Presenter: "Public Engagement for Elected Officials" / California Local Elected Officials (CLEO) event (Pepperdine/May 12, 2018)
  • Presenter: "Public Engagement: A 21st Century Leadership Skill" / 2018 Community Forum" / City of La Quinta (La Quinta, CA/JAN 13, 2018)
  • Panelist: "If We Love Hawaii So Much, Why Don't We Vote?"/ Zocalo Public Square and University of Hawaii's Inouye Institute (Honolulu/NOV 29, 2017)
  • Moderator: "Women Leading in Elected Office" panel / "Women Leading in Politics & Policy Conference" w/ Pepperdine's Center for Women in Leadership (Pepperdine/ OCT 23, 2017)
  • Panelist: "What is 'Connected Conservatism'? / "The American Project on the Future of Conservatism" / (Pepperdine DC/ OCT 26, 2017)
  • Presenter: "Do-It-OURselves Citizenship: A Precious Constitutional Legacy" / Constitution Day at California Baptist University / (Riverside, CA / SEP 21, 2017)
  • Panelist: "Issues Debate on Electoral Reform" / USC's Dornsife Constitution Day Event / (Los Angeles / SEP 17, 2017)
  • Host: "An Examination of US Housing Policy" / Pepperdine panel with Fred Sands Institute / Pepperdine DC / JUL 24, 2017)
  • Judge: "2017 Awards for Innovation in American Government" / Hosted by the Ash Center at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government / (Cambridge, MA / MAY 17-18, 2017)
  • Presenter: "Liberty Bell? An Inspiring Story of Civic Participation" / RiseLocal Conference hosted by NewAmerica Foundation / (San Francisco / MAY 1, 2017)
  • Respondent: "Corruption on Steroids: The Story of Bell, CA" panel / 2017 Western Political Science Association Conference / (Vancouver, CA / APR 15, 2017)
  • Presenter: "By the Numbers: The Trump Election and the (Near) Future of American Politics" / 2017 Pepperdine Palm Springs Weekend / (Palm Springs, CA / MAR 25, 2017)


  • MPP, Pepperdine University 2007
  • BA, History, George Washington University, 1989

Selected Works

  • "It's Time for a 'Conservatism of Connection'" RealClear Policy, November 9, 2018
  • "How the Top Two Primary Can Strengthen Parties and California Voters" California Forward, June 1, 2018
  • "Where Bernie-nomics Goes to Die." RealClear Policy, November 22, 2016
  • "An Inverse Prop 8 for California?" RealClear Policy, October 18, 2016
  • "The Greatest Public Leadership Transition in American History" Real Clear Policy, July 1, 2016
  • "Trump, Sanders, and the Populist Anti-Policy Surge" Wall Street Journal, May 19, 2016
  • "DMV: Department of Motor . . . Voting?" Fox and Hounds Daily (blog), September 24, 2015
  • "The Alinsky Way of Governing". Wall Street Journal, April 9, 2015
  • "Top-Two Fracturing" City Journal California (blog), February 27, 2015
  • "A Party for Citizens and Customers" Fox and Hounds Daily (blog), February 2, 2015
  • "Republicans Need Their Own Rhetoric of Reliance" Los Angeles Times, January 24, 2015


  • American Conservatism
  • California Policy Issues
  • Civic Participation
  • Private/Civic/Public Sector Relationships
  • Technology in Government
  • Viewpoint Diversity in Higher Education