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Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Recap of the PLAN Kickoff

Today was a very busy, but also exciting, day.

As I blogged earlier, today was the kickoff for PLAN - the Progressive Legislative Action Network, a new organization that's going to provide the resources to state legislators to enact progressive policies on a local, state level.

PLAN's kickoff was this week here in Seattle because this week, the Emerald City is playing host to the NCSL, or the National Conference of State Legislatures.

State legislators from across the country have come to Seattle to participate in the conference, so it made good sense for the PLAN kickoff to be the same week and in the same place.

Having participated in the event and been there firthand, I have to say that I think the event was a resounding success.

One of our greatest challenges is putting together the kind of infrastructure we need to challenge conservatives. PLAN will help to meet this challenge in the coming years by working at a state level.

The event kicked off at midday with a luncheon and a welcome from PLAN's co-chairs, Steve Doherty and David Sirota. Both talked about what PLAN is and what PLAN will seek to accomplish in the long term future.

PLAN will provide progressive state legislators with model state legislation, crafting general policy proposals that can then be custom tailored to individual states.

PLAN will also offer a war room of policy specialists, a database of experts who can answer tough questions, and it will work with the grassroots on the issues.

There were at least 300 state legislators, guests, and other attendees there to hear the guest speakers and panels.

After the inital introduction, we heard from Montana's newly elected governor, Brian Schweitzer. Brian's speech was full of energy and optimism and he talked about all the successes of Montana's recent legislative session.

Schweitzer noted that the Montana state legislature (which is now controlled by Democrats) had, among other things, passed an expanded smoking ban, created a health insurance program to help small businesses, balanced the budget, and managed to keep a surplus of revenues.

"In Montana, we will have a government that commits to the least and the last," Schweitzer said proudly during his opening speech.

He also talked about renewable energy - wind and solar energy, as well as energy independence, mentioning the decades-old and under-utilized technology for converting coal into gas and diesel fuels with zero emissions.

He told attendees not to look in the rearview mirror, and proclaimed, "You are the future," saying that progressives will not be followers - they will be leaders.

Jackie Speier, who has done an admirable job of fighting the "Governator" in California, was the master of ceremonies and introduced everyone. She briefly mentioned George Lakoff and his widely read book, Don't Think of an Elephant, which she said helped inspire her to take a stand against Arnold.

She also introduced Senator John Edwards, who followed Schweitzer. Edwards was the keynote speaker for PLAN's kickoff.

Edwards delivered a rousing, post-campaign, stump-style speech that stressed the importance of fighting for traditional American values and addressing the huge poverty crisis that faces us both here and abroad.

"The American people want strength in leadership," Edwards said. He added that "Strength does not come from yesterday's poll or yesterday's focus group," a statement supporting Lakoff's assertions that you win on values, not picking "hot issues" that result from research.

Edwards said the American people wanted to know, "What will Democrats do? What will they fight for?" if elected to office. Like Schweitzer, he also made a point about leadership: "Our job is not to follow - our job is to lead."

And he noted that PLAN is laying the groundwork for progressives to win in the future.

I met John Edwards briefly after he finished his remarks and thanked him for coming to Washington State. His appearance was apparently newsworthy, as the AP has published an article about PLAN's kickoff:
Democrats can build the party's national strength by pushing their policies in statehouses around the country, 2004 vice presidential candidate John Edwards told a group of legislators Tuesday.

Edwards, speaking at a luncheon for a new liberal policy group, said voters will reward lawmakers who advocate a cornerstone of Democratic ideology: fighting poverty and standing up for the poor.

"We know what we believe. We know what we stand for. But the American people need to hear it from us," the former U.S. senator told a group of about 300 at a waterfront convention center.

Edwards' speech highlighted a program put on by the Progressive Leadership Action Network, a group that aims to rival the clout of established right-leaning think tanks such as the American Legislative Exchange Council.
Of course, the article had to express both points of view, so Washington State Republican Chair Chris Vance was asked what he thought:
Chris Vance, the Washington state Republican Party chairman, said Democrats' late attempt to counter ALEC's influence reveals their weakness.

"As usual, they are two steps behind. This whole situation is a perfect metaphor for what has happened in American politics - conservatives have become the party of ideas, the party on offense," Vance said.
Did you expect Vance to say anything else? Well, those days are coming to an end, Chris. Progressives are organizing and we're putting our money and ideas where our mouths are. We're the ones who will be playing offense and making our ideas and vision a reality.

We don't need thirty years to build up infrastructure for our side. We can do it in less time if we're smart and motivated. And that's just what we're doing.

After Edwards spoke, the first strategy session was held, entitled "Jobs, Wages, & Growth." We heard from Center for American Progress CEO John Podesta, who is building a key part of the infrastructure for our side to fight back.

Podesta served as moderator for the other panelists and gave the introductory speech. He was followed by Joel Rogers from the University of Wisconsin, who gave a wonderful presentation about how progressives can get America's economy off "the low road" and onto "the high road".

Rogers was witty, sharp, and concise in his presentation and had attendees laughing almost every five minutes at one of his quips or a funny image from his presentation.

And we heard from Andy Grossman, the director of Wal*Mart Watch, which is fighting to get Wal*Mart to change its bad business practices.

Brian Schweitzer also came back to speak again and told us a couple of good stories, one connected to Wal*Mart - about how the company is forcing companies in other industries (its suppliers) to do its bidding, or it won't do business with them.

After this panel discussion, we had a short break, followed by a second strategy session focusing on elections and ways to increase voter participation. Topics included Republican vote suppression tactics, registering people to vote, voter turnout, and the elections process.

Following the second strategy session, the conference wrapped up, and people began leaving. During the conference, I also got the opportunity to meet Brian Schweitzer and John Podesta, as well as nationally known bloggers like Bob Brigham, of Swing State Project and BlogPAC fame.

I spotted a number of other Washingtonians at the conference: my own state representative, Larry Springer, Representative Ross Hunter, Representative Jim McIntire, Senator Lisa Brown (the State Senate's Majority Leader), Dean Nielsen from Progressive Majority, and others.

Lynn Allen of Evergreen Politics also attended the conference with me. I think I can say with confidence that she also thoroughly enjoyed the PLAN kickoff.

This organization has tremendous value because of its great potential. It will surely become an invaluable asset to state legislators across the country, who will be able to depend on it for research, resources, advice, and other support.

We hope we'll be seeing PLAN grow bigger over the next few years.

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