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The old saying that if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, might be a fitting motto for a newly organized group called the Progressive Legislative Action Network.
This week, David Sirota, a former Democratic Congressional aide and activist, and Steve Doherty, a former Montana Senate Minority Leader, announced the launch of PLAN, and high-wattage Democrats such as former vice presidential candidate John Edwards, Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer and former California House Speaker Willie Brown, will appear at an upcoming event for the fledgling organization.
The idea is to seed simultaneous policy efforts in the states, providing legislators with model bills that can be passed with minor adjustments essentially anywhere. Organizers hope this strategy will generate momentum and help refine tactics.
If that plan seems familiar, it is: It’s what the staunchly conservative
American Legislative Exchange Council has been doing for the last three decades.
Of course, Sirota and Doherty disagree strongly with the substance of what ALEC does — promoting free-market economics, legal reform, tax cuts and education reforms. But PLAN’s founders say they admire ALEC’s formula. Indeed, the news release’s headline explicitly credits ALEC as the inspiration for PLAN.
In an interview, ALEC Executive Director Duane Parde wished his new competitors well and said that if they have the right business model and “do good policy work, they may be able to make it.” But he added that the past is littered with liberal groups that have tried to mimic ALEC, and none of them, in his view, has become its equal.
The bittersweet admiration for ALEC among Democratic activists is tacit proof of that hypothesis.
Sirota and Doherty say they’re undeterred by the challenge of beating ALEC at its own game. They argue that it’s a perfect time to start organizing and energizing left-of-center state legislators. With the Democratic Party shut out of power in the White House and on Capitol Hill, why not head to the states to create the basis for a future renaissance?
“I think we’re facing a problem, that the Democratic Party apparatus in Washington is dominated by Washington, D.C., elites,” said Sirota, who has relocated to Doherty’s home state of Montana. “Frankly, our side as a whole will never succeed unless we really get out and use our grass-roots people and our state leaders.”
Sirota and Doherty aren’t alone. The idea of pursuing an aggressive outside-the-Beltway strategy is gaining currency among national Democrats.
“I think the most important thing about PLAN is that it’s a further indication that the states are being looked at with real seriousness on the progressive side,” said Kristina Wilfore, executive director of the left-of-center Ballot Initiative Strategy Center.
Bernie Horn, policy director for the Center for Policy Alternatives — a group whose mission overlaps with what PLAN intends to do — agrees that the timing is right for a state-focused approach.