The challenge for progressives is to develop a clear, specific and focused agenda, and communicate these priorities to every Massachusetts State Representative and State Senator
Guest post from State Senator Jamie Eldridge — Two weeks ago, I attended the Progressive States Network (PSN) annual conference in Washington, DC. Through PSN, progressive state legislators from across the United States are connected to policies that make real differences in people’s lives, including in education, immigration reform, and health care. My State House legislative work on corporate tax credit transparency, green jobs, and improved access to lending to small businesses and working families (through a state bank) has been strengthened by my collaboration with PSN.
Over one hundred progressive legislators, from over 30 states, made this year’s conference its largest yet, an encouraging sign for the next generation of progressive leaders: among these legislators are tomorrow’s Governors, US Senators and Representatives, and perhaps even a President.
With good reason, participants and speakers were energized, hopeful and emboldened by the November 6th election results:
- Gay marriage was made legal in Maine, Maryland, and Washington state.
- The ranks of progressives grew substantially in the U. S. House of Representatives–the Congressional Progressive Caucus is expected to have between 90 and 100 members, making it the largest caucus in the House. By contrast, only 14 Blue Dog Democrat remain.
- Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy took retiring Senator Joe Lieberman’s seat, giving the U.S. Senate another clear progressive voice.
- Krysten Sinema, a young progressive and former lawmaker, was elected to Congress in not-so-progressive Arizona.
Many of these new members ran populist campaigns, focused on raising taxes on the wealthy, and clearly opposing cuts to Social Security and other domestic programs.
One of these newly elected progressives is, of course, Massachusetts’s own Elizabeth Warren, whose stature as a national progressive voice was inescapable at PSN. Many in attendance expressed their high hopes that Elizabeth Warren will lead the fight on issues like opposing cuts to domestic spending, taking on Wall Street and Big Oil, and cutting our military budget.
Massachusetts had progressive victories at the state level, too. Democrats picked up four seats in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, and a number of Democratic seats will be filled by progressives, including Mary Keefe of Worcester and Aaron Vega of Holyoke. Democrat Kathleen O’Connor Ives’s victory in the First Essex Senate district brings far more progressive values than her predecessor–and in a region commonly thought as “conservative.”
TIME TO SET THE AGENDA NOW
All of these victories are incredibly exciting, so what now? Elections are promises; legislation is where these promises are meant to be kept.
After Election Day, legislators start a new two-year legislative session. Between now and Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013,, legislators begin meeting with constituents, advocates and their colleagues to discuss what legislation to file, and what legislative priorities to focus on. There are always dozens of issues that we could tackle (I outline my priorities here), and legislation for the next session, on virtually every public policy concern, will be filed by mid-January. The challenge, then, for progressives across the state is to develop a clear, specific and focused agenda, and communicate these priorities to every State Representative and State Senator.
We have enjoyed two weeks of well-deserved celebration. Now it’s time is to put that energy back into organizing for what progressives across Massachusetts want from the leaders they worked so hard to elect. Progressive activists across the state are beginning to discuss their policy priorities for Massachusetts in the next session (and in Washington for our federal representatives). Progressive legislators have been starting these conversations, too.
We have seen time and again that it is not enough to elect good progressives–we need to give them a political mandate from the grassroots, so that they may fight the big monied special interests and, as Governor Patrick says, “grow a backbone” necessary to do the right thing.
- As Elizabeth Warren makes the transition to sitting U.S. Senator, where will she stand on the proposed cuts to domestic spending, the military budget, and government programs to reduce unemployment and get people back to work?
- In his last two years as our governor, will Governor Patrick strike a bold pose and connect with his grassroots supporters to pass progressive taxation and a stronger social safety net for all residents?
- With more progressives legislators in both the Massachusetts House and State Senate, what bills and public policies can be advanced next session?
Once elected, the political system can often weaken the progressive edge of even the most promising candidate. The grassroots must hold them to their promises, and help make the progressive agenda central to the conversation on policy.
Throughout the fall, progressives organizations across the state have been meeting and discussing what the progressive agenda should be for the next two years. For example, Progressive Massachusetts is calling organizers, activists and concerned citizens to meet locally across the state–to celebrate, strengthen our progressive network, and take action to push for progressive policy. If you’d like to organize a Progressive Mass meeting of your own, or sign up to attend one in your area, go to http://progma.us/elexnintoaxn
If you’re a Massachusetts progressive, now is the time to advocate for the policies you care most about–the reasons that compelled you to work so hard for progressive candidates.
And if you’re a progressive legislator, we must work now to on a strong and clear agenda, so that we can hit the ground running in January on making a more progressive Massachusetts.
Senator Jamie Eldridge is a
progressive Democrat from