Man with the PLAN

BY Matt Singer

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Brian Schweitzer’s election as governor of Montana was preceded by years of work. The efforts included the development of a solid economic agenda, a coordinated communications strategy and the improvement of grassroots organizing. Now, some of the key architects of Schweitzer’s victory are teaming up with other progressives on a new project to solidify gains at the state level.

The Progressive Legislative Action Network (PLAN) will soon launch in Seattle, to coincide with the annual meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures. The new organization is devoting itself to providing solid public policy research to progressive state legislators. But PLAN is also going to take it one step further by providing assistance to legislators, their staffs and grassroots advocacy organizations to ensure that progressives achieve success at the state level.

Schweitzer, along with former Vice Presidential candidate John Edwards and former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, will be featured speakers at the inaugural event. In the wings, steering the organization, will be some of the same people who helped land Schweitzer in the governor’s office.

“No one argues that we progressives need to be doing a better job of countering right-wing organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council [ALEC],” the corporate-backed conservative action network for state legislators, says In These Times Senior Editor David Sirota, who worked on Schweitzer’s campaign and is now co-director of PLAN.

Sirota says PLAN will work alongside other progressive organizations but focus more on aggressive advocacy, working side-by-side with legislators and state-based grassroots organizations.

“The key to this,” Sirota says, “is getting outside of Washington, D.C., and really starting to use our state leaders as high-profile spokespeople. For too long, progressives have been marginalized by the insulated Beltway establishment that says the only place where action happens is in Washington, D.C. That’s just not true. We have hundreds of incredible state legislators who are talented, driven and progressive–and it is time for their voices to be heard and their work to take center stage.”

In addition to Sirota, PLAN’s leadership includes Steve Doherty, a former Montana state senator; Dave McAlpin, a Montana state legislator who directed Montana Democrats’ coordinated campaign in 2004; Joel Barkin, former press secretary to Congressman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.); Adam Schafer, of the National Conference of Environmental Legislators; and Lisa Seitz Gruwell, political director for Andy and Deborah Rappaport.

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Matt Singer, Communications Director for the Progressive States Network, is a writer and activist in Montana.

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