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State DFLers look to form progressive caucus

Some legislators don’t want the Leg. to lose sight of progressive values.

As the 2013 legislative session approaches, some Democratic-Farmer-Labor legislators are talking about forming a progressive caucus.

Though still in the early stages, the caucus would be part of a broader national movement headed by the Progressive States Network, a group that works to organize state and national leaders to advance progressive public policy.

Six Minnesota DFL members attended the organization’s annual Legislative Leadership Retreat this month, where they discussed progressive issues and attended sessions on “building progressive power.”

“We think that it’s really important to move forward an agenda in the Legislature that is progressive in nature,” said Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, who attended the PSN retreat. Hornstein laid out tax fairness, climate change and workers’ rights as some of the main points.

“We want to make sure that these issues are front and center for the coming Legislature and beyond,” he said.

A caucus — like the potential progressive one in Minnesota — is a group of legislators that organizes to pursue similar ideological policy issues.

The caucus would be similar to the U.S. Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chaired by Rep. Keith Ellison, DFL-Minn. The group formed in 1991 and has 75 U.S. House members and one U.S. senator.

“I assume that they would try to stake out positions on issues — budget issues and other issues — that would maybe be a little bit different than just the generic DFL,” said Hamline University political science professor Joseph Peschek.

Hornstein said the idea is still in the early stages and isn’t fully formed yet.

“It’s really kind of a theoretical idea,” Hornstein said. “We haven’t discussed leadership, mission, agenda of any kind.”

Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, who also attended the PSN retreat, said he would want to be involved in a progressive caucus if one is formed “for the purpose of staying in conversation with folks about progressive values and progressive issues that are a benefit to Minnesotans — job creation, an economy that works for everyone and expanding democracy so that everyone is included.”

DFL Reps. Phyllis Kahn and Tina Liebling and Sens. Jeff Hayden and Sandy Pappas also attended the conference.

Kahn said it’s important to have conversations about issues so the public better understands that progressive policy isn’t being ignored.

“I think part of the problem we had in 2010 was the disappointment that people had with the promises of Obama compared to what he tried to deliver,” Kahn said, “and I think people have to understand that that’s a possibility here, too, [with] the Legislature.”

Legislative DFL leaders have said they will focus primarily on the budget and put policy issues on the back shelf.

“I think the leaders are probably cautious and might be concerned that they don’t want to position themselves too far to the left,” Peschek said.

Kahn and Hornstein said they think other legislators would be interested in joining if a caucus is formed.

“I think there’s probably a large number of legislators that would potentially be interested in something like this,” Hornstein said.

Peschek said if formed, it will be interesting to see the make-up of the caucus.

All five legislators, besides Liebling, represent the metro area.

“If they’re just Twin Cities liberals, that could run the risk of them being seen as not representative of the whole state,” Peschek said, “but if they were able to be more inclusive and have a progressive caucus that had members from outstate Minnesota as well, I think that would be another thing.”

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