Young elected officials network

PFAW Foundation Honors Young, Progressive Elected Officials

Saint Paul City Councilman Melvin Carter and Wisconsin State Senator Chris Larson

Last weekend, about 200 young, progressive elected officials gathered in Washington at the sixth annual convening of PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network. The Network, which includes over 600 state and local elected officials from across the country, honored five of its own who have done exceptional work in their communities over the past year.

City Councilman Melvin Carter of St. Paul, Minnesota was awarded the YEO Network’s Barbara Jordan Leadership Award. The award, named after PFAW Foundation co-founder Barbara Jordan, honors “a young elected official who has shown dedication and support to the YEO Network and has a distinguished record of public service to their community and the progressive movement at large.”

Carter, who is now the YEO Network’s Minnesota state director, became involved in politics after his brother was turned away from a Florida polling place in the 2000 elections. As an elected official, he has continued to work for voting rights and for equal rights and opportunity in his community. In 2009, Carter founded the Frogtown/Summit-University Community Investment Campus, a partnership between city, county, school, and community leaders to support high quality education outcomes for all children. Another priority of his is transit equity: he’s working to create opportunities for local businesses and affordable housing along a planned light rail line in St. Paul.

PFAW Foundation’s president, Michael Keegan, presented the Presidential Award of Distinction to Wisconsin State Senator Chris Larson, one of the state senators who left the state this winter to try to prevent a union-busting law from being passed. Larson has been a strong voice for working people in Wisconsin and around the country.

South Dakota State Senator Angie Buhl was awarded the YEO Network Leadership Award for her deep commitment to the YEO Network and People For the American Way Foundation. Sen. Buhl, who is the youngest member of South Dakota’s legislature, is a graduate of both of PFAW Foundation’s youth leadership programs, Young People For and the Front Line Leaders Academy.

Florida State Representative Dwight Bullard was awarded the YEO Progressive Leadership Award for his commitment to fighting for justice and opportunity in the Florida legislature. Representative Bullard is a fierce advocate for both education and immigration reform.

Massachusetts State Representative Sean Garballey was awarded the YEO Community Service Award for his commitment to servant leadership. In 2009, Rep. Garballey donated his share of a pay increase to state legislators to charity, because he did not believe it was fair for his pay to increase while the staff that works tirelessly to support him was being forced to take furloughs. He has also been active in supporting recovery efforts in Haiti after last year’s devastating earthquake.

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Wisconsin Republicans Challenge The Rule Of Law To Push Anti-Union Agenda

After the Republican-controlled Wisconsin legislature rushed-through Governor Scott Walker’s union-busting legislation, the District Attorney of Dane County, which covers the state capital, sued to block the law’s implementation. According to the District Attorney, the legislature violated the state’s open meetings law by failing to give the public 24 hours notice before meeting about the bill, resulting with a judge issuing a temporary restraining order on the bill’s implementation. But the GOP leaders of the legislature decided to publish the bill despite the judge’s ruling, creating immense confusion about whether the anti-union legislation is the law or not. While the judge did not explicitly bar the Legislative Reference Bureau from publishing the law, the clear intent of the judge’s order was to prevent the law from being implemented.

CNN reports on the ensuing legal crisis and the reactions of labor organizers and State Senator Chris Larson, a member of PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network, who are leading the charge against the GOP’s latest power grab:

The litigious and contentious battle in Wisconsin over collective bargaining rights has a new twist -- the publishing of the law despite a judge's order against such a move.

That left lawmakers and observers wondering Saturday whether the law had taken effect.

This latest drama started Friday afternoon when the state's Legislative Reference Bureau published the controversial act that curbs the collective bargaining rights of most employees.



The Wisconsin State Employees Union Council 24 blasted the publishing of the law.

"By attempting to unilaterally publish their bill eliminating the rights of hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites, (Gov.) Walker and his cronies have unquestionably violated the laws of this state to further their extreme overreach for absolute power over our state's people."

Democratic state Sen. Chris Larson said, "The courts are going to step in again and say, 'No, you have to follow the letter of the law' and again they broke it. ... I think it's pretty shameless of Walker and the Republicans."

Update: Gov. Walker has announced that he will begin implementing the anti-union law despite the legal uncertainties. In response, state Democratic chair Mike Tate said:

"Are there any laws that yet bind Scott Walker and the Republicans? With the arrogance of the zealot, they act as if they were laws unto themselves. Ultimately, our Constitution and our courts will protect us from their warped ideologies, but in the meantime, our democracy in Wisconsin is being flayed."

Update 2: (AP) MADISON, Wis. (3/30):

A Wisconsin judge has ruled that there should be no further implementation of a law taking away nearly all collective bargaining rights for public workers.

Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi said Tuesday that her earlier restraining order saying the law shouldn't be enacted had either been ignored or misinterpreted.

Sumi stopped short of saying the law was not already in effect. She says she will take more testimony on that issue.

The Legislative Reference Bureau posted the law on a legislative website Friday, leading Gov. Scott Walker's administration to declare the law was in effect.

Sumi revised her original March temporary restraining order blocking the secretary of state from publishing the law, which is typically the last step before it becomes effective.

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Why Unions Matter

"We believe collective bargaining is a civil right," said Larson. Getting rid of the mechanism that "has helped build the middle class for over fifty years is like saying, 'Seat belts have done such a great job at saving lives that we don't need to wear them any more.'"

--Wisconsin state Sen. Chris Larson, a member of PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network, tells The Atlantic why he’s fighting to keep his state’s public employee unions alive.
 

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Wisconsin YEO Chris Larson Stands Up To GOP Power Play

Republicans in the Wisconsin State Senate announced that they will penalize the fourteen boycotting Senators by imposing a $100-a-day fine and taking away their parking spaces, but the chamber’s Democrats are determined to block the GOP’s radical anti-labor legislation. In an interview with Talking Points Memo, Democratic State Sen. Chris Larson described the group’s resolve not to budge in the face of Republican threats. Sen. Larson is a member of PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network, and is working closely with PFAW to build momentum to stop Governor Scott Walker’s plan to quash workers’ rights. He makes clear that the public is increasingly turning against Walker’s plans, and that the Republicans’ latest move only shows their desperation to quickly pass their extreme legislation:

"They've become increasingly desperate with these petty things that they're throwing out there," Larson said. "The next thing they're gonna throw out is we're gonna have to say 'Mother, may I' before anybody can talk."

TPM asked Larson, who said he was at a rest stop in Illinois, whether he was prepared to pay the fines. "You know, it's not about us, it's not about the finances," said Larson. "It's about the cuts that they're doing to workers rights, it's about the cuts that they're doing to educators, and throwing out Medicare, Medicaid and Seniorcare, and trying to change these provisions."

Larson also was not entirely sure whether the fines were legally permissible. "First of all, it's in the Constitution that you cannot diminish a person's wages," said Larson. "But it's beside the point. The fact that they're trying to hold our paychecks and have these fines, it's petty and it's not impacting anybody. We had a meeting and nobody flinched at it. It was just like, wow, he's [Fitzgerald] looking really desperate."

Later in the interview, TPM noted to Larson that the fines appeared to be based on a provision in the state Constitution that the legislature "may compel the attendance of absent members in such manner and under such penalties as each house may provide."

"Well, we'll have to see when we go back," said Larson. "We'll go over it with some lawyers. The fact is, it's giving - it's not making us think about it twice. We're focused on preserving workers' rights, preserving the way of life in Wisconsin without these huge cuts to rights. That's what we're focused on.

"If they want to throw out fines, if they want to call us names and if they want to take over our staff, they're doing everything they can to ignore what the real issue is, and that's that they're going too far with their power grab. The public is crying foul and calling them out on their power grab, and they're just ignoring it."

He also added: "What they do to us is of little consequence, compared to what they're doing to themselves right now."
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Updates from the Front Lines of Wisconsin

Below you will see live Facebook updates from State Rep. Kelda Roys of Wisconsin, a member of People For the American Way Foundation's Young Elected Officials Network. She has been repeatedly denied entry to the state Capitol as a result of the protests against Gov. Walker's attempt to obliterate Wisconsin's public employee unions under the guise of fiscal reform.

UPDATE:

Check out Rep. Roys' coverage of the protests: 

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Revitalizing Neighborhoods: The YEO Network Tours Baltimore

Last week, People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network gathered in Baltimore to talk about ways states and municipalities can address the foreclosure crisis and promote neighborhood stabilization. On Saturday, 40 of the elected officials toured Baltimore to find out about creative ways city residents are working to revitalize troubled neighborhoods.

Baltimore's Fox 45 News met up with the group and interviewed Andrew Gillum, the YEO Network's director:

The first stop of the tour was the Whitelock Community Farm in the Reservoir Hill area. Whitelock, on a formerly vacant commercial lot, is tended by neighborhood residents. It sells produce to neighbors and donates food to a local soup kitchen.

 

 Whitelock Farm’s Thor Nelson shows YEOs around the farm’s greenhouse:

 

 In Central Baltimore, an area that had been losing residents…

...became the site of a brand new affordable housing for artists connected to the nearby Maryland Institute College of Art:

Charlie Duff of Jubilee Baltimore, one of the developers behind the project, showed the YEOs around one of the apartments:

Finally, the YEOs visited Load of Fun Gallery, an arts venue in Central Baltimore that uses the graffiti-covered alley behind it to host performances and events:


 

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Members of PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network Honored in Time’s “40 Under 40”

Four members of People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network have been included in Time Magazine’s “40 Under 40” list of “the rising stars of American politics”.

At 36, Julián Castro, Mayor of San Antonio, is the youngest mayor of a Top 50 American city. He’s been a member of the YEO Network since it’s founding, when he was a city councilman—he was elected mayor last year. In his first year in office, among other accomplishments, he sealed a multimillion dollar deal for alternative energy research in the city. You can read more about Julián in a lengthy New York Times Magazine profile from May.

Hannah Pingree, 33, the speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, was also one of the original members of the YEO Network. Here’s what she had to say to Time about why she’s in politics:

"I love politics. Even in these times, politics is hard, the word 'politics' isn't popular, and politicians aren't the most poplar people. But being able to serve in the stage legislature, where a lot of the work we do is bipartisan, there are decent people on both sides of the aisle. You can make a difference. I've been able to pass a lot of bills or make an impact on the people I grew up with: fishermen in my district, people who need good housing, environmental policy that impacts kids' health. If I hadn't been able to do that in politics, I would have given up a long time ago. All the challenges and, sometimes, meanness and frustration you encounter in politics is worth it, if you can make good things happen."

Bakari Sellers became the youngest member of the South Carolina General Assembly at the age of 22. Now 26, he’s earned a law degree and continues to be a voice in the legislature for the ‘have-nots’ in his community. He told BET last year, "My goals again are relatively simple, representing a very poor and rural district. I want to ensure all South Carolinians access to a first-class education and ensure access to quality health care.”

Kyrsten Sinema, 34, is a member of PFAW Foundation’s Board of Directors as well as the YEO Network. A member of the Arizona House of Representatives, she’s running for a seat in the State Senate this fall. Kyrsten’s been a leader in Arizona on gay rights, responsible immigration policy, and economic development. Here’s her debate with Sherriff Joe Arpaio about Arizona’s draconian immigration law in April:
 

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YEO Network Member Kyrsten Sinema Discusses Arizona Immigration Law

Arizona State Representative Kyrsten Sinema, in Washington for the annual convening of PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network, went on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal on Saturday to discuss Arizona’s new immigration law. Watch the full clip here:

Sinema, recipient of last year’s Young Elected Officials Network Barbara Jordan Leadership Award, has been a strong voice in opposition to Arizona’s new law, and in support of real, comprehensive immigration reform. You can watch her debate Maricopa County Joe Arpaio on CNN here, and discuss the new law with Keith Olbermann here.

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Big Money in State Elections

The PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network is gathering this week in Washington, in part to discuss how to work on national progressive issues on the state and local levels.

A panel this afternoon discussed local activism to fix the Supreme Court’s decision to grant corporation’s huge power to influence elections—and the outsized impact that corporate money can have on state- and local-level campaigns with small budgets.

Jeffrey Clements, and attorney who helped found the advocacy group Free Speech for the People, brought up the case of Montana, whose nearly hundred-year-old ban on corporate campaign contributions and expenditures is being challenged in court in the wake of Citizens United. In 2008, the average winning state senate candidate in the state spent just $17,000. An infusion of corporate cash into the state's elections would have a dramatic impact, Clements argued.

Massachusetts State Senator Jamie Eldridge, a member of the YEO Network, came to the issue with an interesting perspective—he is the only “Clean Elections” candidate to have ever won office in Massachusetts (he first ran for a seat in the state House of Representatives one year in which Massachusetts had a Clean Elections public financing program).

“When I first ran, I was entirely publicly financed,” he said, “I didn’t have to raise money and could go door-to-door talking to voters about what they cared about.”

State elections with unlimited contributions from corporations and individuals aren’t uncharted territory—six states currently have no contribution limits at all—but it will be interesting to see how campaigns in states like Montana change if the rules that candidates have been playing by for decades disappear.
 

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Progressives Make Significant Gains at the Local Level

Among the mixed results from high profile races last week, progressives had many reasons to celebrate last Tuesday with the election of young progressives at the local and state level. Several members of our Young Elected Officials Network (YEO Network), the first national program singularly-focused on providing a network of support to young progressive state and local elected officials age 35 and under, were re-elected to their posts while others were successful in their runs for elevated positions.

Among them:

  • City Commissioner Sean Becker was elected Mayor of Bozeman, Mont.
  • Tompkins County Legislator Nathan Shinagawa won re-election to his post with 91 percent of the vote.
  • Alderwoman Rebekah Gerwirtz beat her opponent handily. She received 76 percent of the vote to his 24 percent.

As results are still coming in from across the country, one thing rings true: support for young progressives, and the changes they seek, is growing in state and local races. Young Elected Officials are shaping public policy and promoting progressive values in congressional, gubernatorial [is that true?], legislative, and city and county commission seats across the United States.

The YEO Network, a project of People For the American Way Foundation, brings together officials between the under the age of 35 to build professional relationships with other young progressive leaders who face similar challenges. The network provides an infrastructure for members to learn from each other and from policy experts how to be more effective leaders on issues that matter to their constituents.

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Young Elected Officials Stand Up for Domestic Partner Benefits

Congratulations to El Paso, Texas, where unmarried partners of both gay and straight city employees will be eligible for insurance benifits.  And congratulations to City Representatives Eddie Holguin, Rachel Quintana, and Suzie Byrd, members of PFAW Foundation's Young Elected Officials Network who made it happen.

Citizens spoke up on both sides of the debate, and, as usual, some right-wing lies made it into the debate, but the YEOs weren't buying it.

"One of the gentleman compared homosexuality to pedophilia, and that is just false, and I am absolutely not going to stand for that," said City Rep. Susie Byrd.

Lower Valley City Rep. Eddie Holguin said it is precisely because of his religious upbringing that he voted for the benefits.

"In that upbringing I have always been taught not to judge... And that's why I have supported and do support treating everyone equally."

He also commented on some of the criticism speakers have leveled against the proposal in the past several weeks. "Why do many of the hateful things that are said here come from people who call themselves Christian?"

Eastside City Rep. Rachel Quintana said before the debate, she was only 60 percent sure she favored the plan.

"I have gone (up) 40 percent to being 100 percent in favor of this today."

Thanks to El Paso for taking a stand for equality!

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What a Day for Marriage!

As we hope you’ve already heard, champagne corks are popping in Vermont where both houses of the state legislature successfully overrode the Governor’s veto of same-sex marriage legislation. And for those of us in DC, marriage equality is a step closer now that the District’s City Council enacted legislation to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

We’re exceptionally proud of the fact that the legislation granting marriage equality in Vermont was co-sponsored by a member of People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network, Representative David Zuckerman.

And he’s just one of the YEOs doing great work for LGBT rights nationwide. You can read about other members working hard for equal rights for all in the most recent YEO Newsletter.

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Remembering Barbara Jordan

Every February, People For the American Way, along with the rest of the country, celebrates Black History Month. And this year, more than ever, it's humbling to see just how far our nation has moved. And how far we still have to go.

I'm proud that People For the American Way can point to its own history to demonstrate why Black History Month is relevant to people of all backgrounds. Barbara Jordan was the first African American woman to serve in the Texas State Senate, the first African American woman to represent a southern state in Congress, and one of the founders of People For the American Way.

In 1981, when U.S. Representative Barbara Jordan joined Norman Lear to form People For the American Way, they understood that the promise of our nation, that all men (and women) are created equal, was not just unrealized, but was under active attack. But instead of focusing on what was wrong with our country, they used their powerful, utterly unique voices to speak for America's highest ideals and to push forward towards a better America.

Rep. Jordan was an energetic advocate of our Constitution's core values of fairness and equality under law. She continues to be an inspiration in our work, and it's not an exaggeration to say that it's because of leaders like Barbara Jordan that we were all able to celebrate the inauguration of President Barack Obama last month.

But still, there are those who are intent on dragging us backwards. While the inauguration was still fresh in our minds, People For was forced to lead an aggressive campaign to help confirm President Obama's Attorney General nominee, Eric Holder -- the first African American to hold the position. After eight years spent undermining the crucial work of the Department of Justice, the Right is fighting hard to prevent the new administration from truly restoring justice at the DOJ. This is why Attorney General Holder's comments about the racism in America ring true to so many of us in this constant battle against those who would turn back the clock on civil rights. And just last week we all got an ugly reminder of this pervasive racism and racial insensitivity in America when the New York Post published an offensive cartoon depicting President Obama as a chimp getting shot by two white police officers. The cartoon literally included several layers of tastelessness: the comparison of our first African American president to an ape, what could be construed as an invitation for violence against the president AND the stirring up of racial issues with law enforcement in a city that has particularly sensitive recent history in that area.

Many have pointed out that the lack of diversity in senior management and on the editorial staff of the Post was a major contributing factor to how a cartoon like that could get published in the first place. That's why I'm proud that People For and our affiliate foundation have taken so seriously our mission to help promote diversity. It can be seen very clearly in People For the American Way Foundation's leadership development programs, the Young Elected Officials Network and Young People For, which are among the most diverse programs of their kind -- ever. And it can be seen in our groundbreaking efforts to promote equality for all, like with People For Foundation's work with African American ministers to combat homophobia in the Black Church.

We're working hard to make sure that civil rights remain a top priority for this administration, and fighting against those who are intent on erecting barriers to the ballot, not to mention advocating for a more just Supreme Court, organizing for marriage equality for all and defending religious liberty by maintaining the separation between church and state.

Barbara Jordan made clear that there are certain principles that are not negotiable, values she called "indigenous to the American idea." Opportunity. Fairness. Equality under law. Those are still the values that bind our community together, and every day we're moving closer to that nation that she envisioned.

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This American Moment

I think one of the most exciting things about the recent presidential election is the amazing number of Americans who have been inspired to get involved -- to work phone banks, join neighbors in door-to-door canvasses, talk to friends about why they were working so hard to achieve change. And on Election Day, we saw that all that work can not only make a difference, it can make history.

I've talked to some friends who were deeply involved in election activities and who are asking, what now? I'd like to offer you an answer.

I take seriously our responsibility to nurture progressive leaders and activists. One way People For the American Way Foundation does that is through our leadership programs like Young People For and the Young Elected Officials Network, which support and mentor outstanding college activists and young public servants. But we also want to give progressive activists of all ages and experience levels an opportunity to volunteer their time to promote constitutional values and progressive change.

We're in the process of developing a national network of Change Agents. We'll supply information and activist tools online, and connect our Change Agents from the across the country with each other. The Change Agent network will be critical in monitoring right-wing attacks on our constitutional values and promoting those same values in your communities, states and on the national level.

Stay tuned for more information in the coming weeks as the program takes shape. The Right is already gearing up to block the change that Americans voted for -- and we can't let them do it.

Even this Election Day reminded us that our constitutional ideals are never safe -- and that promoting those ideals is never a once-and-done process. The bitter defeat of marriage equality in California and the passage of other anti-gay constitutional amendments in other states made it clear that there's still plenty of work to do. But that bad news came with a silver lining. In 2000, California voters backed a ban on gay couples getting married by about 20 percent; this year, after a well-funded campaign of lies by the Right, the ban passed by only four percent. Younger and first-time voters overwhelmingly voted to uphold marriage equality, which means that if we keep pushing, victory will be in our future. I am not selling short the heartache felt by the thousands of Californians who have been denied the opportunity to marry, or the personal heartache I feel on their behalf. But the trend is positive. This is what progress looks like.

And the defeats have sparked an exciting and encouraging outpouring of grassroots action. Tomorrow, there are coordinated rallies going on all around the country in support of LGBT equality -- and in protest of Prop 8's passage. This mini-movement grew out of a few scattered protests when some energized individuals took it upon themselves to launch a web site encouraging people to organize more. Now there are rallies scheduled in cities in all 50 states!

I'll be attending the rally in Philadelphia. I hope you can show up to one near you. Find out more about where they are taking place at http://jointheimpact.wetpaint.com/.

If you do attend a rally, please take pictures and send them my way (or video, via a YouTube or other host site link) along with a note about your experience at Kathryn@pfaw.org.

In the fight for full legal equality and on so many other fronts, whether or not we achieve real and lasting progress is up to us. In Washington, restoring the terrible damage done by the Bush administration needs to be at the top of President-elect Obama's, and the new Congress's, agenda. The fundamental constitutional principles that define us as a nation need to be restored. People For the American Way is collecting petition signatures to make sure this stays a top priority in the transition process -- things are moving fast and key staff positions and appointments are soon to be named so please add your name now.

We'll make history in the next few years, but only with the crucial participation of activists like you!

P.S. As we mourn the temporary defeat of marriage equality in California, this week we can celebrate that same-sex couples began to wed in Connecticut following the court ruling upholding marriage equality there. People For the American Way Foundation had filed an amicus brief in the case.

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