One of the most significant developments for American progressives this election season was the election of Mark Pocan, who won Wisconsin's 2nd Congressional District seat with 68 percent of the vote. The popular and populist Pocan is likely to hold the seat, which was once held by Progressive Party champion Robert M. La Follette, for many years to come. Pocan represented the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) area in the state legislature and CMD worked with him on our ALEC Exposed project.
Pocan was born and raised in the blue-collar town of Kenosha and has continued to represent the interests of working people his entire political career. He is a small businessman, running a union print shop called "Budget Signs and Specialties," that makes signs and other print material for local firms and does a brisk business in yard signs every election season.
Pocan got his start in politics on the Dane County Board with the support of the Democratic Party and Progressive Dane, the local third party group. He was elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly in 1998. He rapidly built a reputation for championing workers rights and civil rights, fighting against privatization and outsourcing, and eventually dealing with hundreds of critical issues as the chair of the powerful Joint Finance Committee, which determines the state's budget priorities. During the Wisconsin Uprising of 2011, Pocan was a behind-the-scenes leader mapping out the democratic response and building bridges with national allies.
He dubbed Wisconsin "Fitzwalkerstan" for the leaders of the legislature and Scott Walker and once hung a giant pink banner out of his Capitol office window, emblazoned with "Walker Your Pink Slip is Coming!"
Pocan is very well-liked on both sides of the aisle, famous for his ability to skewer opponents with good grace and good humor. In this vein, Pocan joined the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in 2008 in order to get a better picture of their activities and expose them to the public eye. He wrote about his experiences for The Progressive Magazine, founded by La Follette almost 100 years ago. Later, CMD staff and Pocan were bounced out of a Reynold's Tobacco "cigar smoke" at the 2011 ALEC meeting in New Orleans.
Pocan gained national attention for his work on ALEC when he was featured in the Bill Moyers' documentary "United States of ALEC" in October 2012. Pocan dubbed ALEC as a "dating service" for lonely legislators and corporate lobbyists and the term has stuck.
Pocan will go to the U.S. House of Representatives representing the same district represented by Robert "Fighting Bob" La Follette a century ago. La Follette was famous for passing measures instituting direct primary elections, breaking up monopolies, preserving the state's forests, protecting workers' rights, defending small farmers, and regulating lobbying to end patronage politics. At the federal level he pushed for direct election of Senators, for women's rights and civil rights, to build labor unions to act as a counterweight to corporate power, and opposed America's entrance into World War I. He later served many years as a U.S. Senator and ran for U.S. president in 1924 on the Progressive Party line.
Pocan frequently references La Follette as a major influence in his life and career. He is an avid campaign pin collector and has a collection of La Follette campaign pins, that is the envy of the state historical society.
Like U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Pocan is expected to be an independent voice in the House and a media savvy supporter of progressive candidates and causes. Yet, like Sanders, Pocan works hard to reach across party lines to get things done. He was supported in the election by both local conservatives and some liberal newspapers. He has already cut his teeth on many federal issues, for instance by opposing job-killing trade deals and the outsourcing of U.S. jobs. He has proposed a state bill urging congress to overturn Citizen's United and has pledged to work with Sanders on that issue when in Congress.
On his list of priorities, Pocan wants to: expand not cut Medicare, and create a universal health care plan for all, fight the pending Transpacific Partnership (NAFTA for Asia) trade deal, restore stability to Wall Street by restoring Glass-Steagall type rules, and tackle the urgent problem of climate change, with domestic and international measures.
Pocan was legally married in Canada to his partner of many years, Phil Frank in 2006. They live in the Tenney Park neighborhood of Madison. Mark will be the first openly gay, married man ever elected to Congress. (This reporter and others at CMD have contributed to his campaigns.)