Representative Mark Pocan: A diamond in the congressional rough

Congress isn’t doing so hot these days. With our legislative branch stuck in DC rush hour-levels of gridlock — for a number of reasons — there’s little incentive for our representatives to, well, represent us. And the voters have noticed.

However, while it’s easy to write off anyone whose name is preceded by the word “Representative” as some kind of negative adjective ranging from “ineffective” to “evil,” some members of Congress today are actually doing their jobs, and doing them well.

Congressman Mark Pocan, who represents Wisconsin’s 2nd district, is one of those good guys. And it isn’t just because he is, like me, an openly gay liberal Democrat. He’s more than that. He’s the kind of politician everyone says they want.

Wisconsin’s 2nd district includes not only the notoriously liberal city of Madison (often described as “78 square miles surrounded by reality”), but also many suburban communities and rural townships. In fact, most of its voters live outside of Madison. From 1991 to 1999 it was represented by a Republican.

Unlike some of his colleagues from Wisconsin, Pocan is interested in enacting legislation that would help his constituents, not his PAC or his aspirations for higher office. He has partnered with Congressman Keith Ellison (D – MN) to draft a bill that would establish a constitutional right to vote, garnering a resounding “True” rating from PolitiFact when he pointed out that less than 25 percent of Americans could vote when our nation’s founding document was written. This Earth Day, along with Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), he proposed a bill that would ban fracking on public lands.

Pocan has sponsored legislation that would extend employment and retirement benefits for federal employees to their domestic partners. He’s also spearheaded an effort to allow citizens with student debt to consolidate and refinance their loans.

At a time when there is intense pressure on Democrats to toe the line on “free trade” and adopt a milquetoast, centrist license for corporate greed, Pocan does otherwise. He opposes the “fast-track” Trade Promotion Authority Bill, saying, “With still too many questions left unanswered and a history of broken trade promises, Congress should not give away its constitutional authority to the President – regardless of party.”

Why should Pocan care about these issues?  It would be pretty easy for him to follow the lead of, say, Senator Chuck Schumer and cultivate ties to large corporations while ignoring his most underprivileged constituents. The Democratic Party, after all, still rewards this behavior with leadership and prestige.

While we worry — with good reason — that Hillary Clinton’s top donors are the very financial institutions that wrecked our economy in 2007, Mark Pocans top donors are from education and labor. And his independence from Wall Street shows, as he is the lone sponsor of a bill that would require issuers of securities to disclose the pre-tax profit of and taxes paid on those securities.

Congressman Mark Pocan, via Creative Commons

Congressman Mark Pocan, via Creative Commons

Pocan’s consistent advocacy for actual people instead of corporate interests probably lies in his background in small (as opposed to big) business — he once owned his own printing company — and his roots in Kenosha, a Rust Belt town on Lake Michigan hollowed out by the loss of middle-class manufacturing jobs. The word “grassroots” means more to you if your neighborhood is peppered with empty and decaying lots that are literally overrun by wild grass. Even Madison, relatively prosperous as it is, has one such hole in its urban fabric.

As former Rep. Barney Frank told the New Yorker, “It’s the smaller businesses that have natural grassroots networks: Realtors, mortgage brokers, auto dealers, community banks. They’re in everybody’s district.” Pocan understands both sides of that local business/local representative relationship, and governs in kind.

If every Democrat in Congress had half of Mark Pocan’s passion for justice and public service they’d have more seats in Congress, not less. Pocan won his congressional seat twice with 68 percent of the vote. This kind of success in a district that, as I noted above, was represented by a Republican not that long ago shows that progressive values can and do win in purple America.

It’s easy to look at Congress, shake your head and complain that everything is awful and can’t ever get better. For disaffected liberals around the country, Mark Pocan is the alternative — the counterexample — showing that good people can get elected to Congress and succeed once they’re there.

Skye Winspur
Skye Winspur is a 33 year old Wisconsinite who spends his days working with his hands and volunteering for causes he believe in. He writes on civil rights issues; gay history and culture; political campaigns of all kinds; Christian theology; and movies.

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  • Thanks for the nod to Jan Schakowsky, who is my rep. Just out of curiosity, I checked her donors, and the among the largest by category are lawyers, health professionals, and retirees, and most of her contributions come from individuals.

    She’s been rated the most progressive member of the House — of course, she represents IL-9, a district so blue it’s indigo (north lakefront, North Shore suburbs).

  • Pocan supports giving work permits and Social Security Numbers to millions of illegal aliens and doubling legal immigration at a time when 18 million Americans can’t find full-time work. And this makes him a “good guy?”

  • Bill_Perdue

    The last round of demonstrations and rallies a couple of weeks ago involved over sixty thousand in hundreds of locations. We even had a sizable rally here in Vegas and if you’ve lived here you’ll know how rare that is.

  • Indigo

    Nice images, good causes. I like it.

  • Bill_Perdue

    Will this do

  • Indigo

    Abstractions. Anything on your plate that’s actual?

  • Jason King

    americablog ……… SEE MORE INFO<–

  • Bill_Perdue

    My approval is not an issue. The political programs of the parties are the question that needs to be addressed.

    If socialist groups and labor party groups want to use elections to organize and educate working people and build mass movements to lead them in the direction of fundamental socialist change then they should be supported.

    There are discussions underway in many groups to unify and launch national campaigns by groups that meet those criteria. If those discussions are successful I’ll let you know.

  • Perhaps you would be willing to volunteer as a copy editor?
    Jon currently has an actual full-time job, which takes up much of his time, and he actually has to sleep at times.
    (And, as you might recall, the reason that John Aravosis finally gave up this blog was because he could not make a living wage from it.)

  • Indigo

    What parties currently active in the United States and likely to show up on a ballot have your approval?

  • Indigo

    Congressman Pocan is clearly the exception that proves the rule but the trouble with the exception that proves the rule is that the rule remains in effect.

  • Bill_Perdue

    Since it’s true that the Democrat and Republican parties are owned by the rich and not amenable to begin reformed then people active in those parties or who vote for them own the union busting. pro-war, racist policies of those parties.

    And they also own the fact that both parties united to give us DOMA and DADT (with Democrats playing leading role federally and Republicans on the state level) and both have refused to pass a cleaned up ENDA or a CRA for 40 years. Democrats will tell you they were too busy screwing health care to be bothered by silly things like LGBT rights in 2009-10 and I agree with them, except the ‘silly’ party.

    If people don’t support wars, union busting, racsim, bigotry, misogyny, union bashing and immigrant bashing they should get abandon the Democrat and Republican parties and move towards decent politics. I guarantee it will be a welcome change.

  • I always welcome readers catching typos, especially because they are inevitable. To clarify, most of these posts are NOT written in Starbucks. They are written and/or edited in my kitchen between the hours of 8pm and 3am because I am still working a day job, and will be through June (long story). They don’t get a second set of eyes before publishing because, well, no one wants to stay up that late.

    So if you see something, please say something. But do understand that I don’t have an independent copyeditor and am running on very, very little sleep.

  • emjayay

    I realize that most blog posts here and elsewhere go directly from a laptop at Starbuck’s to here without passing GO along the way. And typos and misspellings and grammatical mistakes etc. don’t mean I can’t read it. But they are a distraction. And almost always there. Like “…he is, like me, and openly gay liberal Democrat…”

    Maybe at least rereading posts after they are posted would help. Or asking someone else to.

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