In 2007, the DLC launched a unique experiment in progressive government. We chose 23 young elected Democrats -- representing 20 states from Florida and Arkansas to Oregon, Arizona, New Hampshire, and Michigan -- as Fellows for an intensive two-year commitment to leadership development. Our goal was to help develop a core group of exceptional young leaders, likely to rise to the top of progressive politics in coming years, through a program of cross-country networking and sessions with leading academics and policymakers. Three years later, as we begin the selection of a second Fellows class, four from our inaugural class are running for statewide office. Others are moving quickly up to higher offices, and still others have developed national reputations as experts on local and national policy topics. Here's an update on eight of our Fellows, with more to come later:
Chris Coons, New Castle County Executive (Delaware) -- Chris is headlining one of the nation's marquee races, nominated in May as the Democratic candidate for Vice President Biden's old Senate seat. Pitted against conservative activist Christine O'Donnell, Chris is currently leading by margins of 15 to 25 points. Chris is highlighting his eight years in the private sector as in-house Counsel for W.L. Gore and an exceptional eight years as New Castle County Executive, where he runs a county government providing police, schools, land management, economic development, and more to a population of 500,000 people. Chris built a record of restoring fiscal responsibility and accountability to a local government plagued by fiscal shortfalls and ethical troubles, protected open space, and successfully fought for broader powers for the county's independent ethics commission. His record of focusing on values and results, not partisanship, has won him admirers nationwide and made him the favorite for this fall's Senate election.
Raj Goyle, State Representative (Kansas) -- Raj is also a candidate for national office, nominated as the Democratic candidate for Kansas' 4th Congressional District. (An open seat, formerly held by Republican Representative Todd Tiahrt.) Raj has served two terms in the Kansas State House, where he wrote the state law cracking down on picketing military funerals by establishing a 150-foot buffer zone in which bereaved military families have a guarantee of privacy. Raj also voted consistently to cut wasteful government spending and led efforts to fund job training and assistance for laid-off workers in his community.
Tobias Read, State Representative (Oregon) -- Tobias, who has represented Beaverton in Oregon's State House since 2006, is gaining a national reputation as an expert on energy science and technology. He is championing a package in the Oregon Legislature that would support energy R&D in universities with an energy bill assessment. The plan is to have independent governance (including industry) to fund faculty, scholarships, labs, a commercialization fund (a bit like a VC), and an energy X Prize for Oregon.
Steve Tobocman (Former Majority Leader, Michigan House) -- Steve is just completing a two-year stint as the co-director of the Michigan Foreclosure Task Force, a statewide coalition of some 250+ organizations helping families manage debt and maintain home ownership during Michigan's prolonged economic crisis. He also works as the Democratic co-director of the Michigan Political Leadership Program at Michigan State University, a year-long training program for emerging political leaders in Michigan, and spearheads the Global Detroit initiative to transform metro Detroit's economy through global connections, high-skilled immigration, and new high-tech industry development.
Steve Harrelson (State Senator, Arkansas) -- Steve enrolled in the Fellows program as a freshman member of Arkansas' State House representing Texarkana, and won a hard-fought Democratic primary this summer for the State Senate. With no Republican opposition, he will take office in January. His top priority will be eliminating the sales tax on groceries and energy consumption in order to attract economic development to the state. Steve is also a highly regarded observer of Arkansas politics and government as a blogger at Under the Dome.
Jennifer Mann (State Representative, Pennsylvania) -- Jennifer has been elected Majority Caucus Secretary by the Democratic House Leadership in Pennsylvania. In this role, she has been given the sensitive and important assignment of overseeing the state government's use of federal stimulus funds. Her legislative priorities include protecting children from online predators, stopping the sale of a new and dangerous illegal drug known as "K2", and building on the work of Governor Ed Rendell in keeping Pennsylvania's business-friendly reputation and helping to attract high-quality investment.
Loranne Ausley (former State Representative, Florida) -- After serving eight successful years in the State House and on the steering committee of child advocacy NGO Whole Child Leon, Loranne is running statewide in Florida for the position of Chief Financial Officer (CFO), one of three constitutionally elected state executives of the Florida Cabinet. If elected, Loranne will oversee the state's Department of Financial Services, tasked with protecting Floridians' tax dollars, investigating insurance fraud, informing insurance consumers, upholding fire safety, and regulating Florida's insurance agents, and much more. Alex Sink, the current CFO, is now the Democratic nominee for governor.
David Pepper (Hamilton County Commissioner, Ohio) -- David is running statewide in Ohio to be State Auditor. After serving successfully as a Cincinnati Councilmember and Hamilton County Commissioner, where he was able to reduce property taxes while adding police to improve public safety, David would bring his experience in cost-cutting and efficiency to statewide office. One of his proposals, drawn from experience in county government, is the inauguration of regular statewide performance audits and performance reviews to identify areas in which government is unresponsive or inefficient.
The success and rapid rise of our Fellows is a source of pride to all of us here at the DLC -- but also a lesson in the enduring importance of effective, pragmatic governance. Our Fellows represent different regions of the country, and serve in county governments, city halls, and state legislatures. But they are united by the shared commitment to public service and effective, accountable, low-cost, progressive government. Their success in office and their rapid rise is a testament to the relevance of these core values and the appeal of pragmatic, people-first approaches to government and politics. We look forward to following their careers -- and to the launch of the second Fellows class next year.
Quick bios of the DLC Fellows:
The National Journal on the launch of the program: