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The Progress of Progressive Dane
By Ben Freund

For more than a dozen years, Progressive Dane (PD) has been a powerful force for political change in Madison. Its consistent wins against Democrat and Republican challengers alike and its organized efforts in many areas of public life make PD Madison's own third-party success story. The Madison Times recently attended a general membership meeting to learn more about the operations of this unique political force in our city.

The meeting began casually. All participants were invited to introduce themselves and to answer the question "What gift would you like Santa to bring which politician?" Given the crowd, the answers inevitably skewed toward gifts of an unpleasant nature to many of the big names currently in power. Make no mistake: Progressive Dane is no fan of the Democratic Party, but it has strong opinions about which is the lesser evil. Still, in light of the fact that PD's goals are closely centered on Madison, many volunteered the names of a few local representatives.

After the mood was sufficiently lightened, a review of PD's recent plans and strategy took place. Although typically the upcoming spring elections would be the top order of business, the steering committee felt a need to respond to two very recent Wisconsin State Journal editorials that criticized PD as "more committed to enacting an ideological agenda than promoting communitywide interests"  and being at odds with city

policing. The latter concern referred to a letter PD's Drug Policy Task Force had written about an arrest based solely on "the smell of unburnt marijuana" and noting that PD member and City Council President Brenda Konkel had opposed police use of pepper spray. The steering committee distributed copies of the articles for review by all members.

The meeting quickly proceeded to the main event: discussion and endorsements of candidates in the upcoming spring elections. Progressive Dane prides itself as a positive alternative that "brings together people committed to making government responsive to our communities' urgent needs. We believe our best solutions come from communities themselves, not the Democrats, Republicans, and the powerful moneyed interests they both serve."  

In discussing which candidates to back and which districts to focus on, PD stayed true to its image. In districts in which more than one candidate hoped for PD's approval, the membership invariably tried to determine the most committed and hardworking representative, rather than the one most likely to win or most entrenched in power.

Particularly startling was the party's decision to cease backing District 10 Alderman Ken Golden in favor of newcomer Chris Kratoch. Golden has been affiliated with PD for much of his career as alderman, but he has not attended meetings since 1995 and recently let his party membership lapse for a month. One member present cited him as "a roadblock to change," and the nearly unanimous vote agreed.

Other decisions were not so dramatic, but soon PD's spring roster was filled with passionate and committed candidates seeking to "support tax justice, better social services, equality in public education, affordable housing, and public transportation ... [and helping] community members organize around issues that are important to them."  

PD would hire city contractors based on their environmental purity and hiring practices. It seeks to provide city-sponsored door-to-door bus service for the elderly and disabled. There is no doubt that its members are sincere and committed to positive change.