All Politics Is Local—about the PLI Conference

Posted on January 1, 2020

Except from the book by Meaghan Winter (pages 181-182)

I first saw Leslie Herod at work in the summer of 2017, when she appeared on a panel at a conference sponsored by the Public Leadership Institute—a group that supports progressive state legislators, started by Gloria Totten and the focus of her energy since Progressive Majority had folded into Wellstone Action, a larger Minnesota-based outfit, in 2015. In those D.C. conference rooms, packed with state legislators, Herod was poised and confident, and people kept approaching her.

The theme of that conference, which Totten repeated from the stage, was to be bold. Conservatives, Totten told the crowd, had been in the minority when they whipped up their plans, which were then way outside popular opinion. They had shifted the narrative toward them and their ideas by being bold, by not relenting, for thirty-plus years.

She urged the progressive lawmakers to borrow elements of that tack—to figure out their constituents’ problems, pose bold, progressive solutions to those problems, and to keep coming back with envelope-pushing proposals even if they never made it out of a committee hearing room.

Democrats and progressives had been defensive, reactive, and they needed to be proactive, to establish a narrative, reframe the conversation, remind people that they had ideas and resolve. When Totten and I spoke later, she cited Herod as a state legislator who exemplified living in that boldness and pushing a proactive agenda….