POLITICS

Alexi Giannoulias, Illinois Senate Candidate, Pledges To Create Senate Progressive Caucus

08/13/2010 11:51 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Illinois Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias announced on Friday that if he wins in November, he will immediately spearhead the creation of a formal progressive caucus in United States Senate

The Illinois Democrat's campaign told the Huffington Post that the objective is to provide a philosophical counterweight to the sway that conservative Democratic members often have over legislation.

"Think of this proposal as a sort of 'Blue Line' caucus for the Senate -- a group of progressive leaders who will hold the line and set a minimum threshold of what we think should be at the bargaining table," Giannoulias said in a statement.

"We've seen what the Blue Dog caucus has been able to accomplish through its infrastructure. And we've been able to get landmark legislation passed in the face of unprecedented Republican obstruction and conservative Democratic opposition in large part because the Progressive Caucus in the House has played a vital role in advocating for policies that help all Americans, not just the privileged few," Giannoulias continued. "But there is no real counterpart in the Senate that can wield a similar influence and operate as a stopgap to both destructive Republican policies and enabling, wavering Democrats."

While his candidacy has been defined, primarily, by his close relationship with the White House and his family's troubled finances, Giannoulias has gradually carved out a niche as a rising progressive voice.

In addition to pledging to create the progressive Senate caucus, he has spoken openly about his support for filibuster reform, campaigned against extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, and even attended the Netroots Nation conference in Las Vegas this summer -- for which he was attacked by his opponent Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.).

What's curious about Giannoulias' move leftward is the timing. He's already cleared the hurdle of the primary campaign. And while Illinois is a decidedly liberal state, there doesn't appear to be any demands on him to cater to this crowd. If anything, Kirk's evolution from Republican moderate to reliable conservative (his waffling and ultimate opposition to a state aid bill being the most recent example) has provided Giannoulias an opening to vie for independent votes.

The calculus, in the end, might be that the Democratic base needs motivation. Among party activists and voters there has been intense frustration over the ability of Senate Republicans to obstruct legislative progress and the capacity of a handful of conservative Democrats to enable them. Giannoulias is exaggerating the power that the Progressive Caucus has over House politics (the caucus, while large in numbers, has lost several high-profile battles with Blue Dogs this year). But his pledge to organize Senate progressives will resonate with those who believe that the procedural processes are inherently weighted toward political moderation.

The Senate largely shuns groups like these, in part because its members are supposed to promote comity, personal interaction and negotiation. But the newer classes have been vocal in their desire to do away with the informal and formal rules. And they have largely been rewarded for it with public attention and support.

"The American people overwhelmingly support progressive policies that help the middle class, but common-sense legislation passed by the House is often stalled in the Senate and laws that do come out of the Senate too often only benefit corporations or the wealthiest Americans," said Kathleen Strand, the campaign's Communications Director. "The time has come to create a coalition of Senators who think with their minds and hearts, not their campaign bank accounts. If elected, Alexi will lead the formation of this coalition, and he'll invite all Senators across the spectrum who believe in equality, fairness and solutions for the middle class to join him."

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