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July 31, 2007

New state political group looks to embolden Dems

Posted by David Postman at 10:37 AM

A new progressive political group is getting ready to launch in Seattle. The group, called Fuse, is backed by wealthy donors, a powerful labor union and the political director of, perhaps the most successful of the new wave of liberal groups. Fuse will be staffed by experienced political operatives and modeled on a similar group in Colorado.

That's an impressive portfolio. But it begs the question: Does Seattle need another liberal political group? Fuse organizers clearly have thought about that and have some intriguing answers. I talked yesterday with Aaron Ostrom. He will be the group's executive director. Today he has that job at Futurewise. He'll go part-time to Fuse next month and full time for the launch in September.

My best summation of what the group hopes to do is push Washington Democrats beyond their dedicated incrementalism. It'll do that through donations to like-minded candidates, recruiting volunteers to help those candidates and producing issue-oriented advertising campaigns. Fuse will have a non-profit arm as well as a political operation.

Ostrom told me:

"I think the Legislature has done a lot of good stuff and lot of impressive stuff. But when you look at the scale of the problems we're facing, it's going to take more and it's going to take bigger and bolder solutions and we have to both encourage and demand that and we have to support that."

(That has been a goal of SEIU, which will be a part of Fuse. The service worker's union has not been afraid to tick off Democrats, for example when it backed a primary challenge to House Appropriations Chairwoman Helen Sommers, D-Seattle. But SEIU has also backed Republican legislators — a move that seems to be at odds with the goal of emboldening and growing Democratic control of the state.)

Democrats have large majorities in both houses of the Legislature. But Ostrom said there is room and reason for growth. It's not enough, he said, to have strong progressive representation from Seattle and King County. He said there needs to be a strong corps of volunteer activists from other parts of the state to push politicians, too.

I asked him if that was a way to encourage legislators from outside King County to take bolder liberal steps. He said it was, but it would also be a way, he said, to reach the governor. Gov. Christine Gregoire largely adheres to Democratic incrementalism. More progressives in the suburbs and in rural Washington could give the governor increased confidence that a progressive agenda would not mean losing her statewide base.

Ostrom says he doesn't like to think of progressive as a partisan issue. But, that said, Fuse wants to build on the already large Democratic majorities.

"Washington is still in many ways a swing state. We're 113 votes away from a very conservative governor, and there are still 12 races a year in the Legislature that are decided by a couple thousands votes. And we're only a few years removed from Republican majorities, at different times, in the House and Senate."

In addition to Ostrom, the group's staff will include political director Chris McCullough, a former aide to Congressman Jay Inslee. Additional staff will be hired as well.

The idea and seed money for Fuse came from a small group of progressive donors in Seattle known as the Progress Alliance. Its members include Jabe Blumenthal, a Microsoft retiree and a board member of the environmental group Climate Solutions; Valerie Tarico, a psychologist and author, and Paul Abrams, a bio-tech entrepreneur blogs at Huffington Post.

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