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Pocan gets plum assignment, and he's ready to lead

Nov 6, 2013
In The News

Cap Times editorial    

Mark Pocan is still just a House freshman. But leaders in Washington are rapidly recognizing what Wisconsinites have known for a long time: Pocan is an incredibly hardworking and effective legislator who knows the issues and is ready to lead.

That initiative is being rewarded with a rare reassignment for a first-termer, as a member of the powerful House Committee on Education and the Workforce. And from his new position, Pocan has the potential to emerge as an essential player in progressive struggles to raise the minimum wage, invest in infrastructure, defend the rights of unions, and renew this country’s commitment to public schools and higher education.

That’s exciting for Wisconsin, and vital for America.

When new members of the U.S. House arrive in Washington, they generally get committee assignments that senior members do not want. So it was that Pocan found himself sitting on the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee. The Madison Democrat recognized that the committee was consequential, and he threw himself into the work. But he still had to listen to committee Chairman Darrell Issa's hyperpartisan preachments about the California Republican’s latest gripes with the Obama administration.

Pocan also got assigned to the Budget Committee, which meant he could keep tabs on that committee's chairman, Janesville Republican Paul Ryan — no small task.

But, like most new members, Pocan was told that he would have to wait for a place on one of the powerful committees that shapes policy in areas that are his primary focus: worker rights, civil rights, higher education, health care reform.

Pocan didn’t complain. He got to work on these issues anyway. He called for fair trade, infrastructure investments, a minimum-wage increase, the renewal of the National Labor Relations Board, and increased funding for workplace and job training programs. He spoke up for college affordability, including a plan to allow nearly 40 million Americans to refinance their federal student loans, for schools that are safe from bullying and harassment, and for a Student Non-Discrimination Act to prohibit discrimination in public schools based on sexual orientation or gender identity. And his determined advocacy on behalf on issues of concern to working families and education was quickly noticed. “Congressman Pocan’s leadership is respected and valued,” declared House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.

That respect has translated into Pocan’s assignment to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce — one of the most influential committees on Capitol Hill.

The new assignment, after just nine months in the House, is a big deal for Pocan. It is exceptionally rare for freshmen members to get assignments to the committee that has jurisdiction over education (early childhood, K-12 and higher education), job training programs, workforce protections, and employment-related benefits including health care and pensions.

But Pocan is not one of those House members who thinks the point of congressional service is personal advancement.

He understands that, with his new role, he can help to shift the national discourse in a progressive direction. “The key to our nation’s economic prosperity lies in our robust support for education and our workforce, and I am honored to fight for these pressing priorities as a member of the Education and the Workforce Committee,” says the congressman. “From preserving access to a high-quality college education, to strengthening job training programs, to protecting our workers, I will use my position on this important committee to advocate for the vital interests of our working families and students in south central Wisconsin.”

Instead of listening to Issa rant and rave, Pocan will be working with senior Republicans such as Wisconsin’s Tom Petri, who, despite some silly votes in recent years, remains one of the more reasonable Republicans in Congress.

“I am very pleased to welcome Representative Pocan to the Education and the Workforce Committee. Mark has been a strong advocate on behalf of working families and our nation’s students,” said Congressman George Miller, the Californian who is the senior Democrat on the committee. “As a union member and owner of a union printing shop, Representative Pocan will have unique insight into the struggles of workers who are fighting for a piece of the American dream. I welcome Mark’s voice to the committee and his determination to grow and strengthen the nation’s middle class.”

We welcome Pocan’s assignment as well.

Wisconsin progressives — from Robert M. La Follette to Robert M. La Follette Jr. and John Blaine, from Gaylord Nelson to Russ Feingold, from Bob Kastenmeier to Tammy Baldwin, from Henry Reuss to Gwen Moore — have for more than a century played pivotal roles in steering Congress away from reaction and toward principles of economic and social justice. On the Education and the Workforce Committee, Mark Pocan — who holds Bob La Follette’s old seat — will be well positioned to carry the legacy forward.