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Government & Politics

House Dems Create ‘Progressive Policy Forum’ Within Their Caucus

A view of the House floor from a public gallery
A view of the Maryland House of Delegates during the 2021 special session. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) told her colleagues Tuesday that she is creating a “Progressive Policy Forum” within the House Democratic Caucus, to organize policy conversations and bring in state and national experts to discuss pressing issues and help develop a long-term agenda.

“The Progressive Policy Forum is a venue that will provide our caucus members with an opportunity to share ideas and hear from policy experts on a range of issues,” Jones said in a statement provided to Maryland Matters.

She assigned Dels. Vaughn Stewart (D-Montgomery) and Jennifer R. Terrasa (D-Howard) to organize and lead the group.

As the House Democratic Caucus has moved steadily to the left over the past two election cycles, some of the more liberal members have agitated — usually privately but occasionally publicly — for the formation of a progressive caucus to advance their causes.

The Progressive Policy Forum isn’t a caucus, which often comes with certain institutional standing, as well as guidelines and infrastructure. But in interviews, Stewart and Terrasa said they believe the new entity could be a catalyst for deeper policy discussions and more long-range planning than caucus meetings and committee hearings allow.

“I’m so excited that we have the ability to bring people together to have these conversations,” Terrasa said. “While it’s a work in progress, it’s kind of like conversations I’d have with my friends, only on a broader scale.”

The Progressive Policy Forum won’t be a membership group, the lawmakers said. While they are planning to put together a steering committee of volunteers who will do the work of guiding the early agenda and conversations, the meetings will be open to every member of the Democratic caucus, without obligations or formal roles.

“This is not something that’s going to be a clique or some small segment of the Democratic caucus,” Stewart said. “Speaker Jones explained that this thing is not a group, but a place. It’s a place for us to share ideas across committees, hear from experts, and develop ideas that lift up working families.”

Most of the progressive group’s meetings will not be public, covered by the rules of the Democratic caucus, though they may choose to do public events from time to time.

As the House Democratic Caucus has evolved, more progressives have been put into positions of influence. And over the past couple of years, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and high-profile police brutality cases, Jones has presided over a broadly progressive agenda that has sought to remedy some societal ills.

Even so, the legislation that passed was developed in the hurly-burly of legislative sessions and interim periods whose natural ebbs and flows were dramatically altered by pandemic protocols. As a result, some lawmakers are thirsty for an opportunity to study issues in a deeper, more tactical way, Stewart and Terrasa said.

Stewart said he hoped there would be an emphasis on hearing from national experts and looking to policies that are succeeding in other states. But he said it’s also “a golden opportunity” for Maryland advocacy groups to bring new and longer-range priorities to the legislature.

“I’m really interested in using this forum to talk about issues that are not yet on our plate.” He added that with Republican Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. in his last year, lawmakers would think strategically about priorities they’d like to present to the next — and, they hope, Democratic — administration.

Both Terrasa and Stewart conceded that the forum gives them and fellow progressives the opportunity to “win the hearts and minds” of some of their less liberal colleagues on certain policy debates. But, Stewart said, “I don’t think the outcomes of these discussions are preordained.”

And, as Terrasa pointed out, “We’re a pretty united caucus these days.”

Stewart said he expected the first meeting to take place within the next couple of weeks, and that they would continue over the course of the legislative session, which ends on April 11, and keep going into the interim and the campaign season. Stewart said he has some ideas for topics that might be covered — including housing and ethics — but is eager to hear what his colleagues want to talk and strategize about.

“Our caucus is fortunate to have so many members who are willing to step back and look at the bigger picture when time allows,” Jones told Maryland Matters.


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House Dems Create ‘Progressive Policy Forum’ Within Their Caucus