CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Wisconsin state Rep. Mark Pocan has been to several Democratic Party national conventions, but none as important for him as this one. Pocan is poised to succeed U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, who is giving up her seat to run for the Senate. Although he faces Republican challenger Chad Lee in the fall election, an upset is highly unlikely -- Lee is vastly underfunded in the overwhelmingly liberal district.
Isthmus caught up with Pocan on Tuesday morning after a breakfast of the Wisconsin delegates.
Pocan says he's spending much of his time here trying to connect with the various Democratic caucuses he hopes to work with, including the Progressive Caucus and LGBT Equality Caucus. He would also like to connect with Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois). She's "one of the people I'd like to try to learn from," Pocan says. "It's really important that I can hit the ground running. It's a much, much bigger body [than the state Assembly].... Finding those people who have similar values, especially in the Progressive Caucus, is going to be important to me. So I'm trying to reach out to those folks."
Pocan says there are about 70 members of the Progressive Caucus, who try to push Congress in a liberal direction. "What you can really do in a caucus is you help develop messaging and progressive issues," he explains. "During the health care debate, one of the things the Progressive Caucus initiated was a letter to the president saying, unless the health care bill meets these minimum standards, you don't have our vote.... One hundred and fourteen people signed that letter and gave the president the ability to negotiate a much stronger bill for health care. And we wound up having a very strong bill for health care because of it."
Both Pocan and Baldwin are openly gay and have advocated for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and trans-gendered rights, efforts that are now paying off. President Barack Obama came out in support of legalizing same-sex marriage earlier this year. And the 2012 Democratic Party platform (PDF) comes out in strong support of it, as well.
The platform reads:
We support marriage equality and support the movement to secure equal treatment under law for same-sex couples. We also support the freedom of churches and religious entities to decide how to administer marriage as a religious sacrament without government interference. We oppose discriminatory federal and state constitutional amendments and other attempts to deny equal protection of the laws to committed same-sex couples who seek the same respect and responsibilities as other married couples. We support the full repeal of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act and the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act.
The candidate says he's thrilled to see the party taking a strong stand on the issue.
"Marriage equality is the big fight. If you're going to have true equality, we have to have equal access to institutions like marriage," says Pocan, who married his partner, Philip Frank, in Toronto in 2006 -- a union that isn't recognized in the United States. "Having it in the platform is a really important statement.... You're going to watch public opinion continue to shift and you're going to reach a time when people look back and wonder why there was even a debate on this."
Listen to excerpts of the interview with Pocan.
Joe Tarr is in Charlotte with reporters from WORT 89.9 FM covering the Democratic National Convention, following their reporting on the Republican National Convention in Tampa.