Inside PSN: 1st Annual Legislative Leadership Retreat

From December 8-10th, over 50 legislators from 26 states joined the Progressive States Network at Bally’s Hotel in Las Vegas for its first annual Legislative Leadership Retreat.  These fifty legislators met with key advocacy allies to discuss both policy and legislative strategy for the 2009 legislative sessions.   The retreat was held in conjunction with the annual conference of the Economic Research and Analysis Network (EARN) to strengthen the state progressive movement at this key point in history.

The Retreat came as progressives gained in state legislatures across the country and a former state senator was elected to the White House, ready to coordinate with states on issues from the economy to health care reform.  Legislators came to the Retreat poised to pool knowledge and devise strategies to affect meaningful and lasting change on some of the most important issues facing the nation.  The following video gives a sampling of discussion from throughout the Retreat:

Over three days, participants attended plenary addresses from some of the country’s leading progressive economists and policy experts, networked with key members of the state-level advocacy community, and held in-depth strategy discussions in preparation for the upcoming legislative session.  Legislators also participated in issue-specific workshops facilitated by PSN’s policy staff on health care, economic growth, immigration policy, election reform, broadband investment, and the challenges of privatization and contractor accountability.  

The mood at the Retreat was one of optimism and commitment to addressing the real economic and political challenges that lie ahead.  Echoing themes PSN has emphasized in recent months, the Retreat focused on ways states need to move economic debates from bailouts of financial firms to a real focus on addressing the longer-term crisis of working family incomes, the continued strategic importance of state government policy, and the need to build a new “collaborative federalism” between progressives at all levels of government.

Legislators and advocates also discussed how to coordinate work among progressives across multiple states, from sharing best practices to creating joint messaging that can create an impact in the national media to making sure that federal decision-making takes account of the needs of states.  As PSN Co-Chair and Texas Representative Garnet Coleman said, "The whole purpose of Progressive States Network is to move an agenda across this nation up through the states." 

David Sirota, PSN’s Co-Founder and Co-Chair, who has watched the organization grow from an idea to a network of legislators and advocates in all fifty states, noted that such an approach would not be easy, but that the state-based progressive movement is in a much stronger place than when PSN was founded three years ago.  According to Sirota, “We are trying to use this political moment, this economic moment to enact so many of the things that so many of you have been pushing for so long”.

The Retreat served as an important moment in PSN’s history in one other key respect.  Following founding Executive Director Joel Barkin’s departure for a post within the New York Department of State, PSN’s longtime Policy Director Nathan Newman, an instrumental architect of the organization’s growth strategy, was named as the organization’s Interim Executive Director.

Noting the unique moment that PSN and the movement it represents is facing, Newman said, “The goal is to have legislators not just be part of a legislator group, but since we are meeting with advocate allies, we can together plan how to make the states, state by state, an engine of national social change.”

In the weeks following the retreat, PSN is working to make as many resources as possible pertaining to the event proceedings available through our website:

  • Resources: For a comprehensive list resources distributed at each workshop, including copies of reports and links to participating organizations, please visit our workshop resources page at
  • Archival Video: We are making video recordings of all PSN-led workshops available upon request.  If you’d like a copy, please fill out a request form at along with a description of the purpose for which you would like the recording, and we will process your request as soon as possible.  Note that we have a limit to how many copies can be made available. 


  • Video Highlights: For a quick view of the highlights from the conference, check out the YouTube video at the top of this Dispatch, also available at

All in all, the Retreat was a resounding success. PSN would like to thank all the individuals and organizations that participated, as well as the Ford Foundation and W.K. Kellogg Foundation, without whose generous support the Legislative Leadership Retreat would not have been possible.  We are extremely excited about the alliances forged and ideas hatched and shared over the three days of the Retreat.  We look forward to translating these advances into concrete policy victories in the months and years to come.