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Down on the Farm: A Look at Young Democrats

Editor’s Note: This week, Down on the Farm deviates from its normal format of featuring the rising political stars in a single state. Instead, we are focusing on three categories of promising young Democrats.

While different factions of the Democratic Party have been meeting and plotting in preparation for the 2004 elections — sometimes working at cross purposes to one another, it seems — a new volunteer organization for young Democrats has sprouted up with an eye on more distant goals.

The founders of this new organization, 2020 Democrats, might be considered the party’s farm team of the future: Josh Green, a 25-year-old working in the private equity business in New York but headed for graduate school, and Jorge Miranda, a 23-year-old public school teacher in Massachusetts. Green and Miranda are aided by a 35-person executive board of equally young Democrats.

Designed to infuse the party with energy and, just as important, new ideas, the new group is soliciting visions for the future on its Web site, Young Democrats are asked to submit short essays on what they hope the world — and not necessarily the political world — looks like in 2020.

Organizers see the essays as the beginning of a lengthy process that will influence future political dialogue, boost the Democratic Party and groom young political leaders.

2020 Democrats, which was formed just a few weeks ago, will invite the authors of the 150 best submissions to attend an early-August conference in Washington, D.C., where they will develop a consensus vision of the future and discuss ways to implement that vision locally, in the community and political arenas.

“Democrats these days are always on the run and don’t have a vision for what this country ought to look like,” said

Brooke Lierman, a member of 2020 Democrats’ executive board.

Submissions for those interested in attending the conference must be turned in, fittingly, by July 4. The group has raised about $35,000, which it will use to pay for those who can’t afford to make the trip to Washington. Check the Web site for further details.

Meanwhile, keeping the baseball/farm team metaphor going, if you can’t tell the players without a scorecard, thank the Democratic Leadership Council for providing one. The national organization for centrist Democrats recently released its second book of “100 Democrats to Watch” — and its first since 2000.

The list runs the gamut from California state Treasurer Phil Angelides, who is frequently touted as a possible candidate for governor in 2006, to New York City Councilman David Yassky, who could find himself running for Congress before too long.

The list includes three 2004 Senate candidates: Ohio State Sen. Eric Fingerhut, Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes and Illinois state Sen. Barack Obama, as well as a possible fourth, Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker.

While the moderate Democrats were touting their own up-and-comers, Kelly Young, executive director of 21st Century Democrats, a solidly liberal Washington-based organization, observed that much of the party’s progressive energy is evident at the state and local level these days.

“[President] Bush has so abandoned the American people that people at the grassroots are saying our voices must be heard,” she said.

So who are the rising stars of the Democratic Left? Young offered three: Alicia Reese, the vice mayor of Cincinnati; Maine state Rep. Hannah Pingree, and California state Sen. Sheila Kuehl.

Pingree, 25, is the daughter of former Maine state Sen. Chellie Pingree (D), who now is president of Common Cause. Last year, while her mother was losing a campaign against Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Hannah Pingree was winning her first try for office — in a campaign that pitted her against a Republican woman. Pingree appears to have picked up her mother’s reform mantle, and is the chief sponsor of a measure to extend term limits for state officials.

Kuehl, who represents a Los Angeles-area district that takes in part of the city plus portions of Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, was the first openly gay or lesbian person elected to the Legislature. She has introduced a measure to bring universal health care coverage to California.

Reese, 31, who is also vice president of her family’s well-established marketing business, is credited with helping negotiate a settlement between the city, the federal government and several other parties on a well-publicized racial profiling case. She was under consideration to be a candidate for Ohio lieutenant governor in 2002 and is frequently mentioned as a possible candidate for secretary of state in 2006.

At a recent reception in Washington, Reese said confronting urban ills while the economy is sagging makes her eager to do battle with the Republicans.

“I’m ready to put on my boxing gloves and fight,” she said.

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