The SiX session at the Omni Shoreham hotel included an address by Gara LaMarche, chairman of the Democracy Alliance, a group of wealthy liberal donors who have turned to state activism as an important new area for political investment.
"There is a hunger and a need for an organization like this," said SiX executive director Nick Rathod, an Obama campaign and White House veteran.
Rathod, who served as White House liaison to the states during Obama’s first term, said he hopes SiX will eventually have a budget of $10 million a year, raised from individual donors, unions, progressive foundations, and corporations.
The new group effectively combines other recently formed organizations on the left, including the Progressive States Network and the Center for State Innovation.
Rathod, who most recently worked at the liberal Center for American Progress, has been informally studying the success that ALEC has had in developing model bills for state legislatures: The 42-year-old nonprofit has long linked state legislators with corporate and interest group lobbyists to discuss and draft legislation behind closed doors.
ALEC has produced hundreds of model bills that have become law on topics ranging from voter identification to environmental and education policy. Recently, ALEC stepped away from controversial social issues such as gun laws and immigration to concentrate more on federal-state economic issues.
At ALEC’s recent winter policy meeting in Washington, conservative state legislators met to talk strategy for rolling back the reach of federal agencies, with special emphasis on Environmental Protection Agency pushback. State legislators met with lobbyists for coal, utility, oil and gas firms to discuss and draft model bills, which go to the ALEC board for approval and dissemination.
In contrast, the SiX meeting featured speeches and workshops from environmental advocates, including representatives of Blue Green Alliance, the American Lung Association and political consultants dissecting new polling on climate and energy issues. Many of the workshops were closed to the press.
Open sessions included speeches by Labor Secretary Thomas Perez and video presentations from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.
In an introductory packet provided to attendees, SiX leaders offered a statement of purpose. “Progressives suffer from a power deficit in state government," it read. "This deficit is primarily the result of a well organized and highly capitalized network of conservative organizations that develops, disseminates, and promotes state legislation in service to a large group of corporate funders and special interests."
To counter this, SiX says that the new organization will “advance a progressive policy and messaging agenda in the states by providing training and other policy , communications and technical support to state legislators, serving as the campaign war room and organizational hub for multi-state legislative campaigns.”