Advocacy group sets up in county before going statewide
Nov. 30, 2000
Josh Kurtz
Staff Writer

Progressive Montgomery, the catchall advocacy group that has gained political power in Montgomery County affairs in recent years, is poised to become a statewide organization.

Joining forces with two other Maryland activist groups, Progressive Montgomery is preparing to reinvent itself as Progressive Maryland in hopes of becoming a player in Annapolis in the near future.

"We really want to build an effective alternative to ­ for lack of a better term ­ a corporate agenda at the state and local level," said Tom Hucker, executive director of Progressive Montgomery, who will also run the statewide network.

But the new organization will not ignore its local roots. Already strong in Montgomery County, Progressive Montgomery has just set up organizations in Prince George's County and Baltimore city and intends to build those before it concentrates fully on statewide issues.

"People want to retain a focus on county politics because that's where there's been a hole," Hucker said.

As it prepares to broaden its horizons, Progressive Montgomery is officially merging this month with two other groups. One is Citizen Agenda of Maryland, which was set up by Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Dist. 22) of Cheverly and left-leaning policy experts a few years ago to examine an array of issues. The other is Maryland Citizen Action, a near-dormant grassroots organization that was last heavily active during the health care reform debates of the early and mid-1990s.

Using membership lists from all three groups, Progressive Maryland hopes to "build a robust individual membership base," Hucker said. Based in Silver Spring, the organization now has five organizers, who work on policy, politics and coalition building, and seven canvassers, who go door-to-door across the state in search of money.

A meeting of the new organization's interim board is likely to take place before the end of the year. It is being filled by members of church groups, labor unions and organizations such as the NAACP, Southern Christian Leadership Conference and CASA de Maryland.

Hucker said those groups are vital parts of the organization.

"It's important for us to not just be a letterhead coalition," he said.

Progressive Montgomery operated on a budget of about $100,000 this year, Hucker said, with about one-seventh of its money coming from labor unions.

In Montgomery, the organization made a name for itself by spearheading the campaign for a living wage before the County Council last year. The living wage bill failed, but the debate did prompt County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) to offer policies designed to help the working poor. The group has also testified in Annapolis on behalf of unsuccessful statewide living wage legislation.

This year, Progressive Montgomery has joined a coalition of groups arguing that a bill before the council would tilt the county's landlord-tenant laws in favor of landlords. The bill, which has been amended by a council committee after pressure from tenant advocates, is up for a final vote Tuesday.