The Institute is represented here in cloudy Seattle at the Progressive Legislative Action Network conference, which is being held amidst the annual gathering of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The PLAN kickoff has been a huge success, with hundreds of state legislators and folks who work on state policy gathering forces to promote a new progressive agenda. As for the Southern contingent, I've talked to state lawmakers from Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia; I'm sure there are others.

Some common themes that have come up today:

STATES ARE KEY: With little prospect for progressive leadership at the national level, the key battleground is now the states. This is true even for issues that were once thought of as being outside of the pervue of state politics; for example, to address global warming, states are debating clean energy initiatives and studying their contribution to greenhouse gases.

PROGRESSIVES ARE OUT THERE, THEY JUST NEED HELP: A common lament among the state policy-makers assembled here is the power of the conservative right through organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which pumps millions into providing research, experts and other support for right-wing policy initiatives at the state level. There are good progressive lawmakers out there, they just don't have that level of support.

PROGRESSIVES ARE FOR HELPING EVERYONE, THE OTHER SIDE ISN'T: There seems to be some real clarity about what it means to be a progressive. The meeting has been refreshing in that the focus isn't just on how to package progressive ideas, but instead on the core substance (while acknowledging that "framing" and packaging are important, too). Of course progressives could be making their case better, but the key now is to have the real policy substance that can "fill the frame."

Senator John Edwards gave the lunch keynote, and above the din of plates clanking he delivered a ringing call to get back to the core issues of the divide between the Two Americas -- those who are making it, and those who are struggling.

He also had a good line about the "moral values" issue: "There's a document that reveals a politician's real moral values -- it's called a budget. Who does the budget help? And who does it leave behind?" Amen.

Matt Singer at Left in the West has more blow by blow, check it out.