A member of the Democratic Party, he previously served as a member of the Wisconsin State Assembly from 1999 to 2013, representing the 78th district. He represented much of downtown Madison, including the Wisconsin State Capitol. In November 2012, Pocan won the general election to replace Tammy Baldwin, a fellow Democrat and longtime friend who was elected to the U.S. Senate, as the next member of Congress from the district. He had also succeeded Baldwin in the State Assembly.
Mark Pocan is an American politician and businessman who has served in the US House of Representatives. On November 24, 2006, Pocan and his long-term partner, Philip Frank, were legally married in Toronto, Ontario. Philip Frank, has become the first same-sex spouse to receive an official congressional spousal ID card. Frank, who had originally received the “designee” card granted to unmarried partners of members of Congress, was issued the spousal ID in May 2013, the Washington Blade reports.
Pocan was born and raised in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He graduated from Harvey Elementary School, Washington Junior High School, and Mary D. Bradford High School in 1982. He attended the University of Wisconsin–Madison, earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1986.
Shortly after graduating, Pocan opened up his own small business, a printing company named Budget Signs & Specialties, which he continues to own and run as of 2012. He is a member of the AFL-CIO, which he joined as a small business owner. His active years at UW-Madison in College Democrats led to his election in 1991 to the Dane County Board of Supervisors where he served Madison’s downtown community for three terms. He left the board in 1996.
In 1998, Pocan's longtime friend and ally, Tammy Baldwin, gave up her seat in the Wisconsin State Assembly to make a successful run for Congress. Pocan ran to succeed her in the state legislature and won a three-way Democratic primary with 54% of the vote. He faced no Republican opponent in the general election and won with 93% of the vote against an independent. He won re-election in 2000 with 81%--the only time he faced a Republican challenger. He was unopposed for reelection from 2002 to 2010.
After a redistricting by the Republican-controlled legislature, the 78th Assembly District boundaries were changed. Pocan was succeeded in the Assembly by Democrat Brett Hulsey, who had previously represented the 77th District. (As in the 2010 race, the only serious challenge to the Democratic candidate was a Green candidate, Jonathan Dedering; the Republicans did not even field a candidate.)
Pocan identifies as a progressive Democrat, and is a member of a number of organizations, including Wisconsin Citizens Action, the American Civil Liberties Union, Fair Wisconsin and Midwest Progressive Elected Officials Network. He has been an active participant in the ongoing debate regarding same-sex marriage in Wisconsin, though the state has approved a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Pocan is also one of the few progressive Democrats to have joined the American Legislative Exchange Council ("ALEC"), a strongly conservative-leaning organization that produces "boilerplate" legislative proposals for state governments. Pocan used his membership to investigate the organization's agenda and sponsors and wrote a series of articles on his experiences with ALEC for the Madison-based magazine The Progressive. On the September 29, 2012 edition of Moyers and Company, Pocan said "ALEC is a corporate dating service for lonely legislators and corporate special interests that eventually the relationship culminates with some special interest legislation and hopefully that lives happily ever after as the ALEC model. Unfortunately what’s excluded from that equation is the public."
During his time as a state legislator, Pocan earned a reputation for moving the Wisconsin political debate to the left. One of the most outspoken progressive members of the state assembly, Pocan focused on difficult issues including corrections reform, the state budget, education funding, and fighting privatization schemes.
For six years Pocan sat on the state’s powerful budget writing Joint Finance Committee, including a term as co-chair. He also took on a leading role among Assembly Democrats, running caucus campaign efforts in 2008 when Dems went from five seats down to successfully retaking the majority for Democrats for the first time in 14 years.
In 2012, Baldwin gave up her congressional seat in order to run for the U.S. Senate. Pocan decided to run in the open 2nd congressional district. He won a four candidate Democratic primary with 72% of the vote. He won all 7 counties in the district, including the heavily populated Dane County with 74% of the vote. The 2nd is so heavily Democratic that Pocan's victory in the primary was widely regarded as tantamount to election. On November 6, 2012, Pocan won the general election, defeating Republican Chad Lee 68%-32%.
He credits his political activism in part to an incident soon after he graduated college and opened his printing business. Pocan reports that he was followed by two men after he left a gay bar, and was beaten with a baseball bat while they called him "faggot" and other slurs. This gaybashing incident spurred him to become active in the Madison LGBT community. Pocan is notable for having been the only openly gay member of the state Assembly after Tammy Baldwin's election to Congress, and was one of three LGBT members of the 100th Wisconsin Legislature, alongside Sen. Tim Carpenter (D–Milwaukee), bisexual Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa (D–Milwaukee).
Mark Pocan's brother William Pocan serves as a circuit court judge in Milwaukee County.
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