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Pocan settling in but searching for across-the-aisle cooperation

Dem Mark Pocan’s friendship with Republican Robin Vos in the Assembly made them a political odd couple – a liberal from Dane County and a conservative from Racine County who disagreed on almost everything, but touted their ability to get along on a personal level.

Finding the same kind of across-the-aisle friendship in the House may take a little longer.

“Trust me I’ve been trying,” Pocan said in a new WisPolitics.com interview following freshman orientation.

Pocan, who won the 2nd CD seat now held by Sen.-elect Tammy Baldwin, said those putting on the training in Washington, D.C., seem to separate Dems and Republicans every chance they get. He said his longest conversation with a freshman Republican so far was the 15 minutes he spent talking to Chris Collins of New York during the class picture.

Pocan said he sought out a table of Republicans to sit with one night at a dinner. But almost all of them left early to hear columnist George Will speak.

Still, he said U.S. Rep. Tom Petri, R-Fond du Lac, “could not have been more courteous,” in talking to him and U.S. Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Sherwood, has been trying to get together for dinner.

Dem members Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, and Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, have been helpful, too, but Pocan is on a quest of sorts.

“How come I can’t meet any Republicans?” Pocan said he’d like to ask those running the orientation sessions. “It’s felt like segregation a little bit. It was a bit maybe foreshadowing about how the world works there.”

Meanwhile, Pocan has checked off most of the other things on his to-do list as an incoming member.

He hired Glenn Wavrunek, his legislative aide, as chief of staff and Janet Piraino as district director with more staff expected to come onboard soon. Pocan expects to take over Baldwin’s district office space in Madison. In D.C., he’s found housing and awaits committee assignments.

Pocan also said he got a good number in the office lottery pick and ended up with a spot on the third floor of the Cannon Building.

Asked if the size of the office was a shock for an incoming member of Congress, Pocan joked, “Let’s put it this way. It’s certainly not Robin Vos’ new office. Just a joke.”

Pocan said he’d like to see Congress finish work on the so-called fiscal cliff, but its track record for success isn’t the best. If it falls to the next Congress, Pocan said he doesn’t have any strict bottom lines. But he wants to see a solution that mixes increased revenues with spending cuts, which he said was the approach Dems took for the 2009-11 budget when he was the Joint Finance Committee co-chair.

“We can’t do it on the backs of the middle class and working poor,” Pocan said. “If that’s where we wind up going, in other words we don’t bring in revenue where we need to, that would be very hard to support. But I would hope that we could have a real conversation that mixes both revenue and cuts to the point where we could have a responsible compromise much like we did when we solved our deficit in Wisconsin.”

Like with Baldwin, most stories about Pocan’s election note he’s an openly gay lawmaker. Pocan chalked that up to the relative newness of openly gay legislators in D.C. compared to Wisconsin, where he remembers more openly gay members of the Dane County Board 20 years ago than openly gay legislators in the state of California.

Pocan also said there aren’t many other things to define him in D.C. yet.

“Right now, I’m not on a committee, I don’t have staff. There’s not much else they can say about us,” Pocan said. “Saying `the bald guy from Wisconsin’ is not going to narrow it down too much.”

Listen to the full interview.

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