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When Sen. Paul Wellstone died 17 years ago this month, many of the up-and-coming progressive politicos coming into the arena were in elementary school.

But he'd probably admire what they're up to.

After the 2016 election, progressive groups such as Take­Action, Faith in Minnesota and more familiar labor and environmental groups set up a training academy for activists and potential candidates called "Movement Political Leadership Program."

This year they've trained 25 activists, including state Rep. Hunter Cantrell, DFL-Savage, and Chauntyll Allen, a candidate for the St. Paul school board.

What's different is that they're focused as much on governance as they are on winning elections, according to a memo from TakeAction spokeswoman Kenza Hadj-Moussa.

"This is not about winning elections. It's about winning the day," she said.

It's a little vague, but basically the governing philosophy seeks to undo the status quo, in which powerful people and groups — which usually means people with money — influence governing decisions, or simply get appointed to important government jobs. As a result, in this telling, people whose lives are affected by government are left out of the decisionmaking.

The idea is that underrepresented people — those without a powerful voice at the Capitol — should be at the center of governing decisions. That elected officials should be listening to them through a robust network of unions, civic and community groups. And, that these everyday people should also get appointed to important government jobs.

And they're not just going after Republicans.

"Those in public leadership too often are surrounded by, and accountable to, corporate interests, or come from big industries themselves," Hadj-Moussa writes. "Democrats, of course, are just as susceptible to corporate influence."

As we wrote in this space recently, top Minnesota Democrats are especially comfortable in Fortune 500 boardrooms; many of them worked in that environment.

TakeAction and its allies seem to have studied the conservative movement. For decades, conservatives built their own infrastructure outside of and independent of the Republican Party, even as they took control of the party apparatus.

Sometimes, especially during the Tea Party era, they launched challengers against incumbents and established favorites who were deemed insufficiently devoted to the cause.

Likewise, expect these progressive groups to support primary challengers against a handful of DFL incumbents, especially in the state Senate.

First up: Former Rep. Erin Murphy announced a bid last week against longtime state Sen. Richard Cohen, DFL-St. Paul.

With the Senate currently controlled by Republicans 35-32 and an all-important redistricting coming after 2020, the stakes are enormous.

J. Patrick Coolican 651-925-5042 Twitter: @jpcoolican