On Feb. 25 voting members of the Democratic National Committee will meet in Atlanta at the DNC’s Winter Meeting to vote on a new party chair. The Democratic Party find itself amidst an identity crisis with members disagreeing over the future of the party, how the party should respond to the election of Donald Trump and how the party should best be structured moving forward.
The two frontrunners in the election are Congressman Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Former Secretary of Labor Tom Perez. While there are six other candidates in the race for party chair, Ellison and Perez are neck-and-neck to win, according to a recent Politico poll.
Beltway Bulletin’s Pablo Roa is a Tom Perez supporter while guest columnist Stacey Khizder is a Keith Ellison supporter. They both talked to Michael Stern about the upcoming election.
1. Why do you support your candidate as the next Chair of the DNC?
Pablo Roa: I support Tom Perez because I believe he’s the most qualified candidate to rebuild the Democratic Party from the ground up. Over the last eight years, the party has been decimated from school boards to the U.S. Congress and everywhere in between. The DNC needs a leader with a proven track record of taking large organizations and turning them around. It needs someone committed to listening to the concerns of every voter and determined to give everyone a spot at the table. That’s exactly what Tom did while serving as Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights at the Department of Justice, where he drastically expanded the Department’s civil rights division. That’s also what he did at the Department of Labor, where he fought day in and day out to protect and expand the rights of workers.
Tom has spent his whole career fighting for the little guy and getting things done. And that’s exactly what he’ll do as the next DNC Chair.
Stacey Khizder: I support Keith Ellison for DNC Chair for plenty of reasons. He is the leader the Democratic Party needs right now after a shockingly terrible and disappointing national election. There are reasons why Democrats keep losing, and Keith knows how to turn that around. One of the main reasons why I support Keith Ellison over the rest of the candidates, specifically the front runners, is because Keith Ellison is a big advocate for small donor contributions and has a record of successfully raising millions of dollars based off of small donations. This reduces the chance of shady conflicting interests, establishes trust with “regular people voters”, which will help bring them back to vote for state and local democrats.
2. How will your candidate guide the DNC in the future?
PR: If he’s elected chair, Tom will bring the same fight, passion and dedication to the DNC that he’s shown at every step of his career. He’s determined to bring the Democratic Party back from the ashes of 2016 by getting back to the basics and organizing in every zip code across the country. He’ll use his experience to strengthen the party at every level — from the school board to the statehouse and beyond in every state across the country.
How will he do that? By listening. It’s important to note that the Democratic Party does not have a crisis of energy. It does not have a crisis of values, and it does not have a crisis of passion. When it comes to all of those things, I would argue that the Democratic Party is as strong as it’s ever been. It does, however, have a crisis of listening.
For far too long the Democratic Party has forgotten many of the working-class voters who once made up the party’s base. Whether it’s blue-collar voters in Michigan or rural voters in Pennsylvania and Ohio, the party simply hasn’t been there. It hasn’t made house calls. It hasn’t been listening.
The DNC needs to treat every state as if it were a swing state. It needs to push the values that unite the party as a whole, not just specific groups or demographics. The party needs to work hard in election years, and it needs to work twice as hard in off years. And above all, it needs to listen. It needs to listen to its base. At the same time, it needs to listen to the legitimate concerns of many longtime Democrats who voted for Donald Trump in 2016. It needs to listen to state and local parties that have been abandoned in recent years and give them the attention and resources they need to rebuild the party from the ground up.
SK: As I mentioned, there are a few key issues why the Democrat keep losing. Keith Ellison is a hardcore progressive who can push for the most progressive platform the DNC has ever had. He has over 35 years of experience with grassroots organizing, as well as fundraising, as he’s raised millions for Democrats in local and state offices. Next, he wants to increase the funding for state offices because there is a shortage of it right now, and no one really understands where it’s going. There are lots of more reasons, but those are the ones most central towards his campaign.
3. What’s the biggest weakness of the DNC and why will your candidate fix that?
PR: To put it lightly, it’s been a rough few years for the Democratic Party. In fact, it’s been a rough eight years — President Obama’s victories not withstanding. The Democratic Party has been decimated at every level of government, and the electoral map for 2018 and 2020 aren’t looking great, either.
In many ways, the Democratic Party — and the DNC in particular — has let this happen right under its nose. The party got cocky. It narrowed its base rather than expanding it, and it became complacent with attracting specific voters in specific states at the expense of alienating loyal Democratic voters in other states. The party abandoned the 50-state strategy that was so effective in the mid-2000s. As a result of all of this and more, the party is at one of its weakest points in recent history.
But it’s not too late to turn things around. If Tom Perez is elected DNC chair, he’ll bring the party back to the basics. He’ll listen to voters, he’ll organize the party in every zip code and he’ll turn the party around. Above all, he’ll help the party win elections in 2018 and beyond, and that’s the only way the party can climb out of the hole it dug itself into.
SK: Republicans keep winning elections and that is no accident. The Democrats have shifted towards taking big money donations, which are not a problem unless the money comes from questionable sources and expect a favor in return. The Democrats have become more of the “establishment” and are losing their voter base because the majority of voters in this country have been seriously hurt by neo-liberal policies that don’t work. Keith Ellison understands these issues and knows how to fix them by focusing on small donors and pushing for the most progressive agenda the DNC has ever had.
4. Whats the biggest challenge for your candidate in this election?
PR: The biggest challenge for Tom Perez is that some Democrats have not moved on from the 2016 election. Those who haven’t followed the DNC race closely might characterize it as a proxy battle between the Bernie Sanders and the Barack Obama/Hillary Clinton wings of the party. That’s a tired narrative, and it demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the race and the challenges facing the Democratic Party.
This election is about choosing the person with the skills and experience necessary to rebuild the party from the ground up. It’s about finding someone who can not only fight the good fights, but win them too. It’s about finding someone with ambitious ideas who knows how to make them reality.
It’s not about Bernie vs. Hillary. It’s about rebuilding the party before it fades into irrelevance.
SK: The biggest challenge for Keith Ellison would be to address rumors that he is anti-semitic. They are simply not true and is a smear, but some think that because of his Muslim background. The truth is that he is a strong advocate and supporter for the Jewish community. He is a supporter of the two-state solution, which some may not agree with, but progressives can say that is the best way to handle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Another challenge is the ‘scandal’ that broke a few days ago that he and Tom Perez were out to dinner to cut a deal. Both of them have addressed that the only deal they settled on is mutual support.
5. Is your candidate the best choice for Millenials? Why?
PR: I’m confident that any of the candidates in the race would work with the best interests of millennials in mind. Millennials are passionate about protecting the environment. They want every American to have access to quality, affordable healthcare. They want their government to be transparent and they want it to work with their best interests in mind, not with those of lobbyists and corporations. Millennials want an economy that works for everybody, not just those at the top. Millennials are passionate about inclusion, opportunity, diversity, and the belief that everybody’s rights should be protected regardless of their race, religion, gender or orientation.
Those aren’t just Millennial values. Those are the values of the Democratic Party. And those are the values of all of the candidates running for the DNC Chair.
But just having those values is not enough. The Democratic Party needs a leader who can take those values and get them on the ballot. It needs a leader who can organize the party in every zip code across the 57 state parties and territories. It needs someone who can harness the grassroots energy that progressives have shown in marches and town halls since Inauguration Day. It needs a leader with a proven track record of progress — someone with the skills, instincts and experience necessary to bring change to an organization that desperately needs it.
That’s exactly what Tom Perez has done throughout his career. And that’s exactly what he’ll do if he’s elected DNC Chair.
SK: Keith Ellison is simply the best choice for millennials because in comparison to baby-boomers, millennials are the most progressive group of democrats. Now, the DNC has the most progressive platform in history, and Keith Ellison has the will and integrity to pursue that platform. Millennials are the future.