Future of the DNC Part 3

The election is coming up soon! With that in mind we give you the third and final post about DNC candidates Keith Ellison and Tom Perez:

Keith Ellison (@EllisonCampaign)

Keith Ellison was the first person to declare his candidacy for DNC Chair, on November 14, 2016, quickly racking up endorsements from many high-level politicians, including liberal sweethearts Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), as well as incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and incoming Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL). Ellison currently holds office as Congressman representing Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, and is a former state legislator. He has vowed to resign his seat if elected DNC chair.

We must energize Democratic activists across the country and give them the tools to build the Party from the bottom up. Beyond a 50-state strategy, we need a 3,143-county strategy … We must also reclaim our history as the Party that stands with working people. We can start with our platform – the most progressive in history – which calls for a living wage, requiring wealthy corporations to pay their fair share, and comprehensive immigration reform.”

Ellison’s commitment to reinvigorate the grassroots of the party is echoed by Mike Dewar (‘18) in his endorsement of Ellison for DNC Chair.

“Have you checked up on your Town or County Democrats lately? How are they doing?

One of the great things about working on Bernie Sanders’ campaign for the Democratic nomination was that I got to talk to Democrats in a bunch of states – red and blue – about their aspirations for the party, and what needed to change. What I saw, and what I heard, was troubling. I can’t tell you the number of meetings I was at where local Democrats said that they needed more membership, and they needed more support. Many of them hadn’t been taught (beyond a volunteer account in Votebuilder) about the modern tools of field campaigning. Many meetings were sparsely attended, and all of them had limited if any presence of Democrats under forty years old. Everyone felt that they didn’t receive the support they needed or had the input they deserved in DC.

The truth of the matter is that even ignoring the trauma of the Presidential campaign, the need for the party to return to its roots as the party of the whole working class (not just white, as some commentators would have you believe), and the absolute necessity of retaking state legislatures in the 2020 redistricting election, the Democratic Party needs to adjust what it is and how it functions at the most basic level. The organizations it’s modeled on, the social clubs of the 20th century like the Elks, Masons, and Shriners, are ill-fitted for a modern, professionalized world.

To achieve our policy and political goals, we need to re-organize the Democratic party. Keith has the vision that most completely addresses the real challenges the Party faces. His message is that all the money and professional expertise centered in DC needs to go out to every county of this country, from Aroostook County, Maine to Yuma County Arizona. Furthermore, Keith is the only candidate running who has implemented what he’s talking about. There’s broad agreement among all the candidates for a 50-state strategy, for greater transparency in DC, and to push back the undemocratic voter suppression strategy pursued by the GOP. Many also agree on the need for permanent organizing and community building outside of the electoral structure.  But on a fundamental level, Keith is the only candidate running who has boosted Democratic turnout in his district to keep a state blue. Keith is the only candidate running who has fostered and produced grassroots engagement. Keith is the only candidate running who has kept people interested in political action in non-election years.  He’s the only candidate who is really getting at the root of what’s ailing the Democratic Party, and the only one with the resume to fix it.” -Mike Dewar (‘18)

Sam Joyce (‘20) also believes Ellison should chair the party for the coming term, citing Ellison’s commitment to promoting youth involvement in the party.

“[Keith] Ellison has articulated a vision for a truly left-wing Democratic Party able to appeal to working-class people of all stripes, and has the record, including early opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, to suggest that his vision is more than just talk. His promise to use only 100% union vendors and venues suggests a real devotion to labor issues, while his pledge to enact a ban on lobbyist contributions to the DNC and refocus on low-dollar contributions from grassroots donors could go a long way towards rehabilitating the DNC’s image. His plan to provide for greater representation of young Democrats in party leadership is also an essential step to convince young voters, overwhelmingly Sanders supporters, that the Democratic Party cares about them and their interests. He’s also demonstrated a remarkable amount of political prescience, suggesting the serious possibility of a Trump win back in July of 2015, and his electoral record suggests organizational talent. Though he represents a safely Democratic district in Minneapolis, he successfully navigated a contentious five-way primary in his initial bid for office, and the lack of any serious primary challenge since then suggests he’s doing something right on a district level. Organizing has to take the foreground over the next four years, and Ellison’s detailed 3,143 county strategy reflects this commitment to mass organizing. Rebuilding the party from the county level up is essential, and perhaps the only hope for the party to claw its way back to relevancy.

While Ellison is certainly to the left of most Democrats, this is no great liability. People will be angry in 2020 (if they’re not, we have bigger problems), and will need a party leader who can channel that populist anger to energize the Democratic base. The old playbooks—about elections, about politics, about power—went out the window right when Trump went over 270, and means-tested t-squared sliding-scale pragmatism is simply not appropriate for a political moment when people are really, really fed up with political power brokers, special interests, and what’s more broadly termed “politics as usual.” Democrats need a leader who is able to connect with the public, someone in line with the zeitgeist of the era in which we are now living. Keith Ellison is that leader.

It’s worth noting that this messaging is the most important part of choosing a new chair. The position of DNC chair is not an all-powerful party czar. There’s a full-time CEO that does most of the day-to-day work — most of the job of the DNC chair is media appearances and fundraising. However, with Democrats no longer in power at any level of government (meaning no competition for TV time with anyone from the administration, as well as fewer elected officials) the chair will have a lot of ability to shape the message of the party going forward. The position does not matter all that much in terms of policy, but it matters a lot for the image the Democratic Party puts forward, and it is essential that the Democrats choose a party leader able to mobilize the public in favor of reforms. They don’t even need to be a great visionary, so long as they have the courage and moral confidence to relentlessly confront this administration at every turn. I believe Ellison is a man who brings the strength of his convictions to every fight and who will not back down in the face of a hostile regime, and that more than anything is the quality the next chair of the DNC needs to have.

Though a number of conservatives have raised the alarm about Ellison’s faith (from David Horowitz: “Harry Reid Endorses Muslim Brotherhood Shill Keith Ellison for DNC Chairman,”) his religion is also a positive aspect of his candidacy. In these times, in the face of what promises to be the most Islamophobic administration in history, it’s important for Muslim-Americans to have a recognizable political leader, and conceding the argument (in essence, agreeing with the right that there shouldn’t be any Muslim political leaders) would be a grave error. As for any potential electoral blowback, it seems safe to assume that any voter who would refuse to vote for an Ellison-led party already thinks that a black Muslim guy from the Midwest is in charge of the Democratic Party, and has been for the past eight years.

As for the smear campaign people like Haim Saban are running against Ellison because of his views on Israel, it is just that: a smear. Ellison made a few regrettable comments in his youth, for which he apologized. That they are being used to assassinate his character decades later is disgusting, and that Ellison’s opponents are now hitting him over, uh, unpaid traffic tickets from more than a decade back just looks kinda desperate.

It’s also worth considering the effects of an Ellison loss. Right now, Ellison has drawn support from three major groups: grassroots progressives, Congressional party leadership, and labor unions. Grassroots progressives (both leaders like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and groups like MoveOn.org, Democracy for America, the Progressive Democrats of America, etc.) are merely one faction; party leaders have been elected without the support of the party’s left wing before, and by and large the party has endured.” -Sam Joyce (‘20)

[Read Sam’s full endorsement of Ellison here.]


Tom Perez (@TomPerez)

Tom Perez announced his candidacy for DNC Chair on December 13, 2016. As outgoing Secretary of Labor, Perez is the assumed favorite of the Obama Administration. He has been endorsed by former Vice President Joe Biden,  as well as four governors from across the Democratic spectrum: Terry McAuliffe (D-VA), Gina Raimondo (D-RI), John Bel Edwards (D-LA), and John Hickenlooper (D-CO). Prior to serving as Labor Secretary, he served first as a special counsel to the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and later as Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights during the Clinton administration.

“Now isn’t the time to despair,” his campaign website announces on its homepage, “it’s time to organize and fight … We must strengthen our team, and our bench, from the ground up. And we must stand up to protect President Obama’s accomplishments. But most of all, we need to listen. We need to listen to Democrats at every level, empowering them to fight for progressive values and a vision of opportunity and optimism. And we need to listen to voters, up and down the ballot, who are asking us to stand behind them.”

The Perez campaign for Chair is supported by UC Dem Mikala Cohen (‘18), who wrote,

“Tom Perez wants to have a staffer that works primarily and only to fight GOP-led voter suppression efforts and campaigns across the country, from congressional gerrymandering to voter ID laws. Voter suppression is a key issue that the DNC needs to make a hallmark of its operations. [Perez] was the Secretary of Labor and has held positions as a Democratic lawmaker on so many different levels of government. In addition, he’s incredibly supportive of unions, and a Hispanic American at the top of the DNC would bring a needed perspective to the Democrats who need to grow the fastest growing demographic in the USA. He worked for the US Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Arguably, he embodies Hillary Clinton’s motto of being a ‘progressive who gets things done’. On a personal note, I was very impressed by his speech at the 2015 DNC College Democrats Convention.”

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