By Kevin Levy, Executive Editor
The Democratic Primary of 2016 took a huge toll on the Democratic Party. Battlelines were drawn along ideologies with the left wing of the party supporting Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and more establishment moderate and conservative Democrats supporting former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. After the surprise defeat of Hillary Clinton in the race for the White House, the election for the future Democratic National Committee chair is wide open. Two leading candidates have emerged: Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez. Both would be strong leaders of the Democratic Party, but in order to unite the Democratic Party into the new administration and into the 2018 Midterms, I’ll be supporting Secretary Tom Perez for DNC Chair.
Since 2013, Perez has served the nation as the Secretary of Labor leading the government’s efforts to continually improve the situation of America’s workforce. With the confidence of President Obama and the largest labor organizations, Secretary Perez has instituted new rules to raise the maximum overtime wage cap for millions of workers and prevent retirement advisors from acting on their conflicts of interests by putting their clients’ interests before their own. Following an election year with an electorate focused primarily on their bottom line, choosing Secretary Perez to pursue policies that would continue to improve the economy and put workers first would be a solid path for Democrats to follow.
As Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Secretary Perez fought for the inclusion of LGBT Americans. Secretary Perez championed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act which created a federal hate crimes penalty for committing crimes against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Americans. He was the first federally non-elected official to use that statute to prosecute people for LGBT for hate crimes. Tom Perez has been at the forefront of Democratic politics when it comes to the expansion of human rights and has been there for both moderates and progressives alike. Secretary Perez, a career civil rights attorney, took a gang of white supremacists to task when he prosecuted them for attempting to ignite a “race war.” Protecting Americans of all sexual orientations and races should not be a partisan issue, but Perez can lead the charge from the left to get these jobs done.
Secretary Perez has campaigned on a full DNC staff team that will focus on voter suppression. By overturning its Section 4, the largely conservative Supreme Court has stripped the federal government of relevancy where it comes to the Voter’s Rights Act. Promoting the voting rights of those most adversely affected by the Shelby County v. Holder decision is of the highest importance. Without the pre-clearance authority of the Department of Justice, states led by Republicans have been able to restrict voter’s rights by instituting inordinate voter identification law which specifically singles out minority voters to advantage Republicans. Tom Perez is the DNC candidate to fight against the far-right attacks against democracy.
Representative Keith Ellison, the other leading contender for DNC Chair, is a strong choice. He supported Sen. Sanders in the primary, touting his leftist economic agenda. His past associations with the racist Nation of Islam and Louis Farrakhan should be put behind him as he thoroughly disavowed his past. Ellison is not an anti-Semite, nor is he racist. However, he represents a wing of the party that is unrepresentative of the party as a whole. Ellison consistently is one of the most left-wing Members of Congress, and his ideological stances are simply out of sync with rural Democrats and many of the independent voters who supported Donald Trump in this election. Although Secretary Perez endorsed former Secretary Clinton in the Democratic Primary, he never positioned himself as a staunch ideologue. The Democrats should be lead by someone who can bring together the Sanders- and the Clinton-wings of the Party, not bring it to one end of the political spectrum.
On January 5th the potential dark horse Mayor of South Bend, Indiana’s Pete Buttigieg announced his candidacy for DNC Chair. If elected, Mayor Buttigieg, 34, would be the youngest leader of the Democratic Party in its history. He would also be its first gay leader. Mayor Buttigieg represents new ideas and youthfulness for a national party that is beginning to resemble an old folks’ home. Representation is important, too, as millennials and LGBT Americans don’t have a national figure that can serve as a sort of role model. However, as the two term mayor of a town of just 100,000, Mayor Buttigieg doesn’t have the national perspective required to lead the Democratic Party at the highest level. He also doesn’t have the experience to corral a fractured Democratic Party and unite it in opposition to the incoming Trump presidency. Instead of rushing to vault to national prominence, Mayor Buttigieg should first attempt to get a national perspective on dealing with the issues that affect all Americans. Mayor Buttigeg is truly an inspiring force and a rising star in the Democratic Party, but charisma won’t be enough to put the Party back on the right track towards governance.
At the end of the day, elections are won and lost by votes, not retweets, likes on a Facebook post, or attendees of a popular rally. Tom Perez has shown that he is experienced, knowledgeable, and dedicated enough to further the cause of the Democratic Party to bring it back into the majority. I believe that he will be a pragmatic progressive who puts governance ahead of ideological rigidity, hoping to meld the Democratic Party to the states.
Bringing together all wings of the Democratic Party, including the center, is the surest way to increase our odds of winning back the Congress, state legislatures, and the White House in 2018 and 2020, and Tom Perez is the best candidate for that job.