2017 DNC Chair Election

Written by Ben Pistora | 27 February 2017 at 9:49AM

Congratulations to our next DNC Chair Tom Perez! Chairman Perez understands the importance of including young people in the fight to move our party and country forward. We also want to congratulate Keith Ellison for being named Deputy Chair of the DNC. We look forward to working with this new administration in the months and years to come, especially to secure increased involvement in the Democratic Party from young people and College Democrats. We want to thank all of the candidates who ran to share their ideas, vision, and plans for the future of the Democratic Party.

Over this process, we, first, co-sponsored a debate moderated by Huffington Post in which all of the candidates were able to speak to some of our members. Afterwards, we happily welcomed Tom Perez and Pete Buttigieg to speak to students on campus and hosted a conference call with Keith Ellison, allowing them to outline their vision for the DNC and youth issues.

Secretary Tom Perez

We can talk about Jim Comey, and we can talk about the Russians. And those are legitimate issues to talk about, but what we also have to do, if we’re honest, is to talk about our own shortcomings.
— Secretary Tom Perez

The Obama Administration’s Assistant Attorney General of Civil Rights and Secretary of Labor Tom Perez was the first candidate to come back to GW. On February 7, Secretary Perez spoke before a lively student audience representing College Democrats from all around D.C. at the Elliott School of International Affairs. (GW Democrats provided a full Facebook Live feed of the event, which garnered 1,400 views). In his opening remarks, Perez called for organizing and activism, noting that, “[Democracy] can never be a spectator sport” and frequently highlighted and reiterated the positive impact of President Obama and his policies, most notably that of the Affordable Care Act. His vision for the DNC as a progressive is not far from Obama’s, and he supported him in several key initiatives, most notably raising the minimum wage for federal contractors and taking a stronger role at the Justice Department in prosecuting discrimination by states.

In describing his own vision for the DNC, Perez stated that he hopes to model on the legacy of his former boss, the late Senator Ted Kennedy, noting that, “He taught me what it was like to be a progressive, what it was like to be an effective progressive” and stressed his own qualifications as the former head of the 50-state US Department of Labor, later describing his record as a, “change agent.” This was a common theme for his campaign, as he described turning around the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department when it was gutted during George W. Bush’s presidency.

As the event opened up for questioning, Perez continued to stress the importance of focused core messaging. When asked how Democrats can field strong candidates in traditionally conservative America, the Secretary cited the statistics of job growth under Democratic leadership and the need to communicate that reality to a wider base. He also rejected notions that the Democratic Party had focused to much on “minority issues” as opposed to the needs of the white working class, describing it as a “false choice,” and furthermore rejected labelling of Democrats as “Clinton-wing,” Progressive, etc. On the question of overall strategy, Perez stressed an over-reliance on data analytics and a lack of investment in “persuasion” which had failed to compete with GOP Strategy. Regarding the selection process of the DNC leadership, Perez expressed support for a broadening of the DNC voting base and of DNC millennial engagement. Secretary Perez also endorsed a policy of expanding the DNC’s budgetary investments into interns, specifically supporting the notion of expanding paid internships, a major selling point to our College Democrats audience, which broke out into applause, of course. Ultimately, Perez hammered home the need for organizing and activism and laid out an optimistic view of the party’s future, predicting major victories in 2017 and 2018.

Congressman Keith Ellison

We don’t campaign in a common sense way to win. We ignore the Red States, we ignore the blue states, we go to the swing states, and then we talk to the likely voters in the swing states.
— Congressman Keith Ellison

A week later, on February 13, purportedly leading candidate and Congressman for Minnesota’s 5th District Keith Ellison participated in a conference call with GW College Democrats. The nation’s first elected Muslim member of Congress and former Bernie Sanders supporter stressed a need for the Democratic Party to organize around the core principles of “Working Day Americans,” noting that “56% of Americans have less than $1,000 in the bank.” Ellison noted that many of those struggling Americans are the nation’s students, struggling under the burden of student debt, and stressed the importance of empowering the nation’s youth and recognized the role of young activists in driving organizations such as Fight for 15 and 350.org. Ellison alluded to his direct involvement in helping to launch young and diverse former staffers and mentees to elected office in Minnesota. He promised to GW College Dems that if elected DNC Chair, the Committee will have a line item in their budget with which to fund College Democrats nationwide, noting the $5 million dollars the RNC invested in College Republicans.

When presented with a letter from the GW Dems leadership asking for funding and a place at the table for College Democrats at the State Party level, Ellison noted no hesitation in signing on to the proposal. On questions of banning lobbyist money and expanding the DNC electorate, the Congressman expressed his support for both initiatives but stressed that he will facilitate an open dialogue within the party in order to determine its path on lobbyist money. Ellison cited that having one person making decisions ultimately led to the exact problems with former Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. Ellison said, “turning it on in the off year,” as Minnesota did in 2015, focusing on a field operation and in ensuring that community outreach expands beyond election years. He said that in 2016 the party had not campaigned effectively, focusing only on the “likely” voters in the contested states and often missed out on first time youth voters. Like Perez, Ellison described an over-reliance on polling as opposed to talking to people and noted that the DNC had become a, “Presidentially focused entity.”

Ellison pushed his campaign slogans of a “50 year strategy” and “3,143 county strategy engaging voters at a micro-level.” Asked on balancing minority issues and working class issues, the Congressman stated that, “When people say should we work on the white working class or the rising American electorate, my answer to that is, yes” expressing his stance that often working class issues and race issues are inseparable. Ellison outlined the core message of the Democratic Party as simply, “Make a Living and Respect Everybody.” Throughout the conference call, Ellison directly appealed to the college student audience in repeatedly returning to the issues of College Democrats and his specific vision for youth organizations, ending the event with a promise to couple every trip made as DNC Chair with a visit to a college campus and College Democrats organization.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg

In his own appeal to GW Dems, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg also arrived on campus for a 45 minute session on February 18. The 35-year-old “red-state” mayor, now in his second term, put forward his own record as a turnaround agent in a struggling rust belt community and remained optimistic on his chances for victory. Despite widely accepted as sitting in third place behind frontrunners Perez and Ellison, Buttigieg cited the DNC’s multi-round ballot process as a promising opportunity if the frontrunners remain deadlocked. He dropped out before DNC voting, having succeeded in raising his national profile and making a name within the party.

“Mayor Pete” outlined his path for the DNC through the “4 F’s” of “Freedom, Fairness, Families, and Future,” core concepts that he believes must be at the center of the party’s messaging efforts. Coming from local government, he stressed the importance of local efforts and accountability noting that as a mayor, his constituents can see whether “the snow has been plowed and the potholes filled.” Buttigieg made his appeal as a compromise candidate of-sorts who does not belong to any of “wing” of the party and focused on specific changes and policies to reinvigorate the DNC, including in traditionally conservative areas such as his own as a mayor in “Mike Pence’s Indiana.” Mayor Pete hit similar themes of expanding the College Democrat budget and stressing the importance of state and local parties.

Ben Pistora is a freshman in the School of Media and Public Affairs from Kenton, Ohio. He's a Buckeye through and through and watches far more than the recommended dose of C-SPAN.

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