PEREZ urges unity for Democrats.

New chair­man pledges to reach out to pro­gres­sives, oth­ers

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - JEN­NIFER EP­STEIN

For­mer U.S. La­bor Sec­re­tary Tom Perez, newly elected chair­man of the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee, said Sun­day that a united party will be Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s worst night­mare.

Perez spoke on three po­lit­i­cal talk shows a day af­ter he was elected to lead a party strug­gling for di­rec­tion and riven by in­ter­nal con­flicts af­ter Hil­lary Clin­ton’s loss to Trump in Novem­ber. He vowed to “lead with our val­ues” to re­con­nect with vot­ers who fled the party af­ter feel­ing over­looked.

The first His­panic to head the Demo­cratic Party, Perez nonethe­less rep­re­sents con­ti­nu­ity for the party es­tab­lish­ment af­ter serv­ing as la­bor sec­re­tary and as­sis­tant at­tor­ney gen­eral for civil rights in for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion.

His first ac­tion as chair­man was to name his ri­val for the top Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee role, Rep. Keith El­li­son of Min­ne­sota, as deputy chair; El­li­son re­sponded by urg­ing his sup­port­ers to work with Perez.

“If you came here sup­port­ing me, I’m ask­ing you to give ev­ery­thing you’ve got to sup­port Chair­man Perez,” El­li­son said on Satur­day. “We don’t have the lux­ury, folks, to walk out of this room di­vided.”

El­li­son donned a “Team Tom” but­ton, while Perez pinned on a “Keith for DNC” but­ton as they stood side by side to warn of threats too se­ri­ous to be de­railed by scuf­fles within the party. “The very fate of our na­tion is in the bal­ance,” El­li­son said.

El­li­son said he in­tends to keep his seat in the House and sug­gested that he could serve as a li­ai­son be­tween the party and mem­bers of Congress.

“Con­gress­man El­li­son and I are united, and our Demo­cratic unity is Don­ald Trump’s worst night­mare,” Perez said on ABC’s This Week.

Af­ter fall­ing one vote short in a first round of bal­lot­ing, Perez de­feated El­li­son 235-200 in the sec­ond round. The first Mus­lim elected to Congress, El­li­son had backed Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., over Clin­ton in the Demo­cratic pri­maries and rep­re­sented calls within the party for a harder turn to the left and to pop­ulism in re­sponse to Trump’s rise.

Trump on Sun­day tweeted that the “race for DNC Chair­man was, of course, to­tally ‘rigged’” in fa­vor of Clin­ton’s choice. Satur­day night, Trump had con­grat­u­lated Perez on Twit­ter and said “I could not be hap­pier for him, or for the Repub­li­can Party!”

As well as los­ing the White House in Novem­ber, Democrats are the mi­nor­ity in both cham­bers of Congress and hold only 16 gov­er­nor­ships. Dur­ing Obama’s eight years as pres­i­dent, the party also lost hun­dreds of seats in state leg­is­la­tures.

The com­mit­tee has been wait­ing for a new chair­man be­fore hir­ing ad­di­tional staff and start­ing the post­elec­tion work of its Unity Com­mis­sion, which will con­sider changes to the party’s pri­mary pro­cess.

Perez wouldn’t say whether he in­tends to launch an au­topsy re­port like the one that Repub­li­cans con­ducted af­ter their losses in 2012. He com­mit­ted to sur­vey­ing Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee mem­bers on what they see as the com­mit­tee’s fail­ings and to work­ing on “in­ter­nal cul­ture change.” He also pledged to use the party struc­ture to reach out to pro­gres­sive groups in­clud­ing unions, Planned Par­ent­hood and grass­roots protest groups that are crop­ping up across the coun­try.

The son of Do­mini­can im­mi­grants, Perez grew up in Buf­falo, N.Y., and worked his way through Ivy League Brown Univer­sity as a garbage col­lec­tor and din­ing hall worker. He earned a mas­ter’s de­gree in public pol­icy and a law de­gree at Har­vard Univer­sity be­fore go­ing on to clerk in Col­orado, join­ing the Jus­tice De­part­ment’s Civil Rights Di­vi­sion, ad­vis­ing Sen. Ted Kennedy, D.Mass., and serv­ing as Mary­land’s la­bor sec­re­tary.

Obama nom­i­nated Perez in 2009 to serve as as­sis­tant at­tor­ney gen­eral for civil rights. There, he played a key role in ef­forts to ag­gres­sively en­force and ex­pand civil-rights law, in­clud­ing fight­ing voter iden­ti­fi­ca­tion laws.

In Obama’s sec­ond term, Perez served as la­bor sec­re­tary af­ter be­ing con­firmed along party lines. In the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee race, he said his ex­pe­ri­ence lead­ing the 17,000-em­ployee agency made him well-suited to re­struc­ture a party in need of stronger or­ga­ni­za­tion.

While Obama and Clin­ton chose not to take sides pub­licly in the race, for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den backed Perez, as did Vir­ginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a close Clin­ton ally.

Obama re­leased a state­ment af­ter the vote laud­ing Perez and prais­ing him for giv­ing a promi­nent role to El­li­son; Bill and Hil­lary Clin­ton both tweeted their con­grat­u­la­tions.

Perez “has a real op­por­tu­nity on his hands. And I hope he seizes it. And that is to un­der­stand that, in fact, the way the Demo­cratic Party has been run for decades has not worked,” Sanders said Sun­day on CNN’s State of the Union. “We need a to­tal trans­for­ma­tion.”

On ABC, Perez said the Democrats’ turn­around starts “by build­ing strong par­ties in the 50 states and the ter­ri­to­ries.” It’s now rec­og­nized, he said, that Democrats didn’t in­vest enough in grass-roots or­ga­niz­ing in re­cent years. “We need an every zip code strat­egy. We need to re­de­fine the role of the DNC so that we’re help­ing to elect peo­ple from the school board to the Se­nate.”


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