This past Saturday morning, the electors of the Democratic National Committee narrowly selected former Obama administration Labor Secretary Tom Perez to be their new Chair. It was a very close vote of 54-46%. The Michigan delegation all voted for Ellison in the second round of voting and only one person voted for someone besides Ellison in the first round.
In his first act as Chair, Perez gave Ellison the position of Deputy Chair, a new position created especially for Ellison, acknowledging his important role in the organization and ensuring he will have a voice in leadership into the future.
In a press conference following the vote, Ellison spoke directly to his supporters. “We don’t have the luxury to walk out of this room divided,” he told them. When speaking to reporters later, the two sported each others campaign buttons in a clear sign of unity.
Addressing reporters with Mr. Ellison after the election, Mr. Perez vowed to shift the committee from its overriding focus on presidential politics.
“We’re no longer simply the committee that helps elect the president; we’re the committee that helps to ensure we’re electing people up and down the Democratic ticket,” he said, switching to Spanish for a time.
Neither of the two, by this point wearing each other’s campaign buttons, laid out Mr. Ellison’s role at the party, but they intimated that they had discussed joining forces before the vote. Directly appealing to his disappointed supporters, Mr. Ellison said, “If they trust me, they need to come on and trust Tom Perez as well.”
I was on the record as supporting Keith Ellison. As we talked about in the opening segment of our podcast this week, I believe this was a missed opportunity for the DNC. I feel strongly that both men represent a move to a more progressive party. Given that, Ellison would have been able to bring his supporters, many of whom pinned any hope of being united with the Party on Ellison being elected to the Chair position. This influx of new energy and new ideas is crucial the growth of the Party, in my opinion. With Ellison’s strong background in grassroots organizing, there was, simply put, no reason for me not to support him.
The fact that he lost by such a narrow margin is, for some of his supporters, irrelevant. In the days since the election, it’s clear that this was the final straw for many self-described “Berniecrats” who have now sworn to leave the Party because their candidate lost by a mere 35 votes – just 8% of the total votes. This, some of the say, is clear evidence that “the DNC” is full of establishment elites who will not learn their lesson.
Though I feel that this was a missed opportunity, I also entirely reject the notion that Perez’s narrow victory means “the DNC” has sold out to corporate interests or has forsaken the progressive movement. The fact is Tom Perez is a progressive lion with a catalog of important achievements in areas so many of us care so deeply about as progressives whether we supported Sec. Clinton or Sen. Sanders in the Democratic primary.
David Corn, who nobody would mistake for anything but a dyed-in-the-wool progressive, wrote a great explainer at Mother Jones titled “Why Tom Perez Is a Strong Competitor Against Keith Ellison in the Democratic Party Race“. In it, he describes the two men (who are close friends) as “battle-hardened and experienced progressives with much to offer their partisan comrades.” “This wing-versus-wing dustup,” says Corn, “is unfortunate for the party.
The rhetoric coming from those who are angry to the point of #DemExit is, in some ways, nonsensical. In the days and months leading up to the election, they saw Keith Ellison as a strong-willed and talented visionary who was the only candidate who could change the direction of the Democratic Party in the right direction. Then, when he accepted the newly-created leadership position, many of them saw it as token gesture with no real meaning. What makes this nonsensical to me is the idea that Ellison is a strong-willed visionary one day and weak-willed capitulator the next. This latter view is not one supported by Ellison’s accomplishments in the realm of politics.
The idea that Ellison’s new role is demeaning because it never existed before is also nonsensical. This DNC Chair election may be the most closely-watched match up in DNC history. Ellison’s supporters and others are watching this like hawks. Tom Perez knows this and it’s simply not logical to think that he is setting up a friend, someone he has publicly and repeatedly praised and respected, to be played for a fool. It’s also not logical to think that a man with the moral convictions of Keith Ellison, someone with his strong background of speaking truth to power, would EVER allow himself to be put into that position.
So we find ourselves with two men, one a Latino and one a black Muslim, at the helm of the Democratic Party. Both men share the bond of friendship along with deep and abiding progressive values. The fact that the top two contenders are this progressive is proof that the Overton Window into the Democratic Party has shifted decisively to the left.
As someone who supported Keith Ellison, I’m disappointed that my candidate didn’t win. But the more I learn about Tom Perez, the more satisfied I am that he will be a tremendous progressive champion and that the position he created specifically so that Ellison can continue to have a voice is not some sort of denigrating insult.
One final thing: In a beautiful moment of trolling of Pr*sident Trump, Ellison is bringing Perez as his guest when Trump speaks to Congress later today. As Perez told Trump in a tweet, Democrats united across the country will be Donald Trump’s “worst nightmare”:
— Tom Perez (@TomPerez) February 25, 2017
*Donald Trump is the biggest loser of the popular vote to ever hold the office of President of the United States of America.