Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota) was never meant to win the DNC chair race, because that would mean the old guard would have to step aside.
After the second ballot of votes, Tom Perez — President Obama’s Secretary of Labor — won the DNC chairmanship with 235 votes, which is 17 more than he needed to clinch a victory. To his credit, Perez, who was widely regarded as one of the most progressive members of Obama’s cabinet, immediately appointed Ellison to be his deputy chair. He also promised to unite Democrats to make gains in the 2018 midterm elections, and mount a successful challenge to Donald Trump in 2020.
How Perez was anointed by the DNC
Early on in the DNC chair race, it seemed that Rep. Ellison was the clear favorite after being endorsed by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), who brought millions of new voters and young people into the Democratic Party during his run for the Democratic presidential nomination, and by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York). In having the endorsements of leaders of both the establishment and progressive wings of the Democratic Party, it seemed as if Ellison would run away with the contest.
However, as the New York Times reported, President Obama and his loyalists in the White House pushed Perez to run because they didn’t even want the appearance that the party had been taken over by the Sanders Democrats:
Mr. Perez met with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. last week and had lunch Tuesday in the White House Mess with Valerie Jarrett, Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, while also visiting with David Simas, Mr. Obama’s political director… Some Democrats, in Mr. Obama’s orbit and beyond, say that elevating Mr. Ellison would amount to handing the party to Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Mrs. Clinton’s primary race opponent, and his liberal followers.
Perez was the natural choice of the establishment, as he was one of the loudest voices in the Democratic primary who campaigned for Hillary Clinton by coming up with lines of attack against Sen. Sanders using staples of identity politics. In one email published by WikiLeaks, Perez suggested to John Podesta that the Clinton campaign suggest that Sanders was only popular with college-educated white men (even though Sanders actually did better than Clinton with young African American and Latinx voters):
“[Clinton’s Nevada director Emmy Ruiz] and the team have a good plan to attract all minority voters. When we do well there, then the narrative changes from Bernie kicks ass among young voters to Bernie does well only among young white liberals,” Perez wrote. “[T]hat is a different story and a perfect lead in to South Carolina, where once again, we can work to attract young voters of color.”
How the DNC establishment won the proxy war
The structure of the DNC’s chairperson elections is particularly reminiscent of the contentious 2016 primary, in that it was essentially a proxy war between two feuding factions– the Sanders wing and the Clinton/Obama wing — to decide who would lead the rebuilding of the party after nearly a decade of staggering electoral losses at all levels of government.
While there are 447 voting members of the DNC who cast their ballots in last weekend’s election, many of those are not elected officials nor county party chairs or delegates. As The Hill reported, 112 of those 447 voters are either chairs or vice chairs of state Democratic parties from all 50 states and six territories. Another 200 are elected by their local party organization to represent them at the national level. This means the other 135 people who decide on the next chair of the DNC are either elected officials who rose to power with the help of the establishment, or donors from big-money industries that keep party coffers full.
In one lengthy Twitter thread, investigative journalist Lee Fang outed all of the lobbyists and donors who are voting members of the DNC. Some of the more notorious ones are lobbyists for pharmaceutical manufacturers, big banks, and war contractors like Pfizer, Goldman Sachs, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin. Another DNC voter is a member of President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago golf club:
Pretty strange to have an election for DNC chair in which the voting members are consultants & lobbyists that benefit from the status quo.
— Lee Fang (@lhfang) February 25, 2017
Many DNC voting members are lobbyists, like Tonio Burgos (Pfizer), Joyce Brayboy (Goldman Sachs), Marcus Mason (Lockheed Martin/Boeing)…
— Lee Fang (@lhfang) February 25, 2017
Lol New Jersey political boss George Norcross — who has done biz with Trump and is a member of Mar-a-Lago — is a DNC voting member
— Lee Fang (@lhfang) February 25, 2017
However, it’s unclear who these lobbyists and donors voted for, as the breakdown of how each member voted is shrouded in secrecy. The DNC elected Tom Perez as chair under secret ballot, which is actually forbidden under DNC rules:
— Adam Green (@AdamGreen) February 25, 2017
The Democratic Party’s loyalty to well-heeled special interests was never made more clear than in longtime DNC Treasurer Andrew Tobias’ speech on Saturday. During the speech, Tobias introduced his successor, Bill Darrow, whom he said would be the ideal person to beg rich people for money (comments can be seen at the 25-minute mark of this video)
“It’s my obligation to step down, because we need somebody who has the energy and the fresh perspective to tackle this thing,” Tobias said. “[Darrow] is an amazing success, he is exactly the person who can go to rich business folks and explain to them why it’s the Democratic Party under which they will make the most money and succeed, and by the way, give some of it to us.”
Why the DNC establishment’s endorsement of Perez exposes them
When looking at Perez’s and Ellison’s qualifications on paper, both candidates seem perfectly progressive. Perez is the first Latino to chair the DNC and is a fervent supporter of labor unions, and Ellison is a black Muslim former community organizer who has served five terms in Congress. However, the crucial difference between the two is their direct experience with campaigns and winning elections.
It goes without saying that the Democratic Party will need to win a lot of elections in 2018 and 2020 to have a chance at stopping the extreme right from forcing through their policies. So why pick Perez, who has only held one county-level elected office (and was disqualified in his sole run for statewide office) over Ellison, who has held statewide and federal office for 14 consecutive years? Particularly when Democrats have gone from holding over 55 percent of all state legislative seats to just 43 percent in the last six years?
The only remaining answer that makes any sense is that the Democratic Party’s top consultants, lobbyists, and donors are more interested in maintaining their power by continuing the status quo, than winning more elections, if that means they have to sacrifice their influence in the party to do it. With Perez in charge, the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is forced to remain essentially powerless within the party, and to be subservient to the special interests that have controlled it for several decades.
It’s clear that between the two, Perez is more affable to the consultant class than Ellison, who openly declared that he was “battling the consultant-ocracy” in a DNC chair forum moderated by Joy Ann Reid. When The Young Turks’ Nomiki Konst directly asked Perez if he thought it was an issue that several members of the DNC had conflicts of interest, given their ongoing business contracts with the DNC, Perez dodged the question and said he was seeking a “big tent” party.
Rather than trying to build a “big tent” with the same consultants and power-brokers who used the superdelegate system to hand an incredibly unpopular candidate the Democratic presidential nomination months before the first primary ballots were cast, why not leave the irrelevant Democratic establishment behind and build a new party, made by, for, and of the new anti-Trump resistance?
Tom Cahill is a writer for the Resistance Report based in the Pacific Northwest. He specializes in coverage of political, economic, and environmental news. You can contact him via email at [email protected], or follow him on Facebook.