By Jim Ellis
Feb. 27, 2017 — The Democratic National Committee convened in Atlanta beginning Thursday of last week, and before the meeting adjourned on Saturday evening the 447-member conclave elected a new party chairman. The person they elected was former Obama Administration Labor Secretary and Justice Department official Tom Perez.
Eight activists, including a former cabinet secretary and sitting Member of Congress, were vying for the position, and it was only those two who seemed to be within striking distance of claiming victory. Perez replaces interim chair Donna Brazile who is not running for the permanent position. Brazile was tabbed to replace elected chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the South Florida congresswoman, upon the latter’s forced resignation in controversy during the Democratic National Convention last July.
Perez claimed to have 205 committed votes for DNC chairman, just short of the 224 a candidate needs to score a first-ballot victory. And he almost captured the win on the first ballot. It took two ballots, however, to secure the win.
The candidate who had been running the longest was Minnesota US Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minneapolis). He said he would resign his House seat if he won the chairmanship to devote full time to the party; before the election, Rep. Ellison claimed 153 member votes.
The others, South Carolina party chairman Jaime Harrison, South Bend (IN) Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Rock the Vote chair Jehmu Greene, Idaho Democratic Party executive director Sally Boynton Brown, Wisconsin attorney Peter Peckarsky, and party activist Sam Ronan mounted challenges of varying strength before Saturday’s final vote, but none came close to committing even 50 votes.
Ellison had the support of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and his left wing faction within the party structure, while Secretary Perez was the establishment candidate. This constructs the very dynamic that split the party during the presidential campaign. Wasserman Schultz was foiled by political charges that she was using the party apparatus to favor Hillary Clinton over Sen. Sanders, claims that were largely proven true when Wikileaks released obtained Democratic National Committee staff emails just as the national convention began.
Perez must begin to rebuild the Democratic Party after suffering crushing electoral losses. Clinton’s loss to President Trump is proving devastating for the party. They failed to convert the Senate majority even though Democrats only had to defend 10 of the 34 statewide 2016 federal campaigns. Until the congressional redistricting maps change, mounting a serious challenge to regain the US House majority seems beyond their reach.
But, perhaps most devastating to the party’s long-term prospects as it relates to redistricting and building a political farm team, the Democrats are at devastatingly low numbers in state support. They control only 16 governors offices, and 31 of the 99 state legislative chambers. In the states, Democrats hold the governorship and both houses of a state legislature in only five places as compared to 24 for Republicans.
In all, the Democrats lost a net 1,042 seats to Republicans during President Obama’s eight years in office when combining the US Senate, House, gubernatorial, and state legislature elections.
Saturday’s election was interesting, but the new chairman’s daunting challenge of rebuilding the party began immediately.