The Democratic National Committee has all but disappeared since its recent elections — except when they’re asking for money.
I receive dozens of emails from the DNC but not one explains who will be making the decisions on how to spend the money they raise or what the criteria for spending it will be. I have tried calling many times but get no response. When I finally got someone in the press section on the phone, I was politely told they would get back to me but no one ever did.
Now before the attacks start I want to make it clear my goal as a Democrat is to see the DNC rebuilt and to build strong state Democratic parties. Despite what some might suggest after they read this, I am not looking to re-litigate the Democratic presidential primary. I was a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton but respect Bernie Sanders’ ideas and hope he will continue fighting for them.
I supported Tom Perez for chair of the DNC and was pleased when immediately after he won he asked dynamic Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison to join him in a leadership role. That was on Feb. 25 in Atlanta. Since then there has been little of substance coming out of the DNC and the staff has all been asked to hand in their resignations.
In the most recent fundraising email from the DNC, signed only by Perez, he said “Next week, Bernie Sanders and I are hitting the road to meet with Democrats around the country and talk about how we’re getting the Democratic Party back on track.” Bernie didn’t sign the letter. Bernie sent out a fundraising letter about the same road trip never mentioning the Democratic Party, but rather asking people to donate to his reelection campaign. My question to Perez is what track are you getting the DNC on?
Sanders is building his own organization ‘Our Revolution’ and raising money for his own campaign. He has said he will only support the Democratic Party if he likes what it does. He was pretty strong about that in an interview after the DNC election when it was reported, “Sanders also implied in response to Tapper’s questioning that he would not give the DNC his presidential campaign’s massive email list, which shattered previous records by raising $218 million online from 2.8 million donors. The list will be used “to transform the Democratic Party into a party that stands for working families,” he said, implying that he wants his new group, Our Revolution, to decide which candidates will get access to that list and reap its benefits.”
My support for Perez was based on his commitment to work toward the goal of rebuilding both the DNC and state Democratic Parties for the future not based on any one person’s ideas. He would urge support of all Democratic candidates in the next two election cycles 2017 and 2018 to take back control of the agenda in state government and Congress.
I don’t question Sanders’ right to fight for the things he believes in. What is being questioned here are the decisions being made by Perez and whether he is truly doing the right things to keep the commitments he made during his campaign to rebuild the Democratic Party in every state and territory for the future.
I recently had a conversation with one of the candidates who lost her bid to be a vice chair of the DNC. She told me she was participating on a DNC transition phone call. My suggestion to her for the DNC was they should be working with Democrats on the Hill to draft a bill to fix the Affordable Care Act. When a draft is created the DNC could hold public forums in every state to bring voters into the discussion and at the same time use the forums to build the state parties. Her answer stunned me; she said she doesn’t think they can as Bernie is already holding forums. Well, Bernie has every right to do that but what does that have to do with the DNC?
Democrats need to focus on taking the party into the future. Not in any one person’s image but rather as state parties that will be able to field candidates who can take back the Congress in 2018 and just as importantly take back state legislatures and governorships to stop the current hemorrhaging of districts through redistricting to favor Republicans in 2020 and beyond.
For the next two years, we shouldn’t be spending money and time challenging incumbent Democrats who have proven they can win in their districts and statewide. The DNC should be discouraging primaries such as the one in Virginia where the Lt. Governor Ralph Northam who has won statewide and has announced for governor is being challenging in a primary by Tom Perriello, a one-term congressman who has never run statewide. Northam already had the endorsement of nearly every Democratic state official and the governor. While in normal times primary challenges may be good, in this case we are wasting millions of dollars and thousands of volunteer hours that could be better spent on winning the Virginia state legislature for Democrats. Sanders has endorsed Perriello thereby encouraging this primary. Again he is more than entitled to do that but dividing Democrats isn’t helpful to the party in these times.
In Kansas, Democrats came close to winning Mike Pompeo’s open seat. The DNC needs to do an in-depth analysis of that race to find out if we lost because of the issues focused on by the candidate or was it lack of money? We need to know as we determine the type of candidates the DNC and state parties will recruit across the nation in 2018. A good candidate for Democrats in Kansas might be a terrible candidate for Democrats in New York or California. That is why we need strong state Democratic parties to help with recruitment.
Two months seems to be long enough to wait to have staff in place and a focused plan for the work needed to rebuild the party. During this congressional recess, Perez should be touring the nation with Democratic officeholders in each state — those men and women who have won office as Democrats because they found the way to reach their constituency. Democrats need to build a base for the future and highlight those candidates in local news rather than focusing on national figures. These Democratic winners should get the exposure they need to move up the ranks; from school board to county council to state legislature to Congress.
Our goal can’t be to build an ultra-progressive Democratic Party in each state when in some states that won’t win elections. Rather, we must build a strong Democratic Party in each state that can win elections. We should build organizations that can speak to the voters they need to win over. Voters ranging from moderate to progressive; the poor, young and old, millennials, immigrants, workers, the middle class and voters from every ethnicity, gender, race, orientation, religion and culture.
These voters will not agree on every issue or every candidate. But the successful Democratic Party in each state, while supporting the overriding principles of fairness and decency the Democratic Party stands for, will be able to find and support candidates in each area of their state who can and will win.
Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBT rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.