On Feb. 25, Thomas E. Perez, a former secretary of labor and establishment favorite, was elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Perez ran a close election and narrowly defeated Keith Ellison (D-MN), who took the lead late last year and was endorsed by party leaders Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
On a second ballot cast, Perez won with 235 votes out of 435. He got strong support from activists loyal to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, giving him the needed edge to defeat Ellison.
This was a contentious election and, in many ways, shadowed the shock of the Democratic Party after a divided general election between liberal enthusiasts and the establishment.
The election displayed the wounds of the Democratic Party and the need to reconcile both factions of the party in order to reasonably show a strong front in the upcoming midterm elections. Potentially, this should give the party the ability to regain power that has been lost in congressional regards.
Electing Perez is a smart decision and demonstrates the desire of Democrats to have a clear strategy that will give them the ability to start gaining grounds state-by-state.
Perez is 55 years old, the son of Dominican immigrants and is the first Latino chairman of the Democratic Party. He came to the spotlight as the secretary of labor under Obama, but his trajectory goes beyond. He was an attorney and, throughout his career, has fought on behalf of civil rights, opportunities for the middle-class and better wages.
But the most alluring thing about Perez is his vision for the party and the platforms he outlined as part of his candidacy. First, he makes it a purpose to fight for the values of the party, centralizing the fight against voter suppression and disenfranchisement by working with state groups, and also to target gerrymandering by working to elect more Democratic state legislatures and governors.
This shows that the party understands that they need more than a stronghold in Washington, D.C., and how important it is to support state parties so they can recruit and train candidates to run every level of the ballot.
Upon being elected, Perez said, “We are no longer simply the committee that helps elect the president, we’re the committee that helps ensure we’re electing people up and down the ballot.”
This will strengthen the Democratic Party and give it the ability to build a robust opposition to stand up and lead efforts to oppose policies that undermine the values it holds so dear, such as equality and justice.
Although Perez received a lot of criticism from Ellison supporters, he has a lot of proposals that mimic Bernie Sanders’ campaign. For example, he wants the growth to come from grassroots efforts encouraging and prioritizing small dollar donations, as well as increasing the availability of surrogates to support state party fundraisers.
The election of Perez will hopefully mean that the Democratic National Committee has found a leader with a clear and effective strategy that will give the party a new start. But also giving them the assurance that his extensive knowledge and preparation will allow the DNC to build a new identity with many diverse voices. A party that works for all Americans, or as Perez said, the “big tent” party.
That is exactly what the Democratic Party needs right now: confidence in its potential to win. In Perez’s words, “When we lead with our values and lead with our actions, we succeed.”
Featured Illustration: Antonio Mercado