On 14 Janary 2017, the DNC hosted the first of four announced candidate forums for the DNC chair as well as the vice chairs, treasurer, and secretary. It started more or less on time at 9:00 am with remarks from the current interim chair, Donna Brazile. She spoke about Phoenix being a deliberate choice for the location — referring to the mythical phoenix rising from the ashes of its previous form. She is expecting the Democrats to do the same thing.
The Party just went through a bruising year. From the fairly rancor-filled presidential primary to the unrelenting attacks by a foreign government to the final heartbreaking loss of the presidential race, much has been made of what the Democratic Party is going through. Yet there were successes last year as well. Unfortunately they were drowned out by the loss at the top of the ticket.
The Party is dealing with the aftermath by having some internal struggles for what it is going to be. This is why there are so many candidates for DNC Chair. All of them have very good ideas, agree on almost everything, and are willing to stand up for what party-members care about most. This is one of those elections where the DNC committee-members are absolutely spoiled for choice.
For the morning session, it was mainly speeches from various party people and elected officials. Arizona Democratic Party Chair Alexis Tameron spoke briefly before introducing Phoenix’s Mayor, Greg Stanton. I had a chance to speak with her a couple of times during breaks in the forum. She told me some interesting things. In particular, the future of the Party is definitely in the southwest. Arizona was not given much assistance from the national party last election ($100,000). Yet the Democrats lost the state by only 3% for the president’s race, a better result than North Carolina. I heard similar sentiments from the Texas Democratic State Party Chair, Gilbert Hinojosa. Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and possibly even Utah have a good shot to flip.
Speaking of things from a state party chair, Hinojosa noted something extremely important: there has to be better fundraising coordination between the national and state party leadership. If the federal party is holding a fundraiser for, say, Barack Obama, don’t hold it the same night the state party is holding its main fundraiser! It’s counterproductive.
After the morning session, they threw us out of the main ballroom to go mingle with each other. There was a minor shouting war as the Ellison and Perez sides yelled out the names of their candidates. It wasn’t like the problems that plagued the Nevada State Caucus, but there was some push back between the sides.
I spent the time chatting with the various different staff members of the candidates and talking to people such as Chairman Hinojosa about how they picked their candidates to support. The Chairman explained that the DNC chair needed to be ready to welcome all Americans into the Democratic Party tent. He also said that the chair needed to be reflective of the best that the Democrats are. So people know why they should join it.
Shortly after that, I was snagged by a person from the Nurses Union to talk to me about the same thing. Jean Ross is the vice-chair and she mentioned the good legislation that Representative Ellison has introduced to help all Americans. She also pointed out that he understood that healthcare isn’t merely doctors and nurses; it is things like having a decent basic income.
I also spoke with the staff members for Tom Perez, Pete Buttigieg, Ray Buckley, and Jahmu Greene. They were friendly, cheerful, and excited about the leaders they had decided to support. That was especially notable since they all traveled to Arizona on a chilly winter’s day. Of special note were the people in New Hampshire who had an especially long trip. I’m pretty sure it was on their own expense too. That takes a lot of dedication.
This session started with the candidates giving a brief introduction about themselves. Surprisingly, everyone stayed in their two minutes. Good start.
The first question was pretty simple, “How will they unify the Party?” Based on the way that they talked about this question and other issues, they will unify by being friendly opposition. The mood of the room stayed upbeat throughout the discussion. In fact, there was lots of cheering.
Otherwise, the answers were along the lines of, “Oh, I have lots of experience putting up with warring factions.” And that’s true of them all to one extent or another, based on their positions and offices held.
The next question was about working to bring more people up through the leadership pipeline. I literally don’t remember anything anyone said because I was tweeting. [Lesson 03: Notebook discipline and record keeping. :-) -FM]
The first question from the audience was about the perennial problem in politics: money. Should the party get rid of corporate donations? Do they support a resolution that states that? The moderator, the always amusing Jon Ralston, said that was a yes or no question so it should be quick. He was wrong.
The first candidate to respond, Sally Boynton Brown, said in a roundabout way she did support eventually getting rid of the corporate donations. So did Representative Keith Ellison, who added that we must not hamstring ourselves by not having a replacement ready for the money. Jehmu Greene stated that she agreed with Ellison.
Ralston broke in with another request for yes or no answers. Perez made the excellent point that this isn’t a simple question to answer. When Jaime Harrison had his opportunity to speak, he pushed back a bit on the original question since he recognizes that most candidates do not get the kind of response that Sanders and Obama did in terms of small donations.
Next was a question on effectively using our allies in other groups. As Secretary Perez put it: all of the candidates have experience with coalition building.
The final question was about voter suppression efforts. This is where there was the first actual visible disagreement between the candidates. Only as a minor point. This was when Greene proposed what is to most people a startling and revolutionary idea: there simply shouldn’t be voter registration. Other options include taking what Oregon has done (automatic registration, vote by mail) and exporting it nationwide. Ellison was alone in speaking about the restoration of civil rights to convicted felons.
All of the candidates gave excellent answers and would be great chairs. Each one brings something to the table and differ only in where their priorities lie for the Democratic Party going forward.
After the Official DNC Conference
After the candidates for chair portion, I and my friend Donna Gratehouse had a chance to speak briefly with two of the candidates.
I asked Jaime Harrison if he would be willing to support an Arizona style Clean Elections law for each state’s legislative and statewide races. He said he would be willing to support that. I followed up, asking if he was also willing to have a legislative drafting team to help give candidates proposed legislation to run on — something concrete they could get right to work on if they win. He said unfortunately that isn’t something the DNC could do but he would support having an organization to do the drafting of said legislation. Then he had to rush off because CNN was waiting.
Donna and I ran right into Jehmu Greene after that and she was a delight. Donna asked her about the media’s pernicious influence on the people we are trying to win over. Greene said we need to stop being friends with those who wish us harm — and that would definitely include much of the media. She also said that she wants the party to return to being a lot more aggressive in how we manage our push-back. The Democrats need people who do not spend their entire lives working in the political process to be in charge of the party.
I followed up with a question about bringing back the kicking donkey from the current corporate logo that we have. She smiled and said that the donkey probably wasn’t coming back, but that definitely something with more pep will be looked at. I was impressed: there is a woman who knows how to get out of a question she doesn’t want to answer. The party may need more of that to thrash the Republicans.
I briefly paid some attention to the vice-chair discussion. The only answer that really stuck out for me was when Adam Parkhomenko gave a good answer to how the national party can help those who want to get locally involved. He said that if you do, calling the DNC should make it easy to find out what you need to do by being a one stop clearing house of answers and information on who to get a hold of locally.
The big take away from the Phoenix DNC forum is that people are extraordinarily hungry for something to do in the face of Trump and total Republican control of Washington. They are, for the first time in a long time, reaching out to the Democratic Party to get active. The party can harness this energy. The room was packed for something that really isn’t that big a deal overall. The fact a number of people stuck around for the lesser-known races was pretty high for something that is even less well known than the DNC chair race.
The final thing is that the people currently running the party, Donna Brazile and her team, are excellent organizers. It was smooth flowing, it didn’t get bogged down in fights between the factions, and it was actually fun. I will miss her when she retires from active politics.
Cross-posted at Crooks & Liars.