Former Labor Secretary Tom Perez, who is a candidate to run the Democratic National Committee, speaks during the general session of the DNC winter meeting in Atlanta, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Branden Camp)
Former Labor Secretary Tom Perez, who is a candidate to run the Democratic National Committee, speaks during the general session of the DNC winter meeting in Atlanta, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Branden Camp)

Bernie loyalists discontent with DNC-head race

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The Democratic party remains in the hands of its establishment members after the election for the 2017 Democratic National Committee leader.

By Molly Hunter | molly-hunter@uiowa.edu

The first contested DNC chairmanship race in more than 30 years illustrated the tensions that have arisen in the Democratic Party over the last year and a half.

Former Secretary of Labor Tom Perez won the vote for the top position in the Feb. 25 election in Atlanta.

Perez garnered more votes than Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., in the first round but remained one vote shy of the majority needed to win. In the second round, Perez won with 235 votes to Ellison’s 200.

Sen. Bernie Sanders’ loyalists backed Perez’s opposition, Ellison, while Perez received support from many of the party’s traditionalists. The Iowa Democratic Party delegation was among those backing Perez.

Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., then a candidate to run the Democratic National Committee, speaks during the general session of the DNC winter meeting in Atlanta on Feb. 25. (Associated Press/Branden Camp)

Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., then a candidate to run the Democratic National Committee, speaks during the general session of the DNC winter meeting in Atlanta on Feb. 25. (Associated Press/Branden Camp)

“It was a very difficult choice between the two candidates,” said Iowa Democrats head Derek Eadon in a prepared statement on Feb. 25. “We admire Rep. Ellison’s commitment to working families and his devotion to progressive policies.”

But many Bernie loyalists remain disappointed with the race’s outcome. Our Revolution — an organization inspired by the Sanders campaign — is dedicated to a progressive overhaul of the Democratic Party and strongly backed Ellison going into the election.

“We’re really disappointed that Ellison was not chosen as chair,” said Our Revolution Executive Director Shannon Jackson. “There are very clear differences between Perez and Ellison. I would hope that he would embrace Ellison’s dedication to the grass roots. … Ellison’s standards for lobbying were much higher than Perez.”

However, Mitchell Dunn, the president of the University of Iowa Democrats, approved of both candidates and is happy with the election’s outcome.

“We had great candidates … we had a very progressive group of candidates who, when you look at the platform that Ellison and Perez ran on, are very similar,” Dunn said.

Both Eadon and Dunn noted Perez’s extensive experience and qualifications.

FILE - Then-Labor Secretary Tom Perez speaks in the White House. South Carolina Democratic Party head Jaime Harrison will exit the race for Democratic National Committee chairman and throw his support to Perez, solidifying the former Labor secretary’s place as the frontrunner in the still-volatile contest. (Associated Press/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

FILE – Then-Labor Secretary Tom Perez speaks in the White House. South Carolina Democratic Party head Jaime Harrison will exit the race for Democratic National Committee chairman and throw his support to Perez, solidifying the former Labor secretary’s place as the frontrunner in the still-volatile contest. (Associated Press/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

“Throughout his career, Perez has been a strong advocate for collective bargaining, fighting for workers’ rights and job creation,” Eadon said.

Before he served as Labor secretary in the Obama administration, Perez was assistant attorney general for Civil Rights in the Justice Department.

“At the Justice Department, he was at the forefront of a number of voter-ID things … combating voter suppression,” Dunn said.

Dunn said Perez’s experience, coupled with that of Eadon—who was chosen as the new head of the Iowa Democrats earlier this year — will be invaluable.

“When we look at Eadon’s experience, it’s grass-roots organizing that helped us win the presidency in 2008 and 2012,” Dunn said. “Having that knowledge of how that works is going to be wonderful for us.”

Immediately after Perez’s victory was announced, he selected Ellison as his deputy.

“Our delegation was pleased with Perez’s motion to suspend the rules and move to name Rep. Ellison as deputy chair,” Eadon said. “We are very excited about this afternoon’s election results, and we look forward to working united with both Chairman Tom Perez and Deputy Chairman Keith Ellison in the future.”

But Jackson remains dubious.

“I hope that Perez listens to his deputy chairman and that it’s not a just a nice gesture to have him as deputy chairman,” Jackson said.

Dunn, meanwhile, said he thinks Perez is committed to making Ellison a public face in the party.

“If you look at the statements that Ellison and Perez gave after and … that they were running around after the election wearing each other’s stickers — if it was just a gesture, that wouldn’t have been done,” Dunn said.

It will be important for the Democrats to work together, he said.

“We don’t have time to be divided,” he said. “We have to come and be united and fight for our progressive policies in what is, quite honestly, a very frightening time.”