NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Saturday, May 20th, 2017

One-on-one with Tom Perez: DNC Chair talks to NPI about rebuilding the Democratic Party

Edi­tor’s Note: On Tues­day, Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Com­mit­tee Chair­man Tom Perez paid a vis­it to the Pacif­ic North­west, stop­ping in Seat­tle to keynote Dow Con­stan­ti­ne’s annu­al Fil­ing Week lun­cheon and head­line an event for the Wash­ing­ton State Democ­rats on Bea­con Hill. Pri­or to that event, Chair­man Perez kind­ly sat down for a few min­utes to talk to NPI founder Andrew Vil­leneuve (a mem­ber of the Wash­ing­ton State Demo­c­ra­t­ic Cen­tral Com­mit­tee) about the work the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty is doing to recov­er from the cat­a­stroph­ic 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. The fol­low­ing is a tran­script of that con­ver­sa­tion. 

Tom Perez speaking at an event for the Washington State Democrats

Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Com­mit­tee Chair­man Tom Perez speaks at an event for the Wash­ing­ton State Democ­rats (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

NPI’S ANDREW VILLENEUVE: It’s good to see you. I caught your press con­fer­ence ear­li­er at the West­in. I guess the main thing I’ve been want­i­ng to ask you — because I’ve been fol­low­ing your cam­paign, your work with Kei­th, doing the Democ­rats Live, and all those good things — [is] what do you think the par­ty needs to do to get back into the good graces of rur­al vot­ers?

What issues do we need to run on to appeal to them?

TOM PEREZ: First of all, we need to be phys­i­cal­ly present, okay? And we have to make house calls every­where and [have a] every zip code strat­e­gy. We have to speak to people’s hopes, fears, and dreams. I’ve spent a lot of time in rur­al Amer­i­ca, and folks want eco­nom­ic oppor­tu­ni­ty for them­selves and for their fam­i­ly.

They want eco­nom­ic secu­ri­ty. They want to make sure that the Amer­i­can dream is avail­able to them, that they don’t have to watch their chil­dren go off and move hun­dreds of miles away. That’s often the lament of today’s gen­er­a­tion. They want to make sure that we’re address­ing the issues that are front and cen­ter.

I mean, the opi­oid epi­dem­ic touch­es every zip code across Amer­i­ca, but there are rur­al pock­ets where it’s been dec­i­mat­ing. When we lead with our val­ues, as the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty, and when we’re phys­i­cal­ly present fight­ing for folks… we don’t win every fight. But when folks know that we’re on their side, fight­ing for fair wages, fight­ing for good jobs, fight­ing to make sure that the health clin­ic that the Repub­li­cans are try­ing to close because they’re engaged in this absolute­ly asi­nine effort to repeal the [Patient Pro­tec­tion and] Afford­able Care Act that would dec­i­mate rur­al Amer­i­ca, that’s why we’re there.

ANDREW VILLENEUVE: Thanks, and with respect to the fram­ing of issues, can you give a cou­ple of exam­ples of how you’d like to see Democ­rats go on offense as opposed to play defense — where the Repub­li­cans come after us and then we defend things that we might have done in the past, like the Patient Pro­tec­tion Act?

TOM PEREZ: Well, I think when we talk about what we stand for, we stand for good jobs, right? We stand for path­ways to mid­dle class oppor­tu­ni­ty for every­one. We stand for health­care secu­ri­ty for every­one and we’re proud of it.

We want to expand cov­er­age for peo­ple. We don’t want to make it hard­er for peo­ple to get cov­er­age. And I think one of the gifts — strike that word — one of the aspects of Don­ald Trump’s pres­i­den­cy is it has enabled us, in very clear terms, to tell peo­ple the dif­fer­ences between Repub­li­cans and Democ­rats.

Because I’ve heard from a lot of peo­ple, “I don’t know the dif­fer­ences any­more.” I think peo­ple are start­ing to see the dif­fer­ences very stark­ly, because they see a pres­i­dent who wants to cut access to health­care; the Democ­rats want to expand access to health­care. We want to make sure we’re invest­ing in edu­ca­tion, and they have a bud­get that cuts fund­ing for edu­ca­tion. We want to retain those rur­al hos­pi­tals and clin­ics and they have a bud­get that would cut that. So, I think when we’re lead­ing, again, specif­i­cal­ly with our val­ues and what we’re fight­ing for, and we’re clear about it, and we’re present in every com­mu­ni­ty, that’s how we suc­ceed.

ANDREW VILLENEUVE: Excel­lent. Well, I think it’s imper­a­tive that we retake on the states we lost in 2016. And I’m just curi­ous, in clos­ing, if you have any thoughts about how we do that. I mean, we lost in Michi­gan, Wis­con­sin. I know that there was some vot­er sup­pres­sion going on there that hurt, but what is the plan to get those states back into the Demo­c­ra­t­ic fold?

TOM PEREZ: The plan is, first of all, get­ting back to the basics: hav­ing a twelve month-a-year orga­niz­ing pres­ence so we’re talk­ing to every­body.

You can’t show up at a church every fourth [Sun­day in] Octo­ber and call that an orga­niz­ing strat­e­gy. That’s step num­ber one.

Hav­ing all of the build­ing blocks of a strong orga­ni­za­tion, not just orga­niz­ing, but mak­ing sure that when you recruit can­di­dates, you can train can­di­dates.

Mak­ing sure that we have a vot­er file that is state of the art and enables orga­niz­ers to be effi­cient. Mak­ing sure that we have effec­tive part­ner­ships, because suc­cess is about build­ing strong par­ties and build­ing strong part­ner­ships with our friends in labor, with Planned Par­ent­hood, with faith com­mu­ni­ties, and oth­er key stake­hold­ers in the com­mu­ni­ty. And all too fre­quent­ly, we’ve been bowl­ing alone, and we need to be part of a very strong part­ner­ship.

And, then mak­ing sure we have a clear mes­sage, a mes­sage of opti­mism, of oppor­tu­ni­ty, a mes­sage that’s based on facts — not lying to peo­ple.

ANDREW VILLENEUVE: And sci­ence?

TOM PEREZ: Sci­ence mat­ters! And facts mat­ter. And health­care mat­ters. And edu­ca­tion mat­ters. We need a Sec­re­tary of Edu­ca­tion, for instance, that believes in pub­lic edu­ca­tion. That would be nice.

I think when we do all these things, I’m con­vinced that none of these chal­lenges, and the chal­lenges are unde­ni­ably sig­nif­i­cant, but they’re all fix­able. I see the ener­gy out there — and one of our basic chal­lenges is to take this almost unprece­dent­ed ener­gy and activism, and trans­late it into results at the bal­lot box.

ANDREW VILLENEUVE: So maybe through bal­lot mea­sures?

TOM PEREZ: That’s one way.

And Wash­ing­ton State has led the way. Ari­zona, last cycle, had a bal­lot ini­tia­tive on earned sick leave and min­i­mum wage. And you see oth­er bal­lot mea­sures relat­ing to cli­mate and things of that nature. Wash­ing­ton State has a remark­able and rich tra­di­tion of cit­i­zen par­tic­i­pa­tion. And I think the rest of the nation can learn quite a bit from what Wash­ing­ton State has been able to do.

They have debunked the myth that if you raise the min­i­mum wage, it’s a job killer. They’ve had among the high­est min­i­mum wages in the coun­try for the last fif­teen [to] twen­ty years, and job growth here has been among the best in the coun­try. So Wash­ing­ton State is real­ly… has exer­cised lead­er­ship.

The grass­roots lead­er­ship is one of the rea­sons I came out here so often when I was the labor sec­re­tary. I want­ed the nation to see that you can pay peo­ple a fair wage and still have a very sol­id busi­ness cli­mate. You can treat your work­ers and your share­hold­ers well. It’s not an “either/or”. You can build effec­tive con­sti­tu­tion­al polic­ing. That’s not an “either/or”. You can do these things.…and you’ve shown it to the nation. That’s why… again, there’s a lot of lead­er­ship here, in action.

ANDREW VILLENEUVE:  Well, thank you so much for com­ing out here to the region. We appre­ci­ate your valu­able time. We hope you’ll come back.

TOM PEREZ: My plea­sure. Great. Ear­ly and often!

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One Comment

  1. State-lev­el ini­tia­tives do seem like the way to go until we get a new Con­gress and Pres­i­dent.

    # by Carlton Krimper :: May 25th, 2017 at 12:33 PM