Iowa Democratic Party chair defends vote for Tom Perez

Iowa Democratic Party Chair Derek Eadon wrote to members of the party’s State Central Committee on Monday to explain why he supported Tom Perez to lead the Democratic National Committee. Among the roughly half of SCC members who supported Bernie Sanders for president in 2016, many are unhappy that 1) the Iowa delegation unanimously backed Perez instead of casting some of their votes for Keith Ellison, the preferred candidate of most on the Sanders wing, 2) SCC members were not consulted about the decision, and 3) SCC members received no advance warning before Perez’s campaign tweeted out the news on the day before the DNC election.

Over the weekend, a number of SCC members were among the Iowa activists vehemently expressing their disappointment in public and private forums on Facebook. Several asserted that Eadon and First Vice Chair Andrea Phillips had previously committed to supporting Ellison. Some drafted a joint letter to Iowa’s five voting members of the DNC (Eadon, Phillips, Scott Brennan, Sandy Opstvedt, and Jan Bauer) criticizing the bloc support for Perez and the lack of transparency surrounding the choice.

Multiple sources involved in those discussions told Bleeding Heartland today that SCC members decided to raise those concerns at an upcoming retreat on March 4, rather than sending a joint letter to the DNC delegation in advance. But former Sanders campaign staffer Evan Burger, one of the fourth Congressional district’s representatives on the SCC, did go public with his views. In a commentary for Iowa Informer, Burger argued the “block vote for the establishment candidate was a tone deaf move” symbolizing “a continuation of business as usual” in the Democratic Party.

After the jump I’ve posted the full text of Eadon’s message to the SCC, excerpts from Burger’s post, and part of an e-mail blast by Ed Fallon, an influential voice among Iowa progressives.

UPDATE: Added an excerpt from the speech Phillips gave at the January 21 State Central Committee meeting, where she was elected first vice chair.

E-mail from Derek Eadon to members of the State Central Committee:

From: Derek Eadon
Date: Mon, Feb 27, 2017 at 6:58 PM
Subject: My Vote in the DNC Chair’s Race
To: Derek Eadon

Dear Members of the IDP SCC-

On Saturday I was proud to cast my vote for a strong progressive with a history of winning fights on labor issues and voting rights. I was proud to cast my vote for someone who will change the culture of the DNC, just like he changed the culture of every other organization he worked for. I was proud to cast my vote for a fellow first generation American who knows that the American Dream is both real, and something that has to be protected for every man, woman, and child in this country. And I was proud to cast my vote for an individual who has served this country honorably and with distinction and a record of accomplishment under Barack Obama. I was proud to vote for Tom Perez.

I used the following criteria when casting my vote for DNC Chair, as I laid out when I was running for Chair of the IDP:

-Candidate support of Iowa’s first in the nation status. It is true that our Party is strong because of the People who call themselves Democrats, but there is no denying that our Party is also strong because of the tremendous organizing opportunity we have every 4 years through the Iowa Precinct Caucuses. Iowa’s Caucuses bring in thousands of new Democrats to our party, many of which are now part of our SCC. And for the future success of our organization, the caucuses must be vigorously protected.

-If a candidate would change the culture of the DNC, particularly communication with state parties. In my time both working with and for the Iowa Democratic Party, I have seen how the national committee staff often overlooks or marginalizes State Parties and the grassroots unless there is a national benefit for them. That sort of dysfunction and bias cannot continue if we are to succeed.

-I would vote for someone who was committed to unifying the party. Party unity is paramount right now. But I believe it’s irresponsible to treat every vote as a proxy for the 2016 Democratic Primary. We had several incredible progressives running for DNC Chair, chief among them Keith Ellison and Tom Perez. Both Ellison & Perez have long histories in the Democratic Party and in the fight for the causes we hold most dear: preserving civil rights and justice for all, taking care of working families across this country, and leadership on issues important to Democrats and to all Americans.

-A leader committed to fixing our technological shortcomings. Because to me, we not only need to embrace more people and more groups, we need the national Party to help us with things like upping our game in the technology department. And that’s not the only thing we need to modify in the bureaucracy of the DNC.

At the outset of this process, I wanted to give each candidate an honest look. And as DNC members, we did. We had phone calls with almost every candidate for chair, and several candidates running for Vice Chair. And we personally met with both Keith Ellison and Tom Perez. This honest look was something that was afforded to me during my own election last month to IDP Chair. Many SCC members sat down with me because we all recognized that we needed an honest discussion together, and paid little attention to who I supported in the caucus or who else was supporting me. I used the same thought process when sitting down with of all of the candidates. I did not factor in who they supported in the primary, or the dozens of calls I received from out of state elected officials. I was proud that our group took this process very seriously and gave every candidate the same opportunity to make their case.

In fact, our Iowa Delegation agreed to not publicly support someone until we had spoken with all of the candidates. Our in-person meetings with both Tom Perez and Keith Ellison were enlightening discussions which displayed the energy, enthusiasm, and know-how these individuals had for the job of DNC Chair.

As a group we were concerned about our first in the nation status, how the party would approach organizing in rural states, and about how they would bring together all of the various factions of our Party. By waiting to make a decision and by pledging to one another that we would vote together, we ensured each candidate would take our concerns seriously and make an effort to hear our questions and concerns.

I have tremendous respect for Keith Ellison. He was the candidate who I knew the best at the beginning of the process because of his frequent travels to Iowa to help our Democratic Party. And I know I speak for all 5 of our DNC members when I say that this was a tough choice for our delegation. I am so happy that Congressman Ellison will help lead this party forward as Deputy Chair of the DNC. We have a fight ahead of us. As a Democratic party, we still have a lot of work to do to discuss how we can bring more people into the party and make everyone feel welcome. We have an opportunity to do this together. Chairman Perez and Deputy Chairman Ellison are together in this fight. They are not going to let this chair’s race stop them from moving the Party forward together.

I plan to follow their lead by moving forward together in a positive manner. We can’t afford to let our differences within the party stop us from fighting the GOP. While this vote was going on this weekend, there were events across the state in support of health care. This week, we showed our federal delegation that Iowans will not stand for the GOP blindly following the Trump agenda. The party was proud to join in these efforts. We are serious about taking the fight to the GOP and will continue these efforts aggressively.

Thank You-

Derek Eadon

That message would have been far more effective if Eadon had sent it on Thursday or Friday rather than three days after the Iowa delegation officially endorsed Perez.

Note: Ellison promised to preserve Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status in a letter to Iowa Democrats, dated January 20. In a statement provided to the Des Moines Register in late January, Perez didn’t address Iowa’s place in the nominating calendar.

“We need to do a better job of investing in our state parties so that we have an organizing structure 12 months a year,” Perez said. He added, “The decision about whether caucuses or primaries are best should be determined by voting members and the states.”

Appearing on Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” program on February 10, Eadon was asked about keeping the caucuses first and responded, “We have not gotten that commitment yet” from Perez. However, he told Radio Iowa’s O.Kay Henderson on February 27 that before the DNC chair election, Perez did commit “in writing” to protect our status. I have requested a copy of that communication and will update this post as needed.

From Evan Burger’s February 28 post at Iowa Informer, “Why the DNC Chair Race Matters”:

To a lot of people, it symbolized exactly how power would be distributed in the party: The positions of real power would still be reserved for people who had paid their dues to the establishment. Even a sitting congressman, a lifelong Democrat who was actively uniting the party, would be blocked from a position of real power and instead given the participation trophy of “deputy chair.”

It symbolized a continuation of business as usual at the DNC. Especially here in Iowa, a block vote for the establishment candidate was a tone deaf move that reminded many of Andy McGuire’s management by fiat. Derek Eadon ran a great state chair campaign that promised a more transparent and internally democratic way of leading the party. A lot of that goodwill was squandered last Saturday.

And finally, for many, the chair election symbolized that dissent is not tolerated within the party. Every challenge to the establishment will be fought tooth and nail, even a candidate whose critique of the party was almost purely implicit. Vigorous internal debate is the mark of a healthy party, but last Saturday showed that criticism is not tolerated within today’s Democratic Party – a party which has been thoroughly defeated at every level of government, and which desperately needs to take a long hard look at how it’s been doing things.

Excerpts from an e-mail Ed Fallon sent to his supporters on February 28:

Some of my friends argue that Perez has a progressive track record as former Labor Secretary under President Obama and is now the first Latino to lead the Democratic Party. So what’s the fuss?

They miss the point. What’s now known as the Bernie Wing of the Democratic Party (what Sen. Paul Wellstone called the “Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party” and what used to be known simply as “The Democratic Party”) backed Keith Ellison — a solid, independent-minded progressive who made no bones about challenging the Party’s establishment.

By all accounts, the establishment knew it couldn’t control Ellison. So it cleverly picked a candidate who, despite a reasonably progressive history, would make sure the Party’s status quo went unchallenged.

Symbolically, if not functionally, the election of Perez as chair is a disaster. It sends the message that the DNC is about business as usual. Sure, Perez attempted to throw the Bernie Wing a bone by appointing Ellison as deputy chair of the Party. But few believe this token gesture will have any effect on altering the Party’s direction.

Here in Iowa, we were shocked that all five of Iowa’s voting delegates supported Perez. The new chair (Derek Eadon) and new vice chair (Andrea Phillips) were swept in on a wave of reform. Eadon beat the establishment’s darling, former State Senator Mike Gronstal, handily. And yet the new leadership’s first significant action is … what? Vote against the candidate universally endorsed by reform Democrats? Take that, you Bernie people!

Fallon forgot to mention that the “establishment’s darling” Gronstal endorsed Ellison for DNC chair. So did Representative Dave Loebsack, who (like Gronstal) had backed Hillary Clinton for president.

UPDATE: A reader (not an SCC member) commented on Eadon’s message, “I had no disagreement with the outcome, but this email doesn’t really explain the decision. It lays out a good set of criteria for choosing, but doesn’t talk about how Perez was better than Ellison with respect to any of the criteria.”

SECOND UPDATE: I didn’t realize that Opstvedt, one of Iowa’s five voting DNC members, is communications coordinator for the South Central Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO. Nationally, AFL-CIO endorsed Ellison. Opstvedt is a longtime Hillary Clinton supporter and was an Iowa superdelegate last year.

THIRD UPDATE: Bleeding Heartland obtained a transcript of the Iowa Democratic Party’s January 21 State Central Committee meeting. During her speech as a nominee for first vice chair, Andrea Phillips did not explicitly promise to vote for Ellison. However, she said this regarding her potential role within the DNC:

I would be the DNC voting member. And I think one of the biggest steps we can take to heal the rift in our party between the Clinton and Sanders faction would be to take the step of voting for a DNC chair who the Sanders people feels supports them and they feel supported by that chair, because that would help them understand they do have a voice in the party and they are being listened to and their concerns are being addressed by the party. And then finally, that candidate for DNC chair would also have to support Iowa’s first in the nation status. I’ve seen firsthand the resources it brings to our state. As a legislative candidate I have an office to go to five minutes down the road from my house. Those are amazing kinds of resources that being first in the nation brings to us, and I would be happy to fight for that at the DNC on your behalf.

  • "Symbolically, if not functionally..."

    “Symbolically, if not functionally, the election of Perez as chair is a disaster.”

    Says Fallon, it is of neglegible importance that Tom Perez is well-suited for the, you know, JOB portion of the job. That the optics are right is the important thing.

  • Focus on Good Candidates

    The bloc vote by the IDP members of the DNC failed to represent the reality of the IDP and contemporary American politics. The IDP rank-and-file is not a bloc. Despite calls for unity and party discipline, many people still hope that the Democratic party has not become a corporate machine run by consultants who collect commissions on media buys funded by Big Money. Both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders proved that candidates can win elections with or without a “thumb on the scale.” If the IDP marginalizes the new people who flocked to the party in the past couple of years, then machine incumbents should not be surprised when they face well-organized and well-funded challengers in the Democratic primary.

    • "Well-organixed and well-funded..."

      So, what is the essential difference? Well-organized and well-funded is what’s happening currently.

      I congratulate the nod to political maturity, but, yet again, it sounds as if you’re only threatening to throw the old scoundrels out and replace them with scoundrels you like better if mainstream Democrats don’t knuckle under.

      How does that strategy change hearts and minds rather than harden them? How does that expand your sphere of influence?

      And, if you succeed in your quest to throw the old bums out and plant your own bums in leadership chairs, haven’t you merely won a zero-sum game rather than adding anything to the net strength of the party?

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