DNC chair candidates explain why they're the right pick
(CNN) -- The Democratic National Committee chair candidates explain why they're the right choice to lead the Democratic Party. Tune in Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET to hear the candidates in a debate moderated by CNN's Dana Bash and Chris Cuomo. The opinions expressed in these commentaries are those of the authors.
Pete Buttigieg: We haven't communicated why Democratic values are American values
I'm running for chair of the DNC because our party needs a fresh start.
I stand by the values that make me a Democrat. But in terms of local, state and national offices, the party stands at its lowest level of influence since the 1920s. As a party, we have failed to maintain a 50-state strategy. We have allowed our language to be framed by the show in Washington rather than the lived experience of Americans. And we have not adequately communicated why our Democratic values -- freedom, fairness, family and the future -- are American values.
We need a true turnaround, just like South Bend, Indiana, did when I first ran for mayor. Since I took office, my hometown has gone from being listed as one of America's 10 dying communities to seeing its fastest pace of population and investment growth in recent memory. That's why I got re-elected with 80% of the vote, in the seat of a county that would split its vote evenly between Clinton and Trump a year later.
I'm here to bring the same results-oriented mentality to the DNC. Other candidates in this race have greater name recognition and bigger Washington reputations than I have. They are good, impressive Democrats. But we cannot expect the habits of the establishment to save us. Grass-roots energy, like what we saw on display at the Women's March and airport protests, is pointing the way to a new Democratic era.
We also cannot afford to fall into a factional struggle. My competitors are viewed as leading one "wing" of the party or another, at the very moment when we must be more united than ever. We cannot afford to end this process with half the party feeling defeated.
Tonight, you will hear that we have a lot in common. Everyone will talk about engaging a new generation and about looking to the grass roots. Everyone will talk about moving beyond factions, working in red and purple states, and remembering the importance of state and local government.
Yet I'm the only candidate who is actually a local official, running and winning in a deep red state, the product not of any faction but of a new generation of leaders ready to compete and win in every part of the country.
When DNC members choose a new chair Saturday, we will learn whether our party is prepared for real change.
It is time to turn the page from yesterday's battles, organize around our Democratic values, and elect new leadership for a fresh start in the Democratic Party.
Pete Buttigieg is the mayor of South Bend, Indiana.
Keith Ellison: We have to push back
If we've learned anything in the few short weeks that President Donald Trump has been in office, it's this: when Democrats lose, bad things happen to good people. Whether it's increased ICE raids, an unconstitutional Muslim ban, or the nomination of an anti-public schools secretary of education, the Trump administration has tried to drive us apart as a nation.
We have to push back, and to do that, the Democratic Party must make clear that it's the party fighting for working people, no matter who they are or where they live. That's exactly what I intend to do if I'm the next DNC chair.
I'd start by maximizing voter turnout. If Democrats had gotten 70,000 more votes in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, Hillary Clinton would be sitting in the Oval Office. How do we drive up the vote? By organizing 365 days a year -- even in the off-year. That means doing a summer canvass and building relationships with voters now. In my congressional district, we've focused on grass-roots organizing and have turned my district from having the lowest turnout in the state to the highest. And since the margins are so high in my district, there are no statewide Republicans elected to office in Minnesota.
In addition, I'm committed to strengthening all state parties, including the territories and Democrats Abroad. The fact is that state parties have been ignored for far too long, that they haven't received the resources they've needed. As a result, since 2008, Democrats have lost 1,000 elections across the country. That shouldn't have happened, and I'll work tirelessly to change that. I've already shown my commitment to electing Democrats everywhere, campaigning in nearly 30 states over the last two years for candidates at all levels, and I'll continue building on that success.
And this is just the beginning. I have detailed plans for what I'd like to achieve as DNC chair, which you can find on my website. Among other things, I'd provide a state and local toolkit full of resources to win elections, and I'd create a candidate training program to build our party's bench.
The stakes are incredibly high right now. We need a proven organizer who can win elections, mobilize the grass roots and bring our party together. If elected as DNC chair, I will organize my heart out for this party and our country.
Keith Ellison has been the US Representative for Minnesota's 5th Congressional District since 2007.
Jehmu Greene: The stakes are too high for politics as usual
In these unprecedented times, the DNC not only needs an innovative strategist and seasoned organizer -- we need a fierce leader, someone who will tackle institutional challenges, rebuild the party and resist this President at every turn.
For this race, an easier path to victory would be to tell the 447 DNC members who get to vote only what they want to hear. I choose the road less traveled -- speaking the uncomfortable truths. We need to prioritize purpose over politics to win again.
Facing a President marching us towards fascism, the stakes are too high for politics as usual. For too long, the DNC has been mired in an old-school system. From superdelegates to caucuses that unintentionally disenfranchise parents, shift workers, disabled communities and the elderly, we have become insular and out of touch.
While we continue to battle income inequality, fight for criminal justice and immigration reform and protect our life-saving gains on health care, we also have a unique opportunity to innovate how we organize, communicate and connect with voters. We can become a home for the millions of Americans marching in the streets.
From setting voter turnout and gender parity moonshots to funding innovation hubs, my platform offers specific prescriptions on how to reimagine our processes; transform our transparency, accountability and access to leadership; reform our budget to reflect the new American majority; shift the battlefield from voter suppression to voter expansion; strategically utilize culture to communicate our values; and celebrate being Democrats!
As chair, I will continue to be a daily champion for millennial engagement and women's leadership. Decisions will be guided by collaboration and intersectionality, not measured against false narratives of disunity or an impending run for elected office. Proactive, authentic, coordinated messaging that touches the hearts of voters first and foremost will replace the reactive communications of the past.
There is plenty of talk about culture change and transformation, and on the surface, consensus. However, a transformational leader can't be anointed by the status quo. This moment calls for a leader that isn't afraid to speak uncomfortable truths, break a few eggs and lay out a bold vision.
Last year, when facing the opportunity to make history, strategic decisions were made to play it safe. This weekend, Democrats can make a different decision when staring in the face of history again: Think bigger, act bolder and answer tough questions to hold ourselves accountable to this transformative moment.
Jehmu Greene is a Democratic strategist, activist and proud Texan. She has served as president of Rock the Vote, women's outreach director and Southern political director at the Democratic National Committee, and co-founded Define American, an initiative that worked to elevate the conversation on immigration reform. She is also a founding board member of VoteRunLead, an organization credited with recruiting and training more than 15,000 women to run for political office. Until recently, Greene served as an analyst for Fox News, stepping down to campaign for chair of the DNC.
Tom Perez: Democrats have been ignored -- let's turn that around
The most important word in my campaign logo has never been "Tom." It's the word "Team." And it will take a team to take on Donald Trump and the Republican agenda. That's why no matter who is elected chair of the DNC, our party must come together as a team to fight for our shared values.
I believe I'm the best equipped to lead that team because I've spent my whole career taking on and winning the toughest progressive fights. As a local organizer, I helped turn CASA de Maryland into one of the largest immigrant advocacy organizations in the mid-Atlantic. In 2009, I took over a Department of Justice Civil Rights Division that had been decimated under President George W. Bush, and we brought it roaring back to life -- taking on police misconduct, anti-immigrant laws and voter suppression. And for the past three years, I served as secretary of labor, fighting to expand economic opportunity and taking an often ignored agency to the center of President Barack Obama's policy agenda.
I want to bring that fight and my proven record of turning around complex organizations to the DNC. It's no secret that the Democratic Party needs a turnaround. And the way that we do that is by focusing on: votes and values.
Many Americans sent a clear message this last election: we were ignored by the Democratic Party. While we share the same values of inclusion and opportunity, we lost their vote because we failed to communicate our values and how we will help them each and every day. That is why we need to make more house calls, invest in grass-roots organizing and support all 57 state parties to ensure that we're connecting with voters in every ZIP code.
But persuading voters is only one piece. We also need to protect and expand the right to vote. Voter suppression is part of the Republican playbook, and the DNC should play a leading role in ensuring access to the ballot box. That's why I want to create a full-time, fully funded Voter Empowerment Office to work with states as they engage new voters and challenge discriminatory voter suppression laws.
By getting back to basics, we can turn the Democratic Party around, take the fight to Donald Trump and win elections from school board to the Senate. If I have the privilege of leading our team, that's exactly what we'll do together.
Tom Perez is the former US labor secretary.
Jaime Harrison: To build the Democratic Party, DNC needs a party-builder
Imagine you kept your car in the garage, only taking it out to drive every two to four years. Would you expect it to run effectively? Of course not.
The Democratic Party is this car. For the past decade, we have neglected to maintain the car's essential parts -- our state parties. So we shouldn't be surprised that the car hasn't been running well. The question now facing DNC members is: Who do you want to fix the car to ensure that it performs at a high level?
When your car is broken, you take it to a mechanic who has experience fixing cars and knows how the parts work. Similarly, to build the Democratic Party, we need to have a DNC chair who has experience building a party and knows how state parties work.
I am the only candidate in this race with the party-building experience and skills to rebuild the DNC and our state parties from the ground up. Four years ago, when I was first elected chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party, the state party infrastructure was virtually nonexistent. I changed that.
We've built our bench through the James E. Clyburn Political Fellowship, engaged on the issues through the John Spratt Issues Conference, hosted Southern state parties and our presidential candidates for the First in the South Forum, and brought our party directly into communities through South Carolina Democrats Care. While states as red as South Carolina don't turn blue overnight, we've laid the groundwork.
Throughout the country, the Democratic Party needs to regain voters' trust. It's not enough to tell people we're fighting for them; we have to show them. We must transform our party from a political organization asking for votes into a community organization making a positive difference in people's lives. This will require reinvigorated party organizations in all 57 states, territories and abroad.
With Donald Trump and the rubber-stamp Republican Congress doing damage every day, Democrats have to get our act together immediately. We're seeing a surge in progressive political engagement, but we need state party infrastructure in place to channel it into winning elections.
As the DNC chooses a chair to fix the party car, we don't have time to read the owner's manual. We need someone who has been under the hood and knows how to get the car running again. I will get the Democratic Party back on the road to success.
Jaime Harrison is the chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party and former executive director of the House Democratic Caucus.
Sally Boynton Brown: I am not a politician
We can't afford to lose one single voice in our democracy. We must engage everyone in the brainstorming and decision-making process to ensure the energy and passion results in the most innovative, vibrant and resilient Democratic Party for the future. We need to embrace the new power values of full democracy and inclusion; otherwise, we risk continuing down a declining path while expecting different results.
I am not a politician. I am a mother, a businesswoman, a Democratic leader, and I believe democracy is what makes America great. The Democratic Party needs someone who isn't afraid to take necessary risks to bring people-powered politics back to our country.
If you check out my DNC Blueprint at WeTheDNC.org, you will see that I have a plan that doesn't just talk about transparency, accountability, full-partnership and inclusion -- I provide strategies to accomplish each of these. The blueprint outlines a bold vision for the future. It sets high expectations and ensures we will become a connected, mutually accountable community. As president of the Association of State Democratic Party Executive Directors (ASDED), as well as the director of a state Democratic organization, I am uniquely positioned to provide the visionary leadership to execute this plan.
This week, I was honored to have one of my heroines, Christine Pelosi, endorse me for DNC chair. Christine noted that I was the first candidate to refuse corporate contributions. Our values of honesty, equity, fairness, opportunity and prosperity for all are embraced by the vast majority of Americans. When we live up to our shared values, the people will join us. When we don't live up to our values, we risk marginalizing our own people, who will either fail to vote or will vote against their will based on populist messages without substance out of despair or sheer disillusionment.
Encouraging more people to contemplate revolutionary ways to conduct political work brings us closer to a breakthrough. The most important role the DNC can play is to interact with and empower the public to implement the best ideas from the greatest group of thinkers. I want to ensure that we revolutionize the Democratic Party and return it to a trusted, vibrant beacon of democracy for the 21st century electorate!
Sally Boynton Brown began her career in politics by managing winning legislative races and working on Idaho's gubernatorial race. She then went to work with the Idaho Democratic Party. After serving in several key staff positions she became the executive director. Sally worked to create better cooperation between states. She assumed a leadership role at the ASDED and now serves as its president.
Peter Peckarsky: An attack on the voting process is an attack on our nation
The act of voting is the only means by which the power to govern is legitimately conferred in America. This act is the essence of our national security. An attack on any part of the voting process (from registration to certification of the vote) is an attack on our nation. These attacks do not require guns. Without security for the entire voting process, our national security is degraded. Security for the voting process can most efficiently and effectively be provided by full-time election protection.
I am a patriotic American from Wisconsin who understands technology, election law, and how the election system actually operates. I am running for DNC chair because we need someone who will reform the party and promote a secure election process. My plan shows how to invigorate the DNC. A 50-state plan is not enough: party members and voters at all levels must be empowered and engaged.
A DNC chair who understands the issues is essential to proper functioning and funding of the state Democratic parties.
My plan, for all 185,000 voting precincts in America, is founded on:
Principles: open dialogue, impartiality and evenhandedness toward the candidates for the presidential nomination, as required by the DNC Charter.
Empowerment: moving the party to a grass-roots strategy that supports leadership at every level. Leaders must know that when help is needed, the DNC will have your back.
Technology: guaranteeing safe and appropriate use of technology -- from secure donations through final counting of ballots.
Engagement: everyone within the party, from leadership to members to voters, must want to get involved and stay involved. The DNC must support those who are ready to volunteer. This energy and talent must be appreciated and utilized. Under my leadership, the DNC will provide training and help to identify, recruit and vet candidates at all levels.
Resources: to do the things outlined above, the DNC will share, develop and deploy resources in a collaborative and coordinated manner with all levels of the party.
This is a long-term strategy so that all party members know their voices will be heard. Elected representatives from the city council to the White House must represent all the people.
My strategy restores our focus on all of our needs: communities of color, women, LGBTQ people, as well as disabled, disenfranchised and discouraged voters.
In short, my 185,000-precinct plan is not simply a 50-state plan. It is feet on the ground, engaged in every town, in every county, in every state, for every American.
Peter Peckarsky is an attorney in Wisconsin.
Samuel Ronan: A vision to invest in local communities and enable voter participation
My vision for the future of the Democratic Party is one in which we invest in the local communities and we enable voters to participate in the Democratic process at all levels. My fundamental focus for the DNC would be to ensure that Democratic Party candidates connect more with voters in rural America and that the lowest levels all across the country are fully funded and have the tools and resources to succeed.
We will also focus on rebuilding the trust, integrity and accountability that have been lost in the past several decades. We will do so by getting rid of superdelegates, opening primaries and removing the exclusivity clause for debates. We will make our process much more transparent. We will increase our ability to find information about who's in charge of what and have a true chain of command that truly unites all of us together.
Samuel Ronan is a veteran of the US Air Force and was a candidate in 2016 for the Ohio state House of Representatives.
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