Op Eds

Will Democrats Learn from 2016?

Something potentially as important as the Democratic and Republican primaries is occurring tomorrow and it’s not receiving nearly as much attention as it should. Tomorrow, Democrats will elect a new leader for their party. Their decision matters. The Democratic National Committee Chair decides how the party should spend its resources and what image it should brand itself with. It works to fundraise for races across the country and to connect grassroots organizers with the greater party. Currently, Donna Brazile holds the position temporarily after the July resignation of Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.

Democrats have the choice between two very different paths. Keith Ellison is a lifelong community activist who is supported by the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, with endorsements from Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Chuck Schumer. His opponent is the Democratic establishment candidate Tom Perez, who has the backing of Joe Biden and other Obama administration politicians.

As a moderate, I naturally wouldn’t care about internal party issues like this race. But as someone who has had Ellison as my U.S. Representative for the last 10 years of my life, I feel obligated to express my belief that Ellison is the only candidate that can restore the DNC and bring back a sense of political legitimacy in a time when many people feel lost in today’s big data, mass fundraising, and divisive politics.

Ellison does this by being humble, visible, and available to his district at a level that is far out of the norm for politicians. Ellison speaks at my high school and other public schools in my district at least once per year. He engages in Twitter conversations with his constituents over issues like Black Lives Matter protests, challenging people on both sides to find common ground. This local involvement translates into high support. In his last election, Ellison beat the Republican challenger by an unheard of 47 point margin. He does all this while garnering national recognition in Congress where he is a member of over 20 caucuses. He is also the founding member of the Consumer Justice Caucus, which tasks itself with listening and responding to the economic concerns of ordinary Americans.

Meanwhile Perez, reigning from New York, is the classic political insider. Obama’s former Secretary of Labor, Perez built his career as a federal prosecutor and civil rights attorney. You might also remember him as a potential Hillary Clinton Vice President pick. Never popular but always well-connected, the highest position Perez has ever been elected by the people to was County Councilman in Maryland’s Montgomery County. And although Perez spent much of his career in Maryland working as the State Secretary of Labor, Ellison was the candidate endorsed by a majority of the Baltimore City Council to be the next DNC Chair.


As the DNC Chair, Ellison would bring fresh ideas from a part of the country where Democrats have recently lost much ground. Besides Minnesota, the only Midwestern state to vote Democratic in the 2016 Presidential Election was Illinois, the home state of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Ellison and other Minnesota Democrats deserve respect for keeping Minnesota blue and are best prepared to win back voters in Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, and across the country.

In this time of change, Democrats need to embrace a post-coastalist leadership search that looks beyond Perez’s connections to Washington elites and seeks out ideas from politicians across the country. I am confident that Ellison will unite the Democratic party―not just its current factions, but also the large number of Americans who lost hope in the party after the last election cycle. If party members vote against Ellison tomorrow, it’ll be a sign that they want to pursue the same strategy that lost them the 2016 election. For these reasons, I hope you will support Ellison in this important moment for both Democrats and Americans.

Russell F. Pekala ’19 is a sophomore in Leverett House. He is studying math and physics