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DNC Officer Candidates Visit Houston

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Democratic Future Forum included four gay candidates for top DNC positions.
Story and Photos by Brandon Wolf

In their first task to rebuild a shattered party, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) is now in the midst of the campaigns for the jobs of DNC chair, vice-chair, secretary, and treasurer. Four regional Future Forums are allowing the DNC committee and the public to hear the candidates’ ideas. The second of the four forums was held Saturday, January 28, 2017, on the campus of Texas Southern University in Houston.

Four gay men are among the candidates: Pete Buttigieg of Indiana and Ray Buckley of New Hampshire are running for chair; Rick Palacio of Colorado is running for vice-chair; and Jason Rea of Wisconsin is running for secretary.

Four Regional Forums

The first forum was held in Phoenix on January 14, the third will be in Detroit on February 4, and the final one in Baltimore on February 11. Then on February 26, the elections will be held in Atlanta.

Eleven candidates are running for chair, 10 for vice-chair, four for secretary, and two for treasurer. The 447-member Democratic National Committee will determine the winner.

The committee is comprised of the sitting Democrats in the Congress, the Democratic governors, the elected DNC officers, distinguished members of the party, the chair and vice-chair of each of the state parties, and at-large members from each state.

It takes 224 votes to win the election. To be eligible for the balloting, each candidate must secure nominations from 20 current DNC members.

For the attendees and the candidates, the forums are a daylong event, beginning at 9 a.m. and running until 6 p.m. Outside the auditorium, candidates have tables set up, offering campaign literature, giveaways, positions papers, buttons, and stickers—and volunteers to answer questions about the candidates.

Houston’s Forum

The Houston forum was a model of diversity—reflected by the guests and by the candidates. Many of the out-of-town guests were surprised to find Houston at 48 degrees during the early morning hours. By noon, the sun warmed the campus up to 59 degrees.

The morning program featured opening remarks by interim DNC Chair Donna Brazile, Rev. Dr. William Barber II of North Carolina, and Texas Democratic Chair Gilbert Hinojosa. Their stirring remarks brought loud applause and many standing ovations.

Maria Teresa Kumar presented a polling presentation, representing the Voto Latino Unity Commission. Candidate panels for secretary and treasurer were held allowing the candidates to field questions.

During the panel for treasurer, candidate Jason Rae commented: “I’m committed to being a secretary that engages members and works to create greater transparency of how our party works. I’ve been talking about the need for a mentorship program, orientations, and training for new members. That’s what I’ll do as secretary.”

During the lunch hour, candidates brought in piles of boxes of pizza slices and fried-chicken dinners, for all the guests. Attendees milled around, after eating, checking outing the candidate tables.

The afternoon program began with a fiery speech by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee that energized the guests. This was following by the panel discussion for the vice-chair candidates.

During the vice-chair panel, candidate Rick Palacio said: “Now is the time our party needs to stand together and fight back against Donald Trump and his Republican allies in Washington. When we stand up for one another, nothing is going to stand in our way.” He also pointed out: “It’s unacceptable to have Republican candidates that go unchallenged by Democrats at any level of government.”

Congressman Al Green then gave a final rousing speech, building yet more enthusiasm amongst the guest. The last agenda item was the big event—the panel for the DNC chair candidates.

Candidate Roy Buckley emphasized: “What we need is a mechanic who can get under the hood and fix the damn car.” He also noted that in the 2016 campaign: “We spent over a billion dollars on TV ads, and less than 1 percent of that on organizing.”

Pete Buttigieg, nicknamed “The Mayor,” answered a lot of questions with common-sense approach. He also delivered one of the day’s best Trump zingers: “He took a jackhammer to American moral authority, and on the seventh day he did not rest.”

The Mood in the Party

Candidates and attendees were still trying to come to grips with the starting election of Donald Trump and with the first week of his presidency. “Resistance” echoed throughout the day.

The candidates were asked questions from DNC members and from the general audience. The most common theme in their answers was disappointment with the abandonment of former chair Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy, when was abandoned after he left the position in 2009.

Since that time, over 1,000 Democratic-elected positions, from governorships and state legislatures to mayors and school boards, have been lost to Republicans. Reversing this trend will be a must, to regain Congress before the next redistricting in 2021. The redistricting is done by state legislations, and Republican gerrymandering in 2010 has given them an iron lock on the House of Representatives.

There was widespread agreement among the candidates that the DNC needed to start once again helping local parties—with funding and with training. “We can’t show up at a church every four years and call that an organizing strategy,” candidate for chair Tom Perez said.

Other issues included building on the success of the recent Women’s March, ending divisions within the party, and appealing to the millennials, women, Hispanics, African-Americans, and LGBTQs.

During the day, there were a few minor outbreaks of frustration left over from the 2016 primary, but they did not interrupt the meeting for long and gained little notice. Issues that received limited attention were the Electoral College, the caucus vs. primary approach, closed primaries, and super delegates.

The Two Gay Men Running for DNC Chair

Ray Buckley brings three decades of experience to the table. He served eight terms (1986–2004) as a member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, and was chosen to be party whip in that body. He was the vice-chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party from 1999 to March 2007, and as the chair from 2007 to the present.

Buckley has also been the president of the Association of State Democratic Chairs, and thus he knows all the leadership in the 50 states. He hopes that the DNC will value experience when casting their votes.

Buttigieg brings innovation and youth to the table. He points to a score of programs he has put together in his first term as mayor of South Bend, and helped turn around the once “dying city.” A millennial, he was first elected mayor at the age of 29. His recent reelection gave him an 80-percent share of the votes cast.

In 2015, Buttigieg was honored with the Kennedy Library “New Frontier” award for establishing an open data policy in the city, and tackling the problem of vacant and abandoned housing. He also led the successful effort to turn the long-abandoned Studebaker plant into a huge office complex and shopping area.

The largest volunteer staffs visible were for Buttigieg, and for Keith Ellison, another candidate for chair. Ellison is the first Muslim-American U.S. Congressman. Both men generated considerable attention in the panel discussions. Buttigieg has come from behind as a dark horse to a top contender for the DNC chair.

Democrats are ready to mount a serious opposition to the current administration. One of the important factors in that opposition will be the person who becomes the new face of the Democratic Party.

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A detailed profile of Pete Buttigieg will be published in the March 2017 issue of OutSmart magazine.

Brandon Wolf is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.

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Brandon Wolf

Brandon Wolf is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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