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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.

  • The second of four regional Democratic Future Forums was held at Texas Southern University (TSU) on Saturday, January 28, 2017.
  • The forum venue was the Granville M. Sawyer Auditorium on the TSU campus.
  • Pete Buttigieg, 34-year old mayor of South Bend is one of two openly-gay candidates for the position of DNC Chair.
  • Takeaway bags at the Buttigieg table included several food products produced in the South Bend area.
  • Buttigieg has evolved from a dark horse candidate to one of the leading contenders for the DNC Chair position.
  • A Harvard graduate, Rhodes Scholar, and recipient of the 2015 Kennedy Library “New Frontier” award, Buttigieg brings a lot to the table for the DNC Chair position.
  • Buttigieg’s partner Chasten Glezman, an elementary school teacher, keeps up with activity inside the auditorium via Twitter.
  • Tom Perez, former Secretary of Labor under President Obama, is another contender for the DNC Chair position.
  • Openly-gay Rick Palacio is running for the position of DNC Vice-Chair.
  • Palacio is a sixth generation Coloradan and the son of a steel worker and a homemaker.
  • Palacio is also the current chair of the Colorado Democratic Party.
  • Buttigieg volunteers keep his name out where people can see it.  Later in the day, several of them registered voters in the nearby area.
  • Security was tight at the forum. Everyone entering was given a security check by campus police. No large signs or disruptive objects were allowed inside.
  • Rev. Dr. William Barber II from North Carolina roused the morning session with an energetic and passionate speech.
  • Former Houston mayor Annise Parker slipped in quietly and enjoyed some brief anonymity, but was quickly spotted and escorted to the VIP area.
  • A presentation about polling was given by Maria Teresa Kumar, representing the Voto Latino Unity Commission.
  • U.S. Representative Keith Ellison from Minnesota, running for DNC Chair, is the first Muslim-American elected to the U.S. Congress.
  • Ellison’s “Field Guide to the Trump Administration Swamp”, detailed Trump’s cabinet nominations.
  • Grace Meng, the current DNC Secretary, is running for DNC Vice-Chair.
  • Openly-gay candidate for DNC Chair, Ray Buckley, Chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, brings 30 years of experience to his run for the top DNC job.
  • Mayor Buttigieg and partner Chasten Glezman, pose for a photo together.
  • Openly-gay candidate for DNC Secretary Jason Rae is from Wisconsin.   He wants to bring a mentorship program to the DNC.
  • A forum guest wears a "pussy hat" from the Women’s March on Washington.
  • Nearly everyone was keeping tabs on the forum inside the auditorium and other national news through their phones.
  • The Buttigieg volunteers chat with forum guests about their candidate. They were also dispensing Starbuck’s coffee.
  • Among Buttigieg’s supporters were (left) Kareemah Fowler, South Bend Clerk, and (right) Miguel Solis, 29, the youngest member of the Dallas School Board.
  • The Gay Mayors Club: Annise Parker and Pete Buttigieg chat during the mid-day break.
  • Parker and Buttigieg share a laugh.
  • A forum guest shares her thoughts with Parker and Buttigieg.
  • The Twitter hashtag for Buttigieg’s DNC Chair campaign.
  • President of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, Fran Watson, poses with Jason Rae, candidate for DNC Secretary.
  • A Palacio volunteer keeps his candidate’s name visible.
  • Palacio talks with a forum guest.
  • The mid-day break was a good time to chat, and a time to take advantage of the lunches the candidates brought in for guests.
  • DNC Secretary candidate Jason Rae answers a question for a forum guest.
  • Boxes of sliced pizza went quickly during the mid-day break.
  • Palacio was one of several candidates who brought in boxed lunches of fried chicken, which were eagerly swept up by the forum guests.
  • A Palacio volunteer makes a political statement with his t-shirt.
  • The courtyard in front of the auditorium was buzzing during the mid-day recess.
  • Houstonian Gary Yokie attended the forum as a guest.
  • Memories of a much loved president were evoked by this sweatshirt.
  • An Ellison volunteer outlines how to win campaigns.
  • A electrifying speech by U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee kicked off the afternoon session.
  • Jackson-Lee received round after round of applause during her address to the forum.
  • Seats for DNC members – those who will ultimately select the next slate of officers – were reserved in the front rows so they could take in the candidate panel discussions.
  • Candidate Palacio introduces himself at the beginning of the panel discussion.
  • The Vice-Chair panel discussion underway.
  • Palacio answers a question during the panel discussion.
  • Palacio on the live streaming console, which brought the forum to those who weren’t able to attend in-person.
  • Forum guests kept up with the Muslim ban controversy brewing during the forum, and also posted comments from the candidates to Twitter and other social media.
  • During a break after the Vice-Chair panel, a member of the media makes a broadcast report.
  • Former Texas State Representative Glen Maxey, in blue shirt, is a DNC member who will be voting for the top positions in Atlanta on February 26, 2017.
  • Before the panel discussion for DNC Chair, U.S. Representative Al Green, delivers another rousing speech to energize the guests.
  • A translator signs for the deaf during Green’s speech.
  • Green gets a ‘TIME’ card as the event clock tells him his allotted time is down to three seconds.
  • Interim DNC Chair Donna Brazile introduces the DNC Chair panel discussion.
  • The forum candidate panels were moderated by Evan Smith of the Texas Tribune.
  • Candidate Ray Buckley smiles as he is introduced.
  • Buckley makes his opening statement to the forum guests.
  • Buckley on the monitor that shows the candidates what is currently being streamed, and indicates the time remaining for the panel discussion.
  • Candidate Buttigieg quickly earned the nickname of “The Mayor”.
  • Buttigieg answering a question during the panel discussion.
  • A member of the media live-blogs during the panel discussion.
  • A volunteer collects questions from the general public to give to the moderator during the panel discussion.
  • Buttigieg answers another question during the panel, as other candidates listen.
  • Buttigieg on the live-streaming monitor.
  • Outside, a lone volunteer mans the Buttigieg table.
  • Each candidate must secure at least 20 nominations from current DNC members in order to be included in the balloting on February 26 in Atlanta.
  • Buttigieg’s volunteer follows the panel discussion on Twitter.
  • Buttigieg shot off one very popular Trump zinger during the panel discussion.
  • As the shadows lengthen on the TSU campus, the daylong forum is winding up inside the auditorium.  Two more forums await – in Detroit and Baltimore – before the officer elections.

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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