A contentious election came to a head on Friday night as former Labor Secretary Tom Perez was elected the next Chair of the Democratic National Committee, defeating Minn. Representative Keith Ellison. The contest was seen by many as a proxy for Democratic party infighting between the more progressive, Sanders-supporting wing and the establishment loyalists who supported the nomination of Hillary Clinton for president.
After the election of Donald Trump, many within and outside of the Democratic party argued the party needed significant movement to the left to become competitive in later elections and gain voters from anti-Trump protests. Ellison had a lot of support from this side of the party, particularly Senator Bernie Sanders. The concern in electing Perez is that the party did not learn any lessons from the loss of Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump in the presidential election last October.
The argument is that the Democratic Party establishment is not popular enough to win elections, and the more galvanized, enthusiastic and progressive party supporters, like those who supported Sanders in the party primary, need to be the future of the party. Perez is the first Latino chair of the DNC, while Ellison would have been the first Muslim. Ellison had previously been elected as the first Muslim congressman upon his election to represent Minnesota’s fifth congressional district in 2007.
Perez was most recently the Secretary of the Department of Labor, nominated by Barack Obama in 2013. He was the first cabinet member to be confirmed along a purely party vote, after receiving no Republican votes due to his role in a bargain for a Supreme Court case to be dropped in exchange for overlooking whistleblower allegations against the city of St. Paul, Minn.
Many Ellison supporters criticized the choice of Perez as DNC chair for this exact reason. Perez will succeed Donna Brazile, herself an interim after Debbie Wasserman-Schultz was forced to resign after emails revealed that she and her staff preferred Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary last year.
With the previous DNC chair having been removed from office due to corruption allegations, it is particularly concerning to some that she will be followed by someone who has also been specifically connected to a corruption scandal. President Trump congratulated Perez on Twitter, quipping, “I could not be happier for him, or for the Republican Party!” This came after Trump already had alleged the race for DNC chair was “rigged” since, according to Trump, “Hillary demanded Perez!”