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'Every zip code counts': DNC Chairman Tom Perez talks threat of Trump, new blood in party

The chairman of the Democratic National Committee was on campus Monday to discuss voter suppression and the evolution of the Democratic Party.

Tom Perez took part in a Q&A led by Deondra Rose, assistant professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy. Speaking to a crowd in Fleishman Commons at the Sanford School of Public Policy, the former labor secretary said one of the reasons he ran for the party leader position was because of the many losses Democrats experienced in offices at the local, state and federal level leading up to President Donald Trump's election. Since the 2016 presidential election, the DNC has changed its mission statement to one about electing Democrats up and down the ballot—from the school board to the Oval Office—in order to represent the interests of American citizens.

“The Senate and the House still don’t look like America,” Perez said. “It’s the world’s greatest deliberative body, but doesn’t reflect the body it deliberates about.”

Changes to the DNC have not been just a result of what happened in November, Perez emphasized, but also everything that happened leading up to the election.

The fact that the DNC had stopped organizing in a large cohort of places and merely focused on “swing states” in the months prior to Trump's election was an issue that Perez pointed out. Additionally, Perez said that the DNC has paid too much attention to electing the president and too little attention to electing Democrats positions at other levels.

The DNC is now working to democratize the process of running for office so that it is easier for ordinary citizens to do so, the party chairman said. He acknowledged that running for office can be a daunting process and that it should not be so hard for individuals to run.

The new DNC is doing a variety of things in order to make running for office easier, Perez said. For example, he described a website the DNC set up which provides candidates with a series of useful tools. 

“It’s never easy to run for office, but we want people to know there is a posse of people in place who are ready to help them,” Perez said.

He noted that one of the most important things you need if you’re running for office is voters' cell phone numbers. 

When Keisha Lance Bottoms, current mayor of Atlanta, was running for election and the DNC heard she was several points down in the polls, Perez said the committee bought 55,000 cell phone numbers and ran an aggressive texting campaign. The Democratic mayor ended up winning by a margin of 900 votes. 

“The key to our recent success [in getting Democrats elected] is recognizing that every zip code counts,” Perez said.

Nevertheless, though many individuals are discussing the need for new blood in the Democratic Party, Perez argued that the older he gets the more he feels age is an imperfect proxy.

“I understand the interest in turning the page, but I’m thrilled that we have seasoned veterans…and emerging leaders at the federal, state and local level,” Perez said.

After Rose read a tweet by Trump in which he claimed millions of Americans had committed voter fraud, Perez switched gears to discuss the Trump presidency and issues America is currently facing. Perez said not only that Trump’s claim was entirely false, but also that his attacks on news organizations do a disservice to every individual in this country.

“After all, isn’t the media the fourth branch?” Perez asked the audience.

Trump’s presidency has become the most serious stress test for the U.S. democracy, Perez said. However, the DNC is not simply the anti-Trump party, Perez added. Rather, it is a party fighting for the basic bargain that zip codes do not determine destiny.

Perez said he believes gerrymandering and dark money are two of the most destructive forces in American democracy at this time. He added that if the Supreme Court doesn’t take these on, they cannot not fix the democracy.

“Gerrymandering is an issue we need to be talking about, especially in North Carolina,” Perez said. “Politicians shouldn’t be able to choose their constituents. Constituents should be able to choose their politicians.”


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