Keith Ellison Describes Fidel Castro’s Legacy as “A Mixed Bag”

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) – the presumed frontrunner in the race to be the next chairman of the Democratic National Committee – was asked for his views about the legacy of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro during an interview on SiriuxXM Radio’s The Karen Hunter Show:

ELLISON: He [Castro] was a revolutionary leader who confronted a system of government that excluded everybody except the military and the monied rich. Because he took them on and defeated them, and set the country up in a way where, did he use harsh, dictatorial tactics? Yeah, probably he did. But did he also stand up for peace and freedom in Africa? Absolutely. His Cuban forces took on the South African apartheid military forces and defeated them. He deployed doctors everywhere from Chernobyl to all over Africa. Wherever people were sick, he sent those doctors there. He made medical education very available, made medicine available.
So if you look at his legacy, you have to say that he confronted people with a lot of power on behalf of people who didn’t have any. But he also did jail people who were political critics of his. He did also not allow total and free speech, and so I think it’s a mixed bag. But for anybody to say that he was all bad, that’s all wrong.

Listen to the audio of the comment here:

Obama-Sanders Split Exposed in DNC Chairman Race

The New York Times has a good writeup on the behind-the-scenes dynamics happening in the race to lead the Democratic National Committee. Officially, the Obama administration is staying neutral in the race, but the White House is quietly looking for an alternative to Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who has accumulated the most endorsements so far in the race. At issue, according to the report: “Elevating Mr. Ellison would amount to handing the party to Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Mrs. Clinton’s primary race opponent, and his liberal followers.”

The concerns with Ellison are his inability to do the DNC job full-time as a sitting member of the House of Representatives, as well as his previous criticism of Obama and his previous praise of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. (Aides had agreed to make Ellison available for an interview to the NYT for this story until they were told he would be asked about Farrakhan.)

Former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm and Labor Secretary Tom Perez are said to be viewed favorably as candidates by the administration. Granholm had already publicly taken herself out of the running several days ago, but it’s not clear if the administration has lobbied or spoken with her since those comments. Perez’s post-administration plans are not yet known. He may throw his hat in the ring for the DNC chairmanship or he may bide his time and run for governor of Maryland in 2018.

UPDATE: I should note that while Ellison is the presumptive frontrunner in the race right now because of the number of endorsements he has picked up and the political muscle behind them (Chuck Schumer, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, etc.), those endorsements won’t mean anything when it comes down to the actual vote. According to NBC News, “The election won’t be held until late February during a meeting in Atlanta, and the only votes that matter are those of the several hundred members of the Democratic National Committee.”

Potential DNC Chairman Candidates Withdraw from the Race

According to NBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald, Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), former Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) and former Gov. Martin O’Malley (D-Md.) have withdrawn from consideration for the DNC chairman election.

Two names from the Obama administration have also surfaced: Vice President Joe Biden (who, according to a spokesman, declined interest in the position) and outgoing Labor Secretary Tom Perez. Keep in mind Perez was considered as a potential running mate by Hillary Clinton earlier this year, and NBC News also points out that he may opt to bide his time and run for governor of Maryland in 2018 against incumbent Republican Larry Hogan.

As of this morning, the candidates who are in the race or have expressed interest are:

  • NH Democratic Party Chairman Raymond Buckley
  • Former Gov. Howard Dean (D-Vt.)
  • Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.)
  • SC Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison
  • NARAL Pro-Choice America president Ilyse Hogue

DNC Candidate Keith Ellison: “I think I bring a skill set that can help us win”

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) called into the Keepin’ It 1600 podcast to discuss his candidacy for DNC chair. Here are some Ellison quotes from the episode:

  • “I don’t think we can make outreach to exist to fight Trump. Outreach has to exist to fight for the American working people: the overwhelming majority of folks who go to work every single day, hope to make enough money to be able to retire one day, hope to make enough money to put food on the table and do something good for their kids, you know? So that’s where it’s at, that seems to guide everything that we do. My take on it is we need to speak to that issue, speak to trade, outsourcing. We need to speak to minimum wage, collective bargaining. It’s about the money. A lot has been made about the white working class. I think we’d better take a look at the working class, of all colors. I’m telling you, everybody is hurting. I think the average wage in America, and I might be wrong on this, is about $16.75. We have a federal minimum wage of $7.25 and a tip wage of $2.13. It’s true that states have been doing a lot. In this last election, four states actually increased their minimum wage. The one thing that unites us all is money and economic opportunity. The money is more than the money. The money is prosperity, it’s a sense of achievement, having enough resource in the richest country in the world has something to do with your chances, your idea of who you are, what your possibilities in life are.  But the economy is not working for a lot of people.”
  • I’m going to tell you: Obama, bless his heart, all those numbers of private sector job growth, unemployment level brought way down, those things are really good. But we were digging out of such a deep, deep hole, that we are now just seeing some moderate job growth and now all of the sudden we are staring Trump straight in the face.  At the same time, corporate profitability is way up. Wall Street trading massive volumes. And then of course, the money bleeds into the politics. Because if you’ve got a lot of money, after you buy a bunch of consumer items, you can invest in the political system and make that go your way, too and people feel like the system is not working for them.”

Continue reading “DNC Candidate Keith Ellison: “I think I bring a skill set that can help us win””

Ellison Rolls Out 35 Endorsements for DNC Chair

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) released a list of 35 endorsements for his DNC chairmanship candidacy from elected officials and organizations on Friday.  Among those who signed on: Senator-elect Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), United Steelworkers, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. This follows early endorsements from outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)

Ellison is clearly trying to build on his early momentum in an effort to lock down early front runner status. It is unclear as of right now which of the many potential candidates will emerge as his chief challenger(s).

Update: Ellison’s opponents (including former DNC chairman Howard Dean and South Carolina Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison) and other Democrats are pushing back on his candidacy, arguing that his responsibilities as a member of Congress (votes, oversight, and constituents) would undercut his ability to do the DNC chairman job effectively. Their argument is that being the DNC chairman is a full-time job, especially now when the party is rebuilding.  They point out Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was a member of the House of Representatives in addition to being the DNC chair during most of Obama’s presidency, who wound up having to resign from the job in the aftermath of a WikiLeaks email dump last summer.

The Race for DNC Chairman Begins

(This blog was originally published on my Medium account on November 12.)

At the Dawn of the Post-Obama Post-Clinton Era, Democrats Look for New Leaders

In the aftermath of Tuesday’s shocking losses, Democrats were left reeling to figure out what to do next: what they stand for, where their party goes, and who will emerge as the next generation of leaders. Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and Harry Reid’s time as leaders of their party is almost over, and they will likely be respected elder party statesmen (and woman) in the same way many of their predecessors are regarded. Democrats have four years to figure out who they are and how to present a viable alternative to President Donald Trump in 2020, a crucial election not just because it’s a presidential year but because it’s also a census year. The outcomes of the 2020 races will determine congressional redistricting as well as the number of votes states get in the Electoral College for the following decade. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer will lead the Democratic minorities in Congress, which will have to deal with united Republican executive and legislative branches which are expected to begin the next term by dismantling President Obama’s accomplishments and legacy.

The first step in the post-Obama/post-Clinton Democratic Party is the election of a new Democratic National Committee chair, to replace interim chair Donna Brazile who had to guide the party through the final months of the 2016 election after Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation following the initial WikiLeaks email dump. The thinking among some journalists and political observers is this could be a rehashed and potentially messy proxy war of the Clinton-Sanders Democratic primaries. The original plan was for President-elect Hillary Clinton’s choice to be DNC chair to be elected after her inauguration in January. Now, sources tell Politico that the election will take place sometime in February or March. Here are the names, listed by alphabetical order, that have been declared or rumored for the position in the past few months and the last few days after Clinton’s loss:

Xavier Becerra: Member of Congress representing California’s 34th District, which includes downtown and northeast Los Angeles. He is the outgoing Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the #4 ranking Democrat in the leadership and the highest-ranking Latino in the party. He was considered as a possible running mate for Hillary Clinton.

Raymond Buckley: Chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party and DNC Vice Chair. New Hampshire was one of the few bright spots for Democrats in an otherwise dismal 2016 election with Maggie Hassan’s Senate race victory and Carol Shea-Porter’s House race victory. There was already buzz about him being potentially the next DNC chair going back to the Democratic National Convention last summer. During a more recent interview with NH1 News Political Director Paul Steinhauser, Buckley said he had been receiving calls encouraging him to run for the position. He would be the first openly gay political party leader in history. (Former RNC chairman Ken Mehlman came out after he left the job.) As DNC vice chair and chairman of the New Hampshire Democrats, Buckley was neutral during the 2015–2016 primaries, but has had historical ties to the Clintons, but also said he had a “great relationship” with Bernie Sanders, noting he hired two Sanders New Hampshire operatives to join his staff.

Howard Dean: Former governor of Vermont and DNC chairman from 2005–2009. He oversaw the rebuilding of the Democratic Party after the 2004 election with the 50-State Strategy, meant to rebuild state party infrastructure and outreach efforts, particularly in traditionally red states where Democrats might not have spent money or time in in the past. During his tenure, the Democrats took over both chambers of Congress in 2006 and won a historic presidential election with Obama in 2008. He was also a pretty fierce partisan brawler in opposing George W. Bush and Republicans in general as a 2004 presidential candidate and as DNC chairman, which is something Democrats would probably appreciate from him in potentially taking on Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, or Mitch McConnell. Two days after the 2016 election, Dean tweeted, “The [Democrats] need organization and focus on the young. Need a fifty State strategy and tech rehab. I am in for chairman again.” Dean was a Hillary Clinton supporter during the 2015–2016 primaries.

Keith Ellison: Member of Congress representing Minnesota’s Fifth District, which includes Minneapolis and the surrounding suburbs. He currently serves on the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, which decides committee assignments and sets the House Democratic caucus agenda, and serves as chief deputy whip to Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, the #2 Democrat in the House. He is also the co-chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus. He was the first African American to represent Minnesota in Congress, and the first Muslim ever elected to Congress. Looked at purely on the basis of optics, having an African American Muslim from the Upper Midwest — the region of the country that secured Trump’s victory — as a leading national voice of opposition to Donald Trump could be a powerful message and messenger. This video clip of Ellison on ABC’s This Week from July 2015 warning of the possibility of a President Trump has gone viral in the past few days. Ellison was a Bernie Sanders supporter during the 2015–2016 primaries. He has received backing in recent days for the DNC chairmanship from Sanders, Schumer, and Elizabeth Warren.

Jennifer Granholm: Former governor of Michigan. She was a top Hillary Clinton surrogate and co-chair of the Clinton transition team, and seen as a possible front-runner for the position if Clinton won the election. She told Politico in the days after the election that she was “not interested” in the job, and that Keith Ellison would be “great,” while also mentioning Becerra and Housing Secretary Julián Castro as possible candidates.

Jaime Harrison: Chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party. A former aide to #3 House Democrat James Clyburn, he broke a barrier by becoming the first African American elected to the post in 2013. He is also a principal at the Podesta Group, the lobbying firm founded by Tony and John Podesta — Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign chairman — which raised questions about his impartiality before the South Carolina primary earlier this year about whether or not the Democratic Party establishment was treating Bernie Sanders fairly. (Hacked DNC emails published by WikiLeaks during the Democratic National Convention last summer showed that some elements within the party weren’t impartial during the primary, resulting in the resignations of Debbie Wasserman Schultz and several staffers.) In response to the speculation about the race for DNC chairman, Harrison recently tweeted, “I’m blown away by the tons of calls, emails, and texts urging me to run for DNC Chair… praying about it. I’ll decide soon!”

Steve Israel: The outgoing member of Congress who represented New York’s 3rd District which covers parts of Queens and Long Island, and former head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He told Politico at the beginning of this year that he would be retiring from office to “pursue new passions and develop new interests, mainly spend more time writing my second novel.” Newsday reported his name was being floated for the DNC chairman position at the convention last summer in the aftermath of Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation.

Jason Kander: Missouri Secretary of State. Kander recently ran and lost the race for Missouri Senate by 3 points, outperforming Hillary Clinton in a red state Donald Trump won by 19 points. A former military intelligence officer who served in Afghanistan and only 35 years old, he is considered one of the promising stars in the party after having run an unexpectedly close race in a Republican state. He declined to run for reelection as Secretary of State to focus on the Senate race, which means he leaves office next year.

Minyon Moore: Former DNC CEO who previously served as a political adviser in the Clinton White House. One potential problem is the fact that she was caught up in an investigation into a possible undisclosed financing of a pro-Hillary Clinton get out the vote effort in at least four states during the 2008 primaries. She has also operated mostly out of the public eye throughout her career, which is a sharp contrast from the very public nature of the DNC chairman position.

Martin O’Malley: Former mayor of Baltimore, former governor of Maryland (who was also a partial basis for the character of Tommy Carcetti on HBO’s The Wire) and 2016 presidential candidate who dropped out of the race early on. He tweeted, “Since the election, I have been approached by many Democrats who believe our party needs new leadership. I’m taking a hard look at DNC Chair because I know how badly we need to reform our nominating process, articulate a bold progressive vision, recommit ourselves to higher wages and a stronger middle class, and return to our roots as a nationwide, grassroots party.”

R.T. Rybak: Former mayor of Minneapolis, DNC vice chair, and the first mayor of a major U.S. city to endorse Barack Obama for president in 2007. He is currently the president and CEO of the Minneapolis Foundation and on the board of Generation Next.

Stephanie Schriock: President of Emily’s List, an organization that encourages pro-choice Democratic women to run for office. She previously served as Howard Dean’s finance director during his 2004 campaign, as well as campaign manager for Jon Tester’s 2006 Senate race in Montana and Al Franken’s 2008 Senate race in Minnesota.