Perez: Shoe leather, organizing, jobs to help revive Dems; ‘Middle class jobs should pay a middle class wage,’ including union bldg. trades jobs

WASHINGTON—Shoe leather, state by state and zip code by zip code, organizing from the ground up and a relentless emphasis on jobs is Tom Perez’s plan to bring the Democratic Party back from the unexpected losses of the 2016 election.

And those jobs must be “middle class jobs (that) should pay a middle class wage,” he adds. Those include union jobs, especially construction jobs using Project Labor Agreements, the new Democratic Party national chair states.

In an extended public q-&-a with Washington Post senior national correspondent Dan Balz, Perez, the former pro-worker Labor Secretary under Democratic President Barack Obama, described a “listening tour” he took after being elected chair at the end of February.

That tour took him to party bastions, the Buffalo, N.Y., native said. But it also took him to Macomb County, Mich., the original center of the fabled “Reagan Democrats.”

Those Democrats and their descendants, especially in the white working class – men and women – defected to GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump in droves and away from other Democratic candidates as well, election results showed. Trump carried Macomb by 48,000 votes, more than four times his overall margin in Michigan, 10,600.

The voters helped Trump narrowly carry the Great Lakes industrial states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Ohio and swing the electoral vote his way over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, despite union leaders’ endorsements and campaigning for her.

The voters swung, Perez said, because the party had stopped listening to them. And because it had no economic message in the presidential campaign, he added.

The solution? “I think we have to be out there making house calls,” voter by voter, Perez said. “I think our (economic) message resonates, but not if you’re not out there.”

The Democrats haven’t been out there talking to economically oriented voters recently, Perez admitted, in an implicit criticism of both Obama and Clinton. “I’ve spoken to my friends in the union movement and we think middle class jobs should pay a middle class wage,” he said.

He added that specifically includes Project Labor Agreements, where unions and contractors draw up the pact that provides union labor for construction, sets terms for grievances, recognizes the union on the job and also governs prices. Obama and Perez pushed PLAs on federally funded construction, but did not absolutely require them.

“We’re also fighting for people in the building trades so that when you go to work, the air won’t kill you,” Perez says. “But we haven’t been relentless in communicating those values.”

“Ohio is a great example,” he added, of the key swing state that Obama carried twice but that Clinton lost to Trump – including a 52 percent-48 percent margin for Trump among Ohio union households in exit polls.

“When voters heard” from Trump, that “‘I’ll bring your jobs back’ in the coal country, they also heard ‘I feel your pain.’

“What they heard from the Democrats was ‘Vote for me because he’s crazy.’”

That wasn’t the message Obama brought to those swing states and rural areas in his two races for the Oval Office, Perez said. Obama carried the Great Lakes industrial states by, among other things, holding down GOP margins in areas such as the rural Wisconsin district long held by retired Democratic Rep. David Obey. A Republican now has Obey’s seat.

“Part of the reason we didn’t do well in those areas is because we didn’t show up,” Perez said. Obama’s “message of opportunity and inclusion resonated very well with those voters.” But the party erred by concentrating on the presidency, not the message, he admitted.

“We have to redefine our mission at the DNC (Democratic National Committee),” Perez added. The new mission will be “to help (elect) people from the school board on up to the U.S. Senate. And when we’re working in partnership with the labor movement, faith communities and the civil rights movement, that’s when we’ll come back.”

Perez turned aside Balz’ questions on how the party would, besides pushing economic themes, appeal to the white working class voters of both sexes. In one, Balz noted the DNC has internal caucuses for 17 different sets of voters, but not for those white workers, and asked if Perez would set up such a caucus. Perez didn’t answer, returning to economics.

But he also said “Donald Trump has been a great recruiter” of both new Democratic candidates and voters, especially with the recent Republican fiasco of trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act. That energized people who had never come out before, Perez noted.  

On some other issues, Perez:

• Reaffirmed the party’s commitment to comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented people in the U.S. Asked if he would accept a path to legal status, but not citizenship, for them, Perez, a son of immigrants, said “no.”

“Second-class citizenship is not the way to go,” he added.

• Said Trump’s U.S. Supreme Court nominee, federal appellate judge Neil Gorsuch, “is not within the guardrails of reasonableness” and the mainstream of judicial rulings.

Instead, emphasizing the point that union leaders also make against Gorsuch, Perez said that: “We’ve reached a point where corporations have way too much power. And every time he’s ruled, it was for corporations and against people.”

Source: PAI