Democratic student groups on campus said they hope the new chairman of the Democratic National Committee will work to unify the party to win back power in the government.
Tom Perez, Secretary of Labor under former President Barack Obama, was elected the new chairman of the DNC on Saturday, and promptly appointed his rival in the election, Rep. Keith Ellison, as deputy chair and face of the Democratic Party.
The Democratic Party has a history of being split between progressives and the establishment, especially in recent days.
Chad Cracraft, external vice president of Bruin Democrats and third-year political science student, said he thinks some people saw the race between Ellison and Perez as a repeat of the Democratic presidential primary between Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Clinton supporters, former Obama administration officials and the more moderate side of the Democratic Party generally backed Perez. On the other hand, Ellison was supported by Sanders advocates and the more progressive wing of the party.
“I do think that there’s a bit of a divide between Sanders and the Hillary wing,” Cracraft said. “Some people saw the battle being (replayed) with Ellison representing Sanders and Tom Perez (representing) Hillary, though (this was) somewhat overplayed because some Hillary supporters also supported Keith Ellison, like Chuck Schumer.”
Jessica Chase, president of Bruins Elect and third-year political science student, said that Perez is very liberal. She added she sees no dramatic difference in terms of liberalism between Perez and Ellison.
Bruins Elect, formerly named Bruins for Hillary, works to elect liberal candidates into office.
Reactions to Perez’s victory were mixed.
Liam Murphy, UCLA chapter leader of Young Progressives Demanding Action, said the group was disappointed Ellison did not win.
Murphy said he thinks Perez is a notable progressive, but added YPDA endorsed Ellison because Ellison was doing a good job of unifying the party and seemed like a consensus unity candidate. He also said the group is wary of why Perez entered the race and how he won.
“Ellison got in the race early and he was getting Bernie and (Sen. Elizabeth) Warren’s support so he was doing a good job of unifying the party,” Murphy said. “He seemed like a consensus unity candidate. I suspect that the Obama wing nudged Perez into the race and I’m not terribly happy about that, but now that he is here, if he succeeds, we succeed.”
Other Democratic groups on campus were supportive of Perez’s win.
Chase said she was happy that Perez was elected, and thinks he is an amazing activist.
Cracraft said Bruin Democrats did not endorse anyone for the race, but supports Perez. He added he hopes Perez works toward a more progressive platform and electoral success in 2018 and 2020.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Republicans now control 66 of the 98 partisan state legislative chambers in the nation, more than twice the number of Democratically controlled chambers.
Cracraft said he thinks Perez appointing Ellison as deputy chair was a very strong signal to try to unify the divisive party with the goal of electing Democrats into office.
“It was a very well-thought-out move to bring Ellison in,” Chase said. “(This is) not only a good gesture in the sense of unification, but gives him a genuine position.”
Murphy said he thinks both Ellison and Perez were gracious in how they handled their campaigns. He added Ellison’s roles as deputy chair and congressman uniquely situates him both inside and outside legislative processes.
He also said he thinks there will always be tension between progressives and the establishment because of different views.
“The whole focus of our group is getting things done,” Chase said. “Democrats themselves, if (they) split in half, automatically (results in) a Republican victory, and with division (we) can’t get much done.”
However, groups on campus showed optimism toward the future of the Democratic Party.
“I think that the division in the party right now is something that will be solved through the opposition to current administration’s policy,” Cracraft said. “Internal debate is not as useful as opposing the policies of the Republicans and current Trump administration.”
Cracraft also said he is optimistic for the success of the Democratic Party, and said he hopes the benefits of working together outweigh the costs of infighting. He added he hopes for the party to unify to get Democrats into the White House to make important progressive policies that will benefit everyone.
Murphy also had hopeful expectations for the future of the Democratic Party.
“(Perez and Ellison) working together will be able to recoup some of (the Democratic Party’s) losses that we’ve seen over these last years,” Murphy said. “At the end of the day, both our goals (are) to stop Donald Trump.”