Former DNC Chair Tom Perez speaks at NU College Democrats Event


Madison Bratley/The Daily Northwestern

Tom Perez, former Democratic National Committee chair and U.S. Labor Secretary, spoke to students at the NU College Democrats fall speaker event Tuesday.

William Tong, Reporter

Tom Perez, former chair of the Democratic National Committee, spoke about overseeing national political strategy at a Tuesday event hosted by Northwestern College Democrats

A former U.S. labor secretary, Perez spoke to a crowd of about 40 students at Lutkin Hall about his experience revamping the Democratic Party after its losses in 2016, when it failed to win the U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senate and presidency.

“We had to rebuild our infrastructure and rebuild trust,” he said. “We needed to find out, ‘Where were those expansion states like Arizona and Georgia?’ We invested in them.”

Perez also identified gerrymandering, dark money and misinformation as three of the biggest threats to American democracy. 

NU College Democrats Public Relations Chair and Medill senior Ben Chasen said the group invited Perez as its fall speaker because of his intimate experience with the political process. 

“We just thought, ‘Who would be great to talk about elections and organizing and electoral strategy?’” Chasen said. “The guy who was running the entire party the last time there was an election.” 

Perez also discussed the importance of political involvement, regardless of party affiliation.

When he taught at Brown University, his alma mater, Perez said he noticed Democrats at the school hardly interacted with Republicans. Due to the disconnect, he recruited former RNC chair Michael Steele to teach at the university. The pair organized meetings between the two groups to encourage a dialogue.

“I bring this up because if we want to solve (political polarization) long term, we (have) got to find a way so that we’re in the same room,” he said. “We should be able to agree that the election in 2020 was clean. The fact that so many folks are deniers, it’s very troubling, but we’ve gotta keep trying.”

Perez also sat down with political science Prof. Laurel Harbridge-Yong, the NU College Democrats’ faculty sponsor, to answer student-submitted questions.

He also answered direct questions from the audience, including one about his thoughts on Democrats funding far-right candidates to decrease Republicans’ chances in general elections. 

Perez said he believes this was a necessary strategy. 

“I’m not going to a knife fight with a spoon,” Perez said. “I don’t think the practice is going to stop. You will see both sides investing money to prop up the third candidate because it could help either side.” 

Weinberg freshman Sally Rogal, a self-identified Democrat, said she attended to learn more about the political process. 

“I like learning more about politics from different perspectives,” she said. “I feel like with the election coming up, it just makes more sense to have political conversations.” 

McCormick freshman Davi Gutkin, who leans politically left but doesn’t identify as a Democrat, also said he went out of curiosity. 

The event confirmed many of his preconceptions about the party, Gutkin said. 

“The way he talked about dark money, it seemed like he was downplaying the role that it plays in the Democratic Party,” he said. “It becomes so much less about governing and what policies people want enacted and more about winning a race.” 

During the event, Gutkin asked Perez about potential winning issues for the Democrats. Perez said advertising legislative achievements and campaigning on protecting reproductive rights following the overturning of Roe v. Wade may convince voters to go blue this November. 

Seven days ahead of the midterms, Perez emphasized long-term political organizing as a strategy for electoral success. 

“One thing the Republicans understood better than the Democrats is the importance of year-round organizing and down ballot races,” he said. “We’ve just got to out-organize.”

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