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Tom Perez Needs to Take a Hike

Reuters / Joshua Roberts

Reuters / Joshua Roberts

For several weeks now, single-issue presidential candidate, Jay Inslee, the former governor of Washington, has been calling on the Democratic National Committee to host a presidential debate focused exclusively on climate change. At least eleven other candidates have publicly joined Inslee in his effort.

On Wednesday, the governor’s campaign received a call from the DNC stating that they would not hold a climate debate, going so far as to state that if Inslee participated in an unsanctioned climate debate, he would not be invited to any future DNC debates.  Yesterday,DNC Chair Tom Perez publicly reiterated the committee’s choice on Twitter while Inslee, rightly, called the move a muzzling.

The DNC’s decision is, on several levels, unconscionable and speaks to a deeper problem within the Democratic party.  We desperately need a high-profile debate, viewed by millions of Americans, that grapples with candidates’ plans to address this crisis. The DNC needs to listen to its base, which views climate change as their top electoral issue and assure the public of their competence, a currency squandered in 2016.  The first step to achieve these essentials is for Tom Perez to immediately resign.

Perez became head of the DNC in 2017 after interim chair Donna Brazile stepped down from her temporary post relieving disgraced Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.  Wasserman Schultz was forced to resign just days before the Democratic Convention in 2016 when internal emails leaked to Wikileaks exposed the committee’s partiality during the primaries by collaborating with and putting the thumb on the scales for Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Keith Ellison, now the Attorney General of Minnesota, was widely backed by both the progressive and establishment wings of the party to take charge of the committee, based both on his qualifications and to mend the divides between the establishment and insurgent left wing of the party, ripped apart during a contentious Clinton/Sanders primary. But the Obama administration recruited Perez, Obama’s former labor secretary, to defeat Ellison.  With the White House’s support and some recently reported back room scheming, Perez beat the Minnesota progressive.

When Perez became chair, we were told there was hardly any daylight between he and Ellison.  Skeptics pointed out the obvious, that if that were true there would be no reason for the Obama White House to draft him into the race?  Today, these divides are clear.

The Obama administration’s policies toward climate favored a conservative, corporate friendly, all-of-the-above strategy.  Congressional Democratic leadership has been equally useless toward apporprioately addressing climate breakdown, recently mocking the Green New Deal and refusing to put forth anything beyond Obama era measures.  Perez is now signaling that the last election to reasonably deal with this crisis will be bound by conservative, corporate friendly, all-of-the-above establishment constraints as well.

Reservations among the establishment over a climate debate have been showing for weeks.  Politico reported that some were worried a debate would expose divisions among candidates that would create the appearance of a fractured party heading into a general election with Trump.

But exposing divisions for the public to digest is the point of these debates.  The American public, that prioritizes the planet they live on, deserve the focus that climate has historically lacked.  And if there’s a mandate to beat Trump, failing to clearly identify the candidates who can energize the base with ambitious plans and commitment, in prime time, would be a huge mistake.

Perez has assured the public that despite there not being a dedicated climate debate there will be ample discussion on the topic in the broader debates.  But Inslee’s call for a standalone theme is in direct response to history.  In the 2016 Democratic presidential debates, candidates were asked just 13 questions about climate change, 2.5% of all questions posed.  In the debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, not a single question dealt with the topic and the two only spent a combined 5:27 debating the crisis.  

A debate dedicated to climate change is essential and centering specific topics is common.  In November 2015, a day before the second Democratic debate, Paris was hit with a number of coordinated attacks.  The debate was abruptly changed to center terrorism, national security and foreign policy.  If an act of terror that killed 137 warrants specificity, a crisis already killing hundreds of thousands and displacing millions surely does as well.

We have a massive crowd of candidates for president.  A handful of them are bold progressives ready to leap beyond the timidity of what party standard bearers—either out of deference to donors or appeals to conservatives—are willing to offer.  Let them debate the centrists in prime time on the one topic that looms over and affects all other issues. If we want to beat Trump, if we want to do anything about our planet other than watch it burn while tisk-tisking the Republicans, Perez has to go. 

We can’t afford this shit.  If you agree, please contact Tom Perez and the DNC and urge him to take a hike.