WASHINGTON, D.C. — Maverick Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii threw down the gauntlet to Democratic Party leaders this week, releasing a video criticizing the actions of Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez.

She followed that up Thursday with a statement calling for reforms to “empower the people and take our party back from the special interests of a powerful few.”

Gabbard’s video castigates the party for what she called “counterproductive infighting and name-calling.”

Tulsi Gabbard at a town hall meeting in April. She’s often rebelled against the leadership of the Democratic Party, and that continued this week.

Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Perez, formerly secretary of labor in the Obama administration, became chairman after winning a bruising battle for the leadership of the party earlier this year. He defeated U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, who was named vice-chairman.

In mid-October, Perez quietly overhauled the party’s executive committee in what the progressive wing of the party has labeled a purge. He dismissed several long-time party stalwarts and installed more former supporters of Clinton, as well as people Gabbard described in the video as “lobbyists and consultants.”

Gabbard said Perez’s action was intended “to cast out those who haven’t fallen in line with the establishment and who are actually demanding real reform.” She said Perez’s approach is “destined for failure.”

She also criticized the party for retaining what she called the “undemocratic system of (unelected) superdelegates, who literally have the power to swing an election, making up one-third of the votes any candidate needs to secure the nomination.”

In Hawaii, the issue of superdelegates is a still-raw memory because although 70 percent of Democrats voting in last year’s presidential preference poll supported Bernie Sanders, seven of 10 delegates to the national convention  in Philadelphia voted for Clinton.

Earlier in the campaign, Gabbard signaled her distaste for party leadership. She endorsed Sanders for president and then criticized party leaders for limiting the number of primary debates that would have given exposure to candidates besides Clinton. In February 2016, she resigned from her position as national party vice-chair.

Party Insider Tells All

While her views seem to set her apart from the rest of Hawaii’s congressional delegation, Gabbard isn’t the only Democrat criticizing party leadership.

The sense among progressive Democrats that the party had rigged the 2016 primary campaign to favor Clinton was substantiated by the release of internal emails, obtained by Wikileaks, that indicated Clinton was giving privileged access to fat-cat donors in exchange for money for her campaigns or philanthropic causes.

The emails also reinforced the belief among Sanders’s supporters that the DNC had favored Clinton over other candidates, including Sanders. Amid the uproar, DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned her post and was replaced by Donna Brazile, who was named the party’s interim chair.

Brazile is about to release a book, “Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House.”

In the book, excerpted in Politico on Thursday, Brazile writes that after she took leadership of the party, she was shocked to find out it had become financially dependent on Clinton, who had given the party money in exchange for control of the “party’s finances, strategy and all money raised.”

“If the fight had been fair, one campaign would not have control of the party before the voters decided which one they wanted to lead.” — Donna Brazile

Brazile said she found a secret agreement between Clinton operatives and the DNC that gave the Clinton campaign a “right of refusal of who would be the party communications director,” veto power over DNC staff and a right to be consulted about all other “staffing, budgeting, data, analytics and mailings.”

Even DNC press releases had to be vetted by Clinton campaign officials before they could be released, Brazile wrote.

The party desperately needed money, according to Brazile, because President Barack Obama had left it $24 million in debt, including $15 million in bank debt and $8 million more owed to vendors. In addition, the DNC had never contracted in size after Obama’s elections, continuing to employ Obama operatives as consultants, which further drained the party’s coffers.

In Brazile’s telling, Clinton was compelled to bail out the party to keep it financially solvent, but she then proceeded to siphon off money raised in the states, diverting it instead to her own campaign and leaving little funding for state and local candidates, except in places her campaign designated as battleground states.

“The funding arrangement … was not illegal, but it sure looked unethical,” Brazile wrote. “If the fight had been fair, one campaign would not have control of the party before the voters decided which one they wanted to lead. This was not a criminal act, but as I saw it, it compromised the party’s integrity.”

Gabbard’s Thursday statement referred to the book excerpts:

“Today we heard from Donna Brazile that what many suspected for a long time, is actually true: the DNC secretly chose their nominee over a year before the primary elections even occurred, turning over DNC control to the Clinton campaign. The deep financial debt, closed door decision-making, complete lack of transparency, and unethical practices are now front and center.”

Dem’s Same Old Strategy

The revelations about the past and debate over the party’s future comes at a challenging time for Democrats. The power of the Republican Party has grown steadily in the past decade, with Republicans now controlling the Senate and Congress, and putting Trump in position to make judicial appointments.

Democratic centrists fear the growth of the progressive wing of the party, which they believe could lead to a platform that could not win the support of crucial middle-of-the-road voters.

Perez appears to be hunkering down with the same strategy used in the 2016 election — retaining the superdelegate system, which allows the party to better control its direction by reducing the possibility of success by political outliers during the primary season.

Perez is a cerebral technocrat, the son of immigrants. Ellison, his rival for the DNC chairmanship, is  a personable African-American Muslim.

Representatives for Perez and Elllison declined to comment on Gabbard’s video.

In an interview, long-time party insider Alice Germond, the widow of Democratic columnist Jack Germond and one of those unceremoniously dispatched from party leadership early this month, described a chaotic and acrimonious process where people waited to learn whether they would be allowed to continue in a leadership role.

Germond, the former secretary of the DNC, said she believes she lost her position because she supported Ellison for chairman.

Germond was circumspect in commenting about Gabbard’s video, but said she found it interesting and called the Hawaii congresswoman “talented and well-known.”

“I’m not surprised she would continue to be concerned about the strength of our party,” Germond said. “We’re all concerned.”

About the Author