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Exclusive Q&A With Former Secretary Of Labor Alexis Herman Regarding Race For DNC Chair

For many, the race to become Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairperson, between Terry McAuliffe and Maynard Jackson, has revealed the clear and distinct fault lines that exist within the Democratic Party - with various interest groups rallying around both men for different reasons. The race has been particularly revealing in that both men have received endorsements from opinion leaders from within Black America's political and civil rights establishment who hold very strong opinions regarding the relationship between the Black electorate and the DNC, and who differ over the future direction of the Democratic Party. One such leader is former Labor Secretary Alexis Herman. Earlier this week we spoke with Alexis Herman about the DNC chair race, who she is supporting and why.

Here is the interview:

Cedric Muhammad: Who are you supporting in this current race for the Democratic Party chairmanship and why?

Alexis Herman: I am supporting Terry McAuliffe in the race for Party Chair and I am supporting him for several reasons. I think he will be a good Party chair. He served as the Democratic Convention chair in 2000. He's worked long and hard to help to bring our Party into the 21st century. In the last decade, in particular, he has been very hands-on. He also grew up in Democratic politics. So I think he understands the Party, he understands the structure, but more importantly, he's got a real vision for the future in terms of what we have to do, not only to win the White House in 2004, but to start winning elections today: Mayor's races, governor's races, races at the state and local level. He wants to institute a voting rights violations office at the DNC. We need that. He wants to reconnect us in more aggressive ways with our state parties - to really work at the grassroots and community level. We need that.

Maynard Jackson has been a friend for many years. I respect and admire Maynard. I think he would also be a great leader. But Terry called me first and asked for my support and asked for my endorsement. And in this business all you have is your word.

Cedric Muhammad: If Maynard Jackson had reached out to you first do you believe that the scenario would have changed?

Alexis Herman: It would have been difficult for me to have to evaluate both the (potential) chairmanship of Maynard and of Terry and I told both of them that.

Cedric Muhammad: Do you think that there are any strengths or advantages that Maynard Jackson would have as DNC Chair that Terry McAuliffe does not? For example, many people point to Maynard Jackson's extensive grassroots network.

Alexis Herman: Maynard obviously has a grassroots network but I think Terry also has a grassroots network. I think most people have to realize that we did not lose this election in 2000, we actually won and just didn't get to count all the votes. We had greater participation and a more expanded party at the grassroots level than ever before and it is because Democrats around this country from Terry McAuliffe to Maynard Jackson worked very hard. But Terry was particularly hands-on in the 2000 election to help get out the vote; to help raise the money; to traveling the country and speaking on behalf of our candidates and on behalf of our Party and putting on a great convention that gave us the greatest boost in convention history and I say that particularly as someone who ran the 1992 convention.

Cedric Muhammad: How do you respond to the claims and charges of some that what is happening now, in this DNC Chairmanship process, is akin to a "coronation" of Terry McAuliffe?

Alexis Herman: You know, I am a little surprised by that statement because the process that is being used for selecting a chair is essentially the same process that has been used in the history of selecting chairs of the Democratic Party: you take your case to the membership; you have a vote; and the person with the most votes, and by the way we are going to count all of our votes (laughter), will be elected chair of the Party.

I think the discussion and the dialogue between Maynard and Terry have actually been healthy for our Party, but at the end of the day it is still each member casting their vote for the person that they think will be the best person to lead our Party into the future.

Cedric Muhammad: In a recent op-ed in support of Maynard Jackson, Bill Bradley wrote that, in many respects, the push for Terry McAuliffe for DNC chair reflects the Democratic Party's obsession with fund-raising. Do you think that the concern for fund-raising has placed an inordinate amount of emphasis on that particular need for the Party and possibly moved other issues of import further down the list of priorities?

Alexis Herman: No I don't. The unfortunate reality is that it takes money to play the political game. That is why we must have campaign finance reform. Because there is too much money in politics and the Republicans have always outraised Democrats. For the first time, because of the work that Terry McAuliffe has done in recent years, we have at least been competitive. But that is just a stark reality. We may not like it but it has been a reality and what I want to focus on is how we change that.

I applaud what Senators McCain and Feingold are doing right now to say " Let's get all of this money out of politics!" We need to do that. But to criticize the Democrats for realizing that this is what we have to do to stay in the game, I think is naive.

When Ron Brown was elected Party chair, quite frankly, that was the biggest burden that Ron Brown had and that was the biggest burden that we had. And we knew that all of the dreams and hopes that we wanted to work on for the Party, we couldn't do if we could not at least raise money to stay in the game.

Cedric Muhammad: What can the Black electorate, specifically, expect from Terry McAuliffe?

Alexis Herman: I think specifically from Terry McAuliffe, that you first of all can expect that he is going to have a team at the Democratic Party that is going to be reflective of our Party and our people because at the end of the day it is not about just one person, it is about the team that we have at the Party, that is pulling at all levels, so I think you will have a diverse, unified and strong team nationally and at all levels of the Democratic Party. I think Terry is committed to that. I think that you can expect him to put the DNC on the road to greater access for our state and local parties. I think that he is going to re-dedicate the Party to restoring and safeguarding the voting rights of all Americans. I think that he'll also expand the resources of the Party so that we can make sure that we have the ability with our communications team, with our research team, with all of the needs of Parties today - national and local - that we are going to have the resources to build a strong infrastructure and most importantly, I think that under his leadership, that we can expect to win elections and I am not just talking about the Presidency. Terry is a hard fighter and he doesn't mind rolling up his sleeves and doing the work that needs to be done.

Cedric Muhammad: In light of the election result, would Terry McAuliffe in the Chairman's position represent a continuation of the Gore-Lieberman agenda or somewhat of a departure?

Alexis Herman: The future is all about change, and elections are all about the future, so I think for us, while we had a winning ticket in Gore and Lieberman, Terry will be about the future. He will be about tomorrow. He will be about what else we need to do the next time, not only to win but to claim the victory, as well and develop the agenda that will enable us to do both.

Cedric Muhammad: For the past 8 years, there has been a discussion in the Black community that the Clinton-Gore administration represented a departure or moving away of the Democratic Party from the Black Electorate on certain issues. Some people cite the signing of the crime bill and welfare reform and the growth in the influence of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC). Do you think that there is any legitimacy or a kernel of truth to this thought - that the Democratic Party moved away from the Black electorate and civil rights movement?

Alexis Herman: I think that we have to step back and ask ourselves are we talking about the glass being half-empty or half-full here. There are always things that you can do better and differently but I think it is important that we not forget the record that we are building on. First of all, this administration was the most diverse ever, in the history of our country. Secondly, we inherited an economy that had unemployment rates in the Black community in double-digits, where we had wages in the African-American community on the decline, with young people, particularly in our community with an unemployment rate of 45% - the highest ever. When we left office we had the lowest unemployment rates, in the history of our country for African-Americans - the lowest unemployment rates for African-Americans. We had the highest home ownership on record for African-Americans. We had cut that African-American youth unemployment rate, literally in half. And real wages went up by one-third for the first time in African-American households. We literally broke every economic record for African Americans in our country.

Can we do more? Of course we can, that's what it is always about, making it a better future, making it a brighter future so that we can say that we are not just in the room but we are at the table and we are helping to make a future that will help our people, our lives and our country. We have put this country on the right track. We are moving in the right direction and what we have got to do now is to protect the gains that we have made.

Cedric Muhammad: Thank You and hopefully in the future we will be able to talk about more issues.

Alexis Herman: I would love to talk with you again.

Thursday, February 1, 2001

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The views and opinions expressed herein by the author do not necessarily represent the opinions or position of or Black Electorate Communications.

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