Q&A: DNC Chair Tom Perez expresses importance of Fil-Am community outreach, party unity leading up to November

Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chair Tom Perez visits the media center at Bally’s Hotel and Casino ahead of the Democratic primary debate in Las Vegas on Wednesday night, February 19. | AJPress photo by Christina M. Oriel

WITH the 2020 Nevada presidential caucuses this week, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez weighed in on the lessons from the Iowa Caucus and how outreach to the Filipino American community both in the state and nationally is a key strategy for the party.

Asian Journal (AJ): We last spoke to you in 2018 during the midterms and you were touring Seafood City here which had early voting. How is the DNC continuing its efforts, especially with Filipinos as the largest AAPI population in the state?

Tom Perez (TP): Next week will be three years to the day since my election. I ran vowing that we were going to become a 57 state and territory party again, that we were going to organize early everywhere…and that we never take anyone for granted again. Those are the promises we’ve delivered… I think about our investments in the AAPI community in Orange County, where we were part of a broader effort that helped make orange the new blue… Here in Nevada, going to early vote sites and seeing that ballots are available in Tagalog is a reflection of the changing face of Nevada. I’ve had the privilege on numerous occasions to break bread with leaders in the Filipino community. Having ballots in Tagalog is for me, it’s a statement: ‘You belong at the table. We want to make sure you are engaged.’

AJ: Going to the early voting sites [here in Vegas], I noticed it’s a paper ballot and everything’s low-tech. Talking to some people in the community they preferred that. Can you talk about Nevada’s process and this simpler approach?

TP: The approach the party’s taking and what we’re supporting is to be as low-tech as humanly possible while still preserving efficiency. As you saw people had a paper ballot in three different languages, depending on your preference and it goes into a scanner. There’s no voter app, there’s no tabulation app. The iPad was used in early vote, simply to check people in and now we have a calculator that’s helping with the math. The reason we have a calculator is because one of the lessons we learned from Iowa was requiring people to do their own math resulted in a lot of mistakes.

AJ: Leading up to the convention in July, Democrats have a few [candidate] options right now. But before there’s a nominee, what’s the DNC’s approach in unifying the party?

TP: Our job is to make sure number one, that everybody gets a fair shake and number two, to make sure that every candidate running for president understands that while they want to win, it’s not about them. It’s about something bigger and every candidate has taken the pledge to support the winner and support them with enthusiasm. And then to make sure that voters understand that because I understand that people fall in love with one candidate. We had 25 candidates total run for president and all but one don’t make it to the mountaintop…I think people have an acute appreciation for the urgency of the moment and our unity will always be our greatest strength.

AJ: Before Saturday, there is a slew of [election] events, especially in the AAPI community. Why does Las Vegas continue to be such a crucial part of the outreach?

TP: Critical mass. The AAPI community here is growing by leaps and bounds and the level of engagement is really impressive and that is why we’ve been investing here…At least throughout my tenure, we have really ramped up our investment in the community [and] the Nevada Democratic Party is acutely aware of the opportunities that exist here in Nevada with the AAPI community. You know, what’s remarkable is when George Herbert Walker Bush ran for president in 1992, dividing up his vote and Ross Perot’s vote in the AAPI community, it was roughly two-thirds of the vote. It’s literally a mirror image now and growing and that’s because we’ve been investing over the long haul and building those relationships and making the case. We are on your side on the issues that matter most and people see that because look at what this president’s doing… He said ‘I’m going to cut Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security if I’m re-elected.’ That’s terrible for the community. The efforts to dismantle the ranks of the uninsured among the AAPI populations have decreased precipitously because of the [Affordable Care Act].

AJ: Filipino Americans continue to be one of the fastest-growing groups, especially in California and Nevada. What are ways they can get involved with the DNC’s efforts on the ground?

TP: We have an AAPI caucus…so working together with that caucus is a  remarkable way to engage. We are reaching out to local caucuses of a similar nature that are being established by their state party because we’re trying to replicate at a local level what we’ve been doing in the national level.

AJ: At [Wednesday night’s] debate, what are some issues voters will be looking out for?

TP:  I’d be stunned if we don’t discuss immigration here. I’d be stunned if the issue of health care doesn’t come up again because we’ve seen how much impact that has had in the run-up to this election. I think those are two really important issues.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Christina M. Oriel

Christina M. Oriel is an award-winning editor and communications strategist based in Los Angeles with experience in content, strategy and branding for media ecosystems, inclusive fintech startups, small businesses and direct-to-consumer products.

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