Breakfast with Tom Perez: why Democratic chair is upbeat about 2020

Tom Perez, chair of the Democratic National Committee, talks up his party's wins in the midterms, strategy for 2020, and his unending faith in the Buffalo Bills with reporters at a Monitor Breakfast.

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor
Democratic Chairman Tom Perez shares his take on the 2018 midterms with reporters in Washington, Nov. 8.

It’s a good thing Tom Perez didn’t come to breakfast the morning after the midterms, as his team had originally proposed. Turns out, the Democratic National Committee chair had slept only an hour and a half election night, he told me when we sat down for a Monitor Breakfast on Nov. 8. 

Mr. Perez was indeed rested and in high spirits after the Democrats accomplished what they set out to do: recapture control of the House, flip a whole bunch of governorships – including in beet-red Kansas – and lose not too many Senate races.

Perez was also thrilled to report that his party had regained about 350 state legislative seats, key to redistricting and rebuilding the Democratic “bench” after losing more than a thousand seats during the Obama years.

But having Perez in for breakfast turned out to be about much more than the midterms. We had all awoken to the tragic news of yet another mass shooting, near Los Angeles, and Perez spoke out on that. He also put on his hat as a former top Justice Department official and raised alarm bells about President Trump’s controversial new acting attorney general.

And he spoke as the son of Dominican immigrants about the importance of the fast-growing Hispanic vote – and about reaching out with sensitivity, including to those displaced last year by hurricane Maria.

“The key is showing up in a culturally competent, linguistically appropriate way,” said Perez, who speaks Spanish. “And when we were doing all the Puerto Rican outreach in Florida, the first question you always ask is, ‘How can I help?’ It's not, ‘Hi, I’m Tom, we need your vote.’ ”

But what I love most about hosting Monitor Breakfasts is getting to know prominent public figures as people. Perez grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., and worked as a trash collector to help pay for college (Brown University, Harvard Law).

When Perez goes home at night and turns on his computer, he told us, it defaults to The Buffalo News, so he can keep up with his football team, the Bills. Their motto, he joked, is “false hope is better than no hope at all.” I couldn’t resist telling him I’m a New Englander and a Patriots fan – and, well, I try not to be obnoxious about our teams, but sometimes I fail.

“Please don’t tell me about that,” he laughed. “You’re bringing back my nervous tick.”

First in line with a question was Jerry Zremski of The Buffalo News, who brought up the fact that indicted local Republican Rep. Chris Collins had just won reelection. Perez had tried hard to defeat him, bringing in former Vice President Joe Biden to campaign for the Democrat, but to no avail.

The DNC chair expressed confidence that Congressman Collins would not serve out his next term. “You can take that to the bank,” Perez said. “Same deal in California,” he added, referring to the GOP’s other indicted House member who also won reelection, Rep. Duncan Hunter of San Diego.

Here’s the link to Mr. Zremski’s story: “Buffalo-born Dem chair Tom Perez: 'The Democratic Party is back.' ”

My story led with Perez’s assertion that Mr. Trump is “absolutely” beatable in 2020. Other reporters focused on his comments on guns and on Trump’s firing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

The C-SPAN video of the Nov. 8 breakfast can be viewed here.

After we said goodbye, I realized I forgot to tell Perez that my grandmother was from Buffalo. Next time. I must also point out that we have invited Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, and hope to have her in soon.

We’ve also reached out to Sen.-elect Mitt Romney of Utah, Ms. McDaniel’s uncle.

If McDaniel does join us, she will be the first Monitor Breakfast guest to represent the third generation of her family at our table, following her Uncle Mitt (as governor of Massachusetts) and late grandfather, former Michigan Gov. George Romney. We do love the tradition that our breakfast represents.

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