DNC Deputy Chair Keith Ellison: The Democratic Party Should Stay Out of Primaries, Let Voters Decide

Voters in Georgia, Texas, Arkansas and Kentucky headed to the polls Tuesday to determine a number of key primaries, and it was another big night for female Democratic candidates. In Georgia, Stacey Abrams made history by becoming the first African-American woman to win a major party’s nomination for governor in the US. If Abrams wins in November, she will become the first African-American governor in the Deep South since Reconstruction. Meanwhile in Houston, Texas, Lupe Valdez made history by becoming the first openly gay and first Latina candidate to win a major-party nomination for Texas governor. For more, we speak with Minnesota Democratic Congressmember Keith Ellison, deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee.

TRANSCRIPT

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Voters in Georgia, Texas, Arkansas and Kentucky headed to the polls Tuesday to determine a number of key primaries, and it was another big night for female Democratic candidates. In Georgia, Stacey Abrams made history by becoming the first African-American woman to win a major party’s nomination for governor in U.S. history, easily defeating state Representative Stacey Evans. If Abrams wins in November, she’ll become the first African-American governor in the Deep South since Reconstruction. Abrams is the former House minority leader for the Georgia General Assembly. She had received the endorsement of numerous progressive groups, including Our Revolution, the political organization that grew out of Bernie Sanders’s run for the White House. Abrams spoke Tuesday night at a victory rally In Atlanta.

STACEY ABRAMS: We have a tough race to come. And sometimes we can find it easy to forget about the solid ground beneath our feet. But we must remember that we’re in the state where the red clay gives life to generations of dreamers; a state where Martin marched on ballot boxes and challenged a nation’s conscience; a Georgia that gave us the Godfather of Soul, the queen of the Met, and sent a peanut farmer to the Oval Office. That is our Georgia. And I know you know that as our state’s rich and complicated history courses through our memories on nights like tonight, when the unexpected becomes the truth, it reminds us of who we are.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, in Houston, Texas, Lupe Valdez made history by becoming the first openly gay and first Latina candidate to win a major-party nomination for Texas governor. Valdez served as sheriff of Dallas County for over a decade. She will now face incumbent Governor Greg Abbott in November.

In another closely watched race in Texas, Lizzie Fletcher defeated Laura Moser in a runoff to win the Democratic nomination for Texas’s 7th Congressional District. The race was seen as part of a war within the Democratic Party. In February, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the DCCC, took the unusual step of directly attacking Moser, even though she’s a Democrat. Moser had received the backing of Bernie Sanders’ Our Revolution.

Also in Texas, former Air Force intelligence officer Gina Ortiz Jones defeated Rick Treviño, who had also received the backing of Our Revolution. In Kentucky, retired Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath defeated former Lexington Mayor Jim Gray in a primary for a U.S. House seat. McGrath will now challenge incumbent Republican Congressmember Andy Barr in November.

To talk about the Tuesday’s primaries, the banking deregulation and much more, we’re joined by Democratic Congressmember Keith Ellison of Minnesota, deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee, or DNC.

Thanks so much for joining us from Capitol Hill. Talk about the results of these primaries, Congressman Ellison.

REP. KEITH ELLISON: Well, you know, the biggest result, to me, is that we had the outpouring of enthusiastic citizens and residents who want to be part of our American democracy. We had people come out. We had women win. We had women win who — like Stacey Abrams, an African-American person, who may just be the first black governor in the Deep South since Reconstruction. She is an amazing candidate. And there are many others. So, the real thing is the candidates were great, but the outpouring and the enthusiasm was high. And I think that is the most important metric for not just November, but for years to come, if we can sustain it, if we can institutionalize that grassroots engagement. It’s a good and promising sign.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Keith Ellison, in many of these Democratic primaries, you had, basically, a battle between the establishment DNC candidate and a candidate supported by Bernie Sanders’s Our Revolution. You, as somebody who was a prominent backer of Bernie Sanders, how do you see these battles going out across the country affecting the Democratic Party come November?

REP. KEITH ELLISON: You know, Juan, I think they’re a good thing. I think they’re healthy. I think we need to have these kind of debates. We need to engage on a battle of ideas. And look, there are some folks who think that the urgency of this inequality that we’re living through is so great that we’ve got to have bold change now. And there’s other folks who believe that we need to have a more balanced, deliberate process of change. But Democrats, on both sides of that debate, are not satisfied with the status quo. We all know that Social Security is embattled. We all know that Trump is trying to take away healthcare from everybody. We all know he’s attacking immigrants. So, my opinion is it’s a good debate. Let’s have that debate. You know, we had these debates just yesterday when we were debating the Senate banking bill. You know, there were folks on different sides of the question. But these debates are healthy. And just because we don’t agree doesn’t mean we’re going to fall out. We need to stick and stay and keep on fighting for people.

AMY GOODMAN: Before we go to the bank bill, I wanted to ask you about this Dem divide that the — you know, Politico made a big deal about, etc.

REP. KEITH ELLISON: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Last month, Democracy Now! spoke with Levi Tillemann, the progressive candidate in Colorado’s Democratic primary for 6th Congressional District, which includes Denver. He recorded a conversation in which he was directly told to drop out of the Democratic primary by none other than the second-ranking House Democrat, Steny Hoyer. Tillemann went public with the recording, which was turned into an animated video by The Intercept. This is a clip. Folks should listen carefully because parts are hard to understand.

NARRATOR: In Colorado’s 6th District, one of the most competitive seats in the country, the DCCC moved in early to select Jason Crow, a corporate lawyer, as the party candidate, pushing resources, endorsements and money to Crow, while elbowing out progressive Democratic competitors. The Democratic Party often denies that they play favorites. What follows is a meeting between Congressman Steny Hoyer, the number-two Democrat in the House, and Levi Tillemann, a progressive running for the nomination for the Colorado seat.

REP. STENY HOYER: Levi, I wanted to — obviously, I want to talk to you about this congressional race.

LEVI TILLEMANN: Absolutely. That’s what I expected.

REP. STENY HOYER: Yeah.

LEVI TILLEMANN: You would like me to get out of the race.

REP. STENY HOYER: You keep saying I would like you to get out. And, of course, that’s — that’s correct.

LEVI TILLEMANN: Yeah. And I know you’re fundraising for Crow.

REP. STENY HOYER: Yeah.

LEVI TILLEMANN: Yeah.

REP. STENY HOYER: I’m for Crow. I am for Crow because a judgment was made very early on.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that was Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland. You can hear him in the recording saying, “That’s correct,” when Levi Tillemann asks him if he’d like him to get out of his primary race, and that the decision to back his opponent was made early on. Can you comment on this? And, just overall, continuing — while you say the Democratic divide is important, you’re a very strong spokesperson and fought for the leadership of the Democratic National Committee, saying that the Democrats have to take a different path.

REP. KEITH ELLISON: That’s right. But, in my opinion, progressive candidates are running anyway. They’re running. They’re winning, in many cases, not every case. I think — look, you know, personally, I think that the Democratic Party should stay out of all primaries, should let the voters decide, shouldn’t put our thumbs on the scale for anybody. And that’s my opinion. But you should know there’s a difference between the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. And I —

AMY GOODMAN: Explain the difference.

REP. KEITH ELLISON: Well, the Democratic National Committee is the central body that connects — that sort of is — it’s the Democratic Party that represents the rank and file all across the country. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee represents the House Democrats. They’re separate entities, but they’re very — but they’re related. We’re not always in perfect agreement on everything. But what I will say is that it is important for people who have a burning passion to serve their neighbors to run, no matter who says they shouldn’t. It’s important for people to step up and offer the leadership and offer their ideas. And I believe in that. And so, that’s what I have to say about it.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, and then, when we come back, we want to ask you about this major vote in Congress around banking curbs, easing them, deregulating the banks. You have very strong feelings about this.

REP. KEITH ELLISON: I do.

AMY GOODMAN: And the report that came out of your office on the wage gap. Stay with us.