Political strategist Donna Brazile comes home
11th March 2013 · 0 Comments
By Philip Stelly
Prediction: A woman may soon be President of the United States.
So says Kenner native and veteran Democratic political strategist Donna Brazile, who delivered the Ed Renwick Lecture last week at Loyola University’s Institute of Politics. The prediction was an easy one for Brazile, who has worked on every presidential campaign between 1976 and 2000 when she served as campaign manager for Vice President Al Gore.
Brazile, the first African American to manage a presidential campaign, told the packed audience that women now make up more than 50 percent of the electorate. “President Obama would not be in the White House were it not for female electors” in 2008 and 2012, she said.
Congress has more women representatives than at any time in its history, said Brazile who interned with former Congresswoman Lindy Boggs and who ran a campaign for U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu. Moreover, Brazile said, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came close to winning the Democratic nomination in 2008 and is the most popular woman in American politics today.
March is Women’s History Month and this month President Obama will sign the Violence Against Women Act. “I hope you applaud the fact that Congress re-authorized it—after 500 days of delay,” she said.
Brazile, who briefly served as national chair of the Democratic National Committee, even gave a shot out to Republicans who could possibly enter the presidential sweepstakes like New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, the first Hispanic female governor in the United States, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is taking political heat from the conservative wing of his party for working with President Obama on Hurricane Sandy relief efforts.
Brazile, a self-described partisan, often mentioned her good working relationships with Republicans as a contrast to the prevailing hyper-partisan atmosphere in Washington, D.C.
She counts among her friends, conservative commentator George Will as well as Republican strategist and fellow CNN contributor Mary Matlin who was in the audience. “You don t have to demagogue people you disagree with,” she said. “If you want to find common ground you have to go out and find people willing to work with you.”
Brazile knows something about getting people to work with her. Earlier in her career, she was tasked with getting one million signatures to stimulate the drive to make Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday a national holiday. With a lot of prayer and hard work, Brazile eventually got seven million signatures and worked closely with President H.W. Bush to help make the King holiday a reality.
Establishing a holiday to honor the civil rights leader meant Brazile had come full circle. Dr. King was assassinated April 4, 1968. When the news reached here Kenner home, Brazile said her mother commanded her and her siblings to pray for Dr. King, his family and even the people who murdered him. After the prayers, Brazile had a different take. “The next day I said I needed to finish what Dr. King started,” she recalled.
At the age of nine, Brazile became involved in her first political campaign. She worked to elect a city council candidate who had promised to build a playground in Brazile’s old neighborhood. “The candidate won, the swing set was installed, and a lifelong passion for political progress was ignited,” according to Brazile’s IOP biography.
Brazile used her work on the Kenner playground and the King Holiday to illustrate important lessons that she hopes IOP students will learn. One is political systems don’t change quickly, so practice patience.
The second lesson is to get a seat at the table where political decisions are being made. “I have fought very hard to sit at the table,” she said. “Often, I have had to bring a folding chair in order to get a seat at the table,” where normally she may have been excluded because of race or gender or other factors.
Once at the table, Brazile had additional advice: “I have learned that once you got to the table you had to be honest and act with integrity and confront those at the table who have been working against the community.”
Tommy Screen, executive director of the Institute of Politics, said Brazile delivered a great message that he suspects was particularly inspiring to women. “She is a great example of someone who can dream and make those dreams a reality,” Screen said.
This article originally published in the March 11, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.