Monica Gomez on SiriusXM’s The Big Picture With Olivier Knox

December 7, 2018

On December 5, 2018, Annie’s List Political Director Monica Gomez spoke on the issue of diversity in Democratic campaign going into 2020 on SiriusXM’s The Big Picture With Olivier Knox. You can listen for free on your desktop here (episode: George H.W. Bush Funeral; Flynn Memo, begins at 27:00), or read the transcript below:


Chris Frates (in for Olivier Knox): There’s a big story in Washington this week that didn’t get as much attention as it should have. And that is about the lack of minority staffers in Washington, ready to serve at senior levels in the 2020 race in a field of Democrats that’s shaping up to be one of the biggest we’ve ever seen. And joining us to talk about what this talent deficit means for Democrats and for the race for president is Monica Gomez, the political director of Annie’s List. Monica, welcome to the show. When I saw this story, I thought the roosters have really come home to roost. This has been something that Democrats in particular, but all of Washington has struggled with for some time, that there aren’t enough diverse candidates to rise up into the ranks as house staffers, presidential staffers, and political staffers. That they have not been cultivated in a way that creates a bench where you can develop the skills to go on to senior leading roles in big Presidential campaigns. Help us understand how did we get here and what does it mean for the candidates that want to put a team in 2020?

Monica Gomez: I think it has been a systematic thing that we haven’t been elevating people of color, minorities, to the ranks and pushing them through campaign and governmental structures enough. I think it’s been a systematic problem for so long. It’s going to take us a minute to get there, but I think we can get there fairly quickly. There is a lot of diverse political staff around the country and I think Democrats are going to have to be willing to go out and find them, give them a shot, give them a chance to kind of step up to the next level. I think there are so many people who get stuck working in the trenches working in fields, voter outreach areas, and not finding the means to progress to the higher campaign structure. I think if Democratic nominees for president and congressional offices and everything else are willing to take the chance and push and elevate minorities around the country I think they are going to see some amazing progress that we can make in just a cycle. 

CF: When you talk about pushing talent up—certainly there is talent throughout the country—but it’s a much different thing to play at the presidential level than let’s say even a governor’s race or a statewide senate race. Is that talent pool ready? Or do you end up putting someone in a position where they are in over their head and it hurts their team and the person in particular? 

MG: No, I think they are ready for the next step, and that might not be the most senior position when we’re talking about these presidential elections and I think it’s something that can be systematically addressed and changed if we go into the next cycle and the following cycle. I think that were going to have to give people a minute to catch up, but I think we can expect more from people, and ask them to step up in ways they haven’t stepped up before. It took me 10-12 years in this industry to get to where I’m at. That was because I just shoving doors open for myself, and had great mentors that pushed me along the way, to do things that I that I felt I wasn’t entirely prepared for yet and I was. And I think we have to start systematically approaching this, changing this structure and asking people to step up and going out and finding people that we’ve never tapped before for some of these senior positions. It may not happen in just one cycle, but it may be something we start addressing on multiple levels. It’s something that we’ve tried to work towards addressing at Annie’s List and here in Texas as well.

CF: Your position is that there is enough talent out there to run all 30 some of the campaigns—campaign managers, senior strategists, the top echelons of campaigns—you think there is enough talent out there that is needed to be ID-ed and pushed up and maybe put into a role that they didn’t necessarily position themselves for yet? 

MG: I don’t think that we— democrats in general— that we have enough staff overall. Annie’s List holds a lot of training throughout the year to train staff on running for office because were always short on staff. I think everyone is going to have problems staffing campaigns with this many presidential hopefuls going out there and going to work. But I think we can start seeing some change happen this cycle. If we have 15 candidates I think we are still going to be short on staff overall and that’s going to trickle down to the state level, congressional and governor races, we are going to see a real shortage of staff in general, but I think we can start seeing some change through this cycle.

CF: You make a great point that with as many candidates as we think are going to run in the neighborhood of at least 2 dozen, that there will be a huge rush for that staff, for that donor, for those surrogates, to make sure you have the infrastructure you need to run for president. What are some of the problems facing these presidential hopefuls when they think about a staff that isn’t diverse enough, what does that lead to and how could that be a political problem, not just a diversity problem, but how does that diversity problem become a political problem?

MG: I think it becomes a political problem when you’re having these conversations with voters, with political parties within states, that the people running these campaigns just don’t look like the rest of people and the voters they’re talking to. I think it is a real problem and can be a political problem. I think if they aren’t able to find the staff, they are going to have to find other ways to reach out to these communities of color and really approach things differently in their communications, their outreach, and how they’re reaching across to these communities that may not be representative of their staff. I think that they’re going to have to adjust how they’re talking about issues so that they are connecting with those communities even if their staff does not reflect those communities. 

CF: Can you think of any examples from the last presidential election on the Republican or Democratic side where a lack of diversity ended up as problem on the campaign trail that we all could see? 

MG: I think the Politico article also pointed to Bernie Sanders’ campaign team that was predominantly white and I think that did serve to hurt him in several states where the population is a majority minority. I think that’s the biggest point of that. I think it happened on the Republican side as well, but a lot more on Bernie’s race than Hillary’s.

CF: I think that is exactly right. When you think about diversity and the lack of it at some of the highest echelons in Washington and politics. What kind of work needs to be done— how do we make sure that young people coming in are getting the opportunities to step up and move forward? How do we open these opportunities to much bigger crowds than traditionally have been able to access these jobs? 

MG: We have to systematically be better at training staff. We’ve always been in a staff deficit. It’s been an issue for many, many cycles and we have to get better at really finding non-traditional people and approaching people and finding people that wouldn’t typically get into this work, but who are willing to try it for the first time ever and put the time into training those staff members. Those of us who are breaking glass ceilings, who are minorities that are out here getting to that next level, it’s our responsibility to help pull others up with us and I think we have to keep progressively doing that as we go through things. Finally, I think one of the other barriers to overcome is pay scales and salaries when it comes to campaign staffers. Personally without incredibly supportive  parents who were very politically inclined, who were willing to pay bills between campaign cycles, I never would have made it in my career to where I am now. I think that’s something that systematically has to change in order to allow more people to do this work.

CF: I think that is a good point because it is particularly low paid work especially on the entry level rungs and often times, you’re entering as a volunteer and working yourself to be staff over and over again. We only have a couple minutes, but I want to see if you can articulate for me—it seems like there is a race to diversify and the party that does it fastest and better will have an advantage based on the demographics that we’re seen and the accelerated demographic change in America. How do those two things relate? And, am I right about that? 

MG: I think you are right about that. I think looking at this cycle, one of the things that these Democrats have done really well is capture the enthusiasm and everything coming out of the women’s marches and turning that into more women than ever getting elected before. We’ve seen it in Texas, across the country and I think Democrats have stepped up really quickly and filled that role, and pushed women to the forefront. And I think Democrats can do the same thing when it comes to pushing minorities up through the ranks and really being the party that understands how important it is for both candidates and the staff who represents them to really represent the voters that are voting for them. I think we have the ability to do that, we’ve seen changes happened really drastically in Texas here over the last couple of years. The progressive tables that I sit at are more diverse than they have ever been.