The energetic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida took the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee yesterday, telling a story of how she fought back a good ole boy network to quickly move up the ranks. "I was 25 years old when I first ran for the Florida House of Representatives," she said in her maiden speech.
In telling her personal story, she pledged to fight just as hard for President Obama and the Democrats as did in her first race in Florida.
Back in 1992, she said, "I believed I was ready to serve, but the good ole boys in my Democratic Club had other plans. They patted me on the head and told me that I was too young; that I needed to wait my turn. Well, that just strengthened my resolve. I was determined to prove them wrong. [Read 10 things you didn't know about Debbie Wasserman Schultz.]
"So I spent every single day, rain or shine, knocking on the doors of my would-be constituents. Before that race was over, I had knocked on 25,000 doors. Now, remember, this is Florida -in the summer. My husband was so concerned about how much weight I was losing that he started sending me out the door with a chocolate milkshake for breakfast each morning.
"I was involved in a six-way primary. Competition was fierce and my opponents well funded. I had to demonstrate to my community who I was and what I stood for. But I was not deterred, because I knew that even though I did not have a lot of money, no one was going to out-work me.
"I won that primary with 53 percent of the vote and went on to win the general election with 64 percent of the vote. And at the age of 26, I became the youngest woman ever elected to the Florida legislature. That race taught me two things:
First, there is no substitute for good, old-fashioned hard work. Second, don't take no for an answer."
Read her whole speech below:
Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz
May 4, 2011
Thank you. Thank you all so much for your unwavering support.
Ray, Alejandra, Joyce and Stephen, you each managed to capture a part of who I am and why I firmly believe in the future of this great nation and our Party - the most progressive, diverse and forward thinking political organization in this country.
Donna Brazile, thank you for always being there for Democrats. You have blazed so many trails, including as Interim Chair.
I remember the first time I saw Donna on T.V. for Al Gore and how proud I was to see a woman running his campaign.
As we transfer the gavel this afternoon, there is no doubt in my mind that women like Bella Abzug and Fannie Lou Hamer will be smiling down on us. Let us all thank the phenomenal Donna Brazile for her unwavering service to our Party and our country.
I must also recognize the leadership and service of the next Senator from the Commonwealth of Virginia Tim Kaine. Tim served us as Chairman for the past two years with dignity and discipline. He is leaving us a Party that is as strong as ever.
I also thank and acknowledge my family, my Congressional Staff and the staff at the DNC.
My family - my parents Larry and Ann Wasserman, my children Rebecca, Jake, and Shelby, and particularly my husband Steve - all of whom are here with me today - they make major sacrifices so that I can do a job I love. I am truly fortunate to have such a wonderful and close family.
My congressional staff works tirelessly on my behalf. They are a committed group of public servants and I appreciate and value all that they do.
And, to the dedicated staff that keeps our Party running and winning, you have been there for me as Vice Chair, you have made my transition to the DNC easy, and, you have pulled off yet another successful DNC meeting. I look forward to working even more with all of you.
Of course, I am so honored to have been nominated for this position by the President, and I am humbled beyond words at your vote of confidence. To have been asked by President Obama to lead our Party is an indescribable feeling.
You know, you've heard a lot about me today, but there's one piece of my personal story that hasn't yet been mentioned: my first decision to run for office.
I was 25 years old when I first ran for the Florida House of Representatives.
Now, I believed I was ready to serve, but the good 'ole boys in my Democratic Club had other plans. They patted me on the head and told me that I was too young; that I needed to wait my turn.
Well, that just strengthened my resolve. I was determined to prove them wrong.
So I spent every single day, rain or shine, knocking on the doors of my would-be constituents. Before that race was over, I had knocked on 25,000 doors.
Now, remember, this is Florida -in the summer. My husband was so concerned about how much weight I was losing that he started sending me out the door with a chocolate milkshake for breakfast each morning.
I was involved in a six-way primary. Competition was fierce and my opponents well funded. I had to demonstrate to my community who I was and what I stood for.
But I was not deterred, because I knew that even though I did not have a lot of money, no one was going to out-work me.
I won that primary with 53 percent of the vote and went on to win the general election with 64 percent of the vote. And at the age of 26, I became the youngest woman ever elected to the Florida legislature.
That race taught me two things:
First, there is no substitute for good, old-fashioned hard work.
Second, don't take no for an answer.
I will work every single day like I did in that first race to reelect our President, win back the House, hold the Senate and elect Democrats up and down the ballot. On my watch we will not be outworked.
Ours is the oldest and most successful political party in the history of the world. But our success as a party isn't measured simply in political wins and losses. And our success as a party isn't just an electoral scoreboard.
Our success always will be measured by how we improve the quality of life for Americans and ensure that everyone has a shot at the American Dream.
That's what I want for my children - that's what you want for your children - and that's what every person in our great nation wants for themselves and their families.
Now, it would be a great thing if our nation was free of prejudice and inequality. If everyone had equal opportunity and there were no barriers to success.
Of course, no such ideal land exists.
It has taken hard work and perseverance to get to this point in our nation's history:
No longer are women prohibited from voting.
No longer do African Americans have to sit on the back of the bus or be forced into segregated schools.
And now¬ no longer are Gay and Lesbian Americans prohibited from serving in our country's Armed Forces.
But all of these things took a lot of hard work, and as great as our country is, we have much further to go.
But that is the great thing about America. Our founding fathers intended that "we the people" would determine how America was governed. And so, it's our job, with every passing year, with every passing election, to do everything we can to shape a more perfect union.
And to me, that is what being a Democrat is all about.
Just down the road from where we are today, on the banks of the tidal basin, sits a memorial to one of our greatest presidents, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And engraved in that memorial are words that inspire us still. President Roosevelt said:
"The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."
Now, try telling that to some of my colleagues from the other side of the aisle.
They talk of deficits, but propose $1 trillion in tax cuts for the wealthy.
They plan to eliminate Medicare as we know it and protect tax subsidies for oil companies.
They propose cuts to our children's education and attack their teachers as being overpaid.
It's hard to understand how they could be so out of step with Americans' priorities.
As Democrats, we know that government can't solve all our problems - far from it - but we also recognize that we are all in this together.
Simply put; a country of the people by the people and for the people cannot, by definition, make progress without the success of its people.
As Democrats we know a little about "yes we can," but Republicans seem to be stuck on "no we can't."
As Democrats we know:
That we can work together to care for those who can't care for themselves.
That we can reduce historic and institutional barriers that have prevented many in our society from achieving their dreams or reaching their full potential.
That we can care for our seniors after they spent a lifetime caring for us.
That we can ensure that the quality of our health doesn't depend on the size of our bank accounts.
That we can be globally competitive if we out-educate, out-innovate and out-build the rest of the world.
As Democrats, we don't believe in giving people a free ride - but we also don't believe that people who are facing tough times through no fault of their own should simply be left behind.
The other party has a very different approach - one that has failed America over and over again - one that says:
If all the benefits of our government are showered on those at the very top, the wealthiest among us will prosper and somehow their good fortune will trickle down to the rest of us.
But we know better.
The other side is powerful and well-funded, and they are working to reverse the progress Democrats have made.
That's why this election is so important to the future of our country and our party. And that's why I'm so excited to be leading our party at this critical time in our nation's history. Because by securing a second term for President Obama not only do we have an opportunity to cement the historic progress we've made, we have a chance to continue delivering for the American people.
Many have asked what our priorities as a party will be over the next two years. They can be boiled down to the following:
First, we will Support the President's agenda and protect the progress we've made:
We must trumpet President Obama's agenda from the rooftops. We must make sure that our friends, our neighbors, and everyone in our communities sees that President Obama and Democrats are delivering on the kind of change that is making America stronger.
We've come so far, but, if left to their own devices, Republicans would repeal health care reform, Wall Street reform and student loan reform.
They would put insurance companies back in charge of our health care and allow financial institutions to police themselves and once again crash our economy. They would turn back the clock on all the progress we've made - and our children, parents, and neighbors would suffer.
So every time they attempt to roll back these important gains, we must rise up to stop them. We must call them out.
We are going to run on our accomplishments, and we will not allow Republicans to undo or distort them.
Next, we will invest in the strongest campaign and the best organizing ever to give President Obama a second term:
This is going to be the toughest campaign in the history of America. Republicans are going to throw everything they have at us.
Fortunately, our everything is better and the DNC isn't doing this alone. We have an incredible campaign team at work in Chicago.
We have organizers who are willing to knock on doors until they drop. We have supporters who are willing to turn their pockets inside out for the President and our candidates.
We're going to bring all those resources and all those people together to support a historic national effort. We're going to support the fifty state strategy, and fire up and engage the grassroots with the best staffed and most well funded national party organization behind any President's reelection effort in our nation's history.
Next, we will support our candidates, state parties and the constituent institutions of the Democratic Party:
Our success over the past decade in expanding the Presidential map, recruiting strong candidates and winning tough races in tough places at the local, state and federal levels is in no small part a result of the fifty state strategy - a strategy pioneered by Chairman Dean, adopted and expanded by the Obama Campaign in 2008 and continued by Chairman Kaine over the past two years.
The DNC's support for candidates and the other committees that make up our party has also been vital to our success, and as Chair, support for the fifty state strategy, our candidates and committees will be among my highest priorities.
We will explore every nook and cranny of this country in seeking support for the President and Democratic candidates.
Finally, we will hold Republicans accountable:
All across America, Democrats are working hard to create jobs and boost economic recovery, invest in our children's education, and further the causes of justice and equality. All the while, entrenched special interests and their Republican allies are working to stall or reverse our progress.
That's why we must expose the stark differences between Democrats who are fighting for the middle class, and Republicans who are fighting for the privileged few.
But, this is nothing new. In 1946, Eleanor Roosevelt told the New York state Democratic Party at an event much like this one what to expect from the GOP.
She said: "Never forget that the Republican Party is the party that looks backward."
We have come too far to turn back the progress Democrats have made.
So, let's remember it was:
Democrats who ended the Great Depression;
Democrats who established Social Security;
Democrats who created Medicare;
Democrats who protected the rights of workers to organize;
Democrats who cleaned our air and our water;
Democrats who have defended our rights to organize, and mobilize . . . protest and picket for the rights and freedoms we enjoy today!
And it was Democrats who finally made health care a right, not a privilege!
For all of those advances, we can say Yes, we did.
When we let our core principles guide us, when we work hard, Democrats are an unstoppable force. It is our job, fellow Democrats, to remind our friends and neighbors, that it is Democrats who stand up for them.
We must remind them that Democrats invest in jobs for today and tomorrow;
We must remind them that Democrats represent their interests; and
We must remind them that it is Democrats who care for the health and welfare of the people and our planet.
So today, I'm asking you to make a pledge. Pledge that you will:
Let no charge go unanswered;
Let no man or woman bear false witness against a Democrat; and
Let no voter cast a ballot for a Republican simply because they don't know what Democrats have done for them or what Republicans have done to them.
I want you to tell others why you are a Democrat and why your friends and neighbors should vote with you.
In other words Democrats, we have made so much progress but we can make even more by showing America that it is Democrats who will increase the opportunity for prosperity for everyone.
There is so much at stake in this coming election, and we can't afford to let the Republican Party take us backward.
We worked so hard to get here.
We worked so hard to win for the American people so that we could stabilize the economy, put Americans back to work and deliver on long-term promises like health care reform.
We worked too hard to give it right back. There is so much left to do.
This is no time to be complacent - no time to sit on the sidelines.
We cannot afford, no, the country cannot afford, to go backwards.
I know this is a priority for us, so let's make it happen!
Are you with me Democrats?
Are you ready to make history once again?
Let's go, let's do it¬let's work hard because we must win¬the stakes are simply too high.
And since you have all made a pledge, here is my pledge to you:
As Chair, I will continue to strengthen every aspect of our party's operations. Just as I did in my first race for elected office, I will make sure that no one outworks the Democratic Party! I'm going to do this job in the best way I know how with all the energy I have.
I want to see our candidates elected and our ideas implemented - because I've got three young kids, and I want them to grow up in a country where all things remain possible, where the American spirit continues to thrive, and where the American Dream is within reach for everyone.
There is no problem that we face here in America or around the world that will not yield to human effort, to cooperation, to hard work or perseverance.
Our challenges have always summoned the best in America and, as we have throughout our history, we will make the world better than it is today.
We will do this together by reelecting Barack Obama President of the United States.
Thank you all for your support. I look forward to working with every one of you toward great Democratic victories.