Honda bested Alvaro Cifuentes, the outgoing DNC Hispanic Caucus chairman, for the one remaining DNC executive slot available to a male. In the campaign, Honda earned endorsements from two of his onetime rivals, fellow Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) and Nelson Diaz, a Puerto Rican political operative.
Honda’s election to the executive committee also marked a victory for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who offered an early endorsement for the third-term Californian and then redoubled her efforts on his behalf once it became clear that Dean had secured the chairmanship.
That reenergized effort by Pelosi to insinuate herself into a DNC process she had mostly skirted led party strategists and delegates to conclude that the House’s top Democrat wanted a trusted loyalist on an executive committee chaired by Dean.
Both Pelosi’s office and Honda downplayed any suggestion that Honda was intended to be a check on Dean’s power. But that view was widespread among Democratic strategists, both by backers of Cifuentes’s candidacy and by nonaligned operatives.
Honda said that he understood that he would spend much of his time acting as a liaison between Dean and elected lawmakers in part because he owed his election to the support he received from his House colleagues, particularly Hispanics and African-Americans.
“The fact that other members of Congress were very helpful and they called their delegates … that the Hispanic members, the African-American members went to work for me and they all went to their base really worked in the end, that interconnectivity helped my candidacy,” said Honda. “That’s why I’ll be a bridge.”
He said that he did not expect any friction between Dean and Pelosi to arise but that, if it did, he would serve as a mediator.
“I think Pelosi and Dean have their personal relationship. I am committed to making sure that I do my part, in communicating what the DNC is doing to my colleagues,” Honda said.
Despite Honda’s fluent Spanish, some prominent Hispanics said his election would complicate the Democrats’ efforts to stanch the flow of Hispanic voters to the Republican Party.
“The fact that that position is not held by a Hispanic makes it more difficult to reach out. Fortunately, Congressman Honda does speak Spanish,” said the leader of the Puerto Rican Senate, Kenneth McClintock, a strong Cifuentes backer.
Honda said that he would be aggressive in reaching out to the Hispanic community, though he admitted he was “concerned” by recent Republican gains among Hispanic voters.
“It concerns me that they are working so hard,” Honda said. “We have to make sure that our message is clear. If you look at their actions, and their words, there’s a disconnect.”
In addition to focusing on Hispanic outreach, Honda, who is Japanese-American, said that he plans to scour the Asian-American business community, especially on the West Coast, for donations.
The DNC should raise more than the $5 million it raked from Asian-Americans last cycle, Honda said, adding that it was “hard to say” what the ceiling was because “we haven’t really energized that community.”
Honda said he also will target other communities: “I want to look at developing new groups, like the Ethiopians and the Armenians, and connecting these folks with our party.”
Pelosi will meet with Honda today when she stops by the Asian Pacific Islander American caucus retreat. Honda chairs that group, giving him one of the most demanding briefs in the Democratic caucus.
“All the hats that I wear, they have the same ends — increasing the visibility and raising the profile of [the minority] community,” Honda said.
“Mike has the proven experience of working with the many constituencies that are critical to the future success of our Democratic Party, and will be a bridge-builder between the important communities we rely on to secure progress and victory,” Pelosi said in a statement. “Mike knows what it takes to restore Democrats to majority status, and is prepared to take on that challenge with his typical enthusiasm and resolve.”