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Newly-Elected Lawmakers Say Mass. Dem Party Has a Structural Racism Problem

Headline-grabbing elections of the past several years have recently sparked a debate among some female Massachusetts politicians about whether the Democratic Party has a race problem.

"I was not expecting to make news by pointing out the obvious fact that there's structural racism in the Democratic Party," state Rep. Nika Elugardo said.

In a recent interview on WGBH’s "Basic Black," Elugardo did make news after calling her party, "straight up racist."

Elugardo as well as state Rep. Liz Miranda, Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins, and U.S. Rep. Ayana Presley — all black female Democrats from Boston — made headlines in November when they won their elections after running as underdogs in each of their races.

"We won every precinct," said Miranda. "We set a record."

However, Miranda, Rollins and Elugardo, who were all sworn in this week, said they did so without help from their own party, they believe, because they are black.

"I had to beat four other people to the tune of 40 percent on my own, as a first time candidate, as a woman and as a black woman," Rollins said. "I felt really isolated from the Democratic establishment."

Veronica Martinez, executive director of the state's Democratic Party, said the party is limited in the amount of support they can give candidates during the primaries.

"Our charter and bylaws prohibit us from supporting a candidate in the primary," Martinez said. "I like to frame it as we support the Democrat that Democrats elect."

Martinez admits that the Democratic Party does have room for improvement.

"Like they said, it’s not just Massachusetts, it’s a nationwide discussion and it’s about the inherent obstacles that have been created in our political institutions that keep under-resourced communities from the table," she said.

"It is not diverse," Elugardo added. "And when it becomes diverse it’s often with a fight."

The women warn that the Democratic Party could be jeopardizing the support of some of its most loyal voters.

"Black women that vote 95 percent Democrat, if we’re saying 'You need to change something, we’re your biggest customer,' why aren’t you listening?" Rollins asked.

The first-time politicians are calling on the Democratic Party to make serious changes.

"Then why aren’t there dozens of us in leadership, in consulting, in building strategy for the party?" Miranda asked.

Bay State Democrats say they’re working on several initiatives to diversify the party, including having more diverse political training; targeting more diverse communities with resources and messaging that is specific to those communities; making sure minorities have more decision making power; and reaching out to people of all genders, classes and ethnicities.

"It means bringing the power and voice of everyday people to the leadership decisions," Elugardo said.

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