Before Barack Obama became the candidate to attract independents, there was Howard Dean. In his 2004 presidential campaign, Dean brought in many political party neophytes, one of whom has risen through the ranks to become a super-delegate, typically deigned the province of party insiders. Meet Jerome Wiley Segovia, DNC-member at large, who, like many "Deaniacs" found their "people-powered" movement making lasting inroads with the former Vermont governor's ascendance to DNC Chair.
Today, Wiley Segovia says he sometimes finds it hard to believe that he sits on the DNC's Rules Committee with powerful party insiders like Hillary Clinton strategist Harold Ickes and commentator and former campaign manager Donna Brazile. (He firmly stands by his Committee's decision to strip Florida and Michigan of their delegates for moving their primaries up because he believes it shows respect for the historic inclusion of two more diverse states, Nevada and South Carolina, early in the process).
Like many Dean supporters, Wiley Segovia first became involved with political activism in the lead-up to the Iraq War. As an IT contractor to the Department of Veteran Affairs, he says, "I felt perhaps more compelled than the average American to help in pushing for a diplomatic solution, given that my work contract was directly funded by the very same government that was about to embark on its first pre-emptive war on shaky evidence."
Wiley Segovia started going to anti-war protests but became frustrated by their futility. "It's fun, but it's really not a very effective way to do anything." He figured it would be more productive to pick the candidate who ran most strongly against George W. Bush's pro-war position. For him, that candidate was Howard Dean, and Segovia quickly found a way to make himself useful for the campaign.
"At the time, there were very specific attacks against Howard Dean as a white guy from a white state," Wiley Segovia recalls, "For them to have a Latino start a group organized by Latinos who were able to recruit Latinos who were bilingual...it was a big plus for the campaign to talk about us." Wiley Segovia founded Latinos for Dean, which would help Latinos become involved earlier in the process, and would simultaneously mitigate some of these perceived weaknesses.
The organization's involvement with the Dean campaign was an unprecedented instance of grassroots Internet activism on behalf of a candidate, according to Wiley Segovia. "It was one of the first times a major candidate had linked to an outside Latino group" on the candidate's website.
Latinos for Dean was emblematic of the Dean campaign's organizing style. Lacking the money to hire a bunch of Latino outreach staffers, the campaign instead took advantage of the grassroots activism it was generating. It did not shy from the involvement of outsiders and political novices like Wiley Segovia, and it spread its message through the Internet, which was revolutionizing the way political campaigns communicated with their supporters and potential supporters.
For Wiley Segovia, who was raised in Paraguay, the involvement with Latinos for Dean was "also an opportunity to prove that Latinos had arrived on the Internet scene." He says that the group identified 1,000 Latino organizers in 33 states.
By the end of 2003, Wiley Segovia had been offered a paid staffer job on the Dean campaign. When Dean was elected chair of the Democratic National Committee in 2005, he appointed Wiley Segovia, among others, to a DNC member at large position, which is a position appointed by the party chair rather than the state.
Wiley Segovia is rueful that neither the Clinton nor the Obama campaign has been as enthusiastic about Latino organizing as the Dean campaign. When he got appointed to the DNC, he continued to work on Latino organizing and founded Casa Blanca ("White House" in Spanish) whose aim is to direct Latino volunteers to the campaigns of their preferred Democratic party candidate for the presidential nomination. Casa Blanca is sponsored by the DNC's Hispanic Caucus.
Realizing that people were getting excited about the 2008 Democratic primaries, Wiley Segovia saw it as the perfect moment to get them involved in the Democratic Party. "If you're going to get more people to join this party, that's the time to try to do it."
His philosophy toward voting as a super-delegate--like many of his peers--emphasizes representing a constituency. However, unlike many super delegates, this constituency is not his state, Virginia. Although he resides in Arlington, he points out that as a delegate at-large, he does not represent a state but rather the DNC, particularly the Latino voters that he has dedicated himself to organizing and representing.
Says Wiley Segovia: "If I was chosen by Virginia, I would have a much greater sense of responsibility to Virginia, I would be almost compelled to vote the same way, [but] because Governor Dean appointed me, my responsibility is to the whole party, my responsibility more than anything is to the Latino constituency, so if I feel that one candidate is better, than that's who I want to vote for."
Currently, he does not want to endorse a candidate because his occupation as political director of Casa Blanca requires him to be neutral. "I think both candidates individually are strong leaders, and either one of them could be good presidents."
As for their strengths and weaknesses, "I think Obama could probably bring more voters, so it would ensure that our party would win, but I think the staff on the Clinton side has been more competent. [The] Clinton staff has been more thorough. "
This piece was produced as part of OffTheBus's Superdelegate Investigation. Click here to read more superdelegate profiles.