Clinton Could Unite the Party With Her VP Pick

A theme has emerged during this 2016 Democratic presidential primary: it’s all about demographics. The insurgent success of Bernie Sanders has been based on his ability to mobilize young people and those who consider themselves to be more progressive. Hillary Clinton is likely to be the nominee based on her success with older Democratic voters, women and people of color.

Patrick Healy writes that the Clinton campaign is beginning the process of considering her potential VP pick. Much of the conversation about that centers around what it might signal to the various demographic groups that have had an impact on the primary. Clinton’s choice will tell us a lot about the kind of race she intends to run towards the general election.

There are many factors to consider in a veepstakes discussion. An important one to keep in mind is the impact of choosing a sitting Senator to join the ticket – that is especially significant in states where a Republican governor would have the opportunity to select at least a temporary replacement. For that, and the reasons Martin articulated, I doubt very much that the nominee will be Elizabeth Warren. But it also puts the possibility of Sherrod Brown into question. While either of them would hold special appeal to Sanders voters, neither one seems to be very likely.

The names Tim Kaine and Mark Warner (both Senators from Virginia) are often mentioned as possible vice presidents. While the current governor of that state is a Democrat (Terry McAullife), either one of them would represent yet another white man. But beyond that, they are both fairly conservative Democrats in a day when the party is clearly ready to move leftward. Should Clinton chose either one of them, she signals a move towards the center leading into November.

Candidates like HUD Secretary Julian Castro and NJ Senator Cory Booker would bring youth and color to the ticket. But both of them are fairly inexperienced and are seen as too centrist by many Democrats.

That is why I think that an interesting choice would be Labor Secretary Tom Perez. While the only elected office he has ever held was on the Montgomery County (Maryland) Council from 2002-2008, he has a distinguished career in public service. Much of that work has been in the field of civil rights. He served as Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights under Attorney General Janet Reno and as the Director of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in the final years of the Clinton administration. Perez was also Special Counselor to Senator Ted Kennedy from 1995 to 1998.

During the Obama presidency, Perez served first as Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights and currently as Secretary of Labor. As such, he has often been referred to as the most progressive member of Obama’s Cabinet.

…Perez has more credibility with committed progressives — who measure politicians by their battle scars — than almost anyone else around. The unions love him so much that they campaigned against his nomination to replace Eric Holder as attorney general in late 2014 because they didn’t want to lose him at the Labor Department.

I personally started following Perez early on when he was given the task to rehabilitate the Civil Rights Division at DOJ after it had been decimated during the Bush/Cheney years. He brought in some of the most brilliant young progressive minds and began to tackle things like investigating police brutality (long before the BlackLivesMatter movement started) as well as fight aggressively against things like Arizona’s anti-immigrant legislation and voter ID laws. In an especially important area, Perez played a crucial role in preserving the judicial concept of disparate impact – something the Supreme Court eventually affirmed.

As Secretary of Labor, Perez has been a critical part of the Obama administration’s efforts to advocate at the grassroots level for raising the minimum wage, implementing paid family leave policies and encouraging businesses to establish apprenticeships. Perez was also sent to San Francisco by President Obama to jumpstart negotiations between dockworkers and shipping lines.

“He’s very hands-on, not unwilling to mix things up,” said Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, who watched Perez, as an assistant U.S. attorney general, help craft a 2012 consent decree over police use of force in his city. “He’s not afraid to push people to a resolution.”

Perez, 53, now U.S. Secretary of Labor, did just that amid a nine-month standoff between the dockworkers’ union and shipping lines and terminal operators at 29 West Coast ports, including Seattle’s. The talks aimed at a five-year contract ended with a deal Friday evening, bringing an end to an impasse that threatened to close seaports responsible for more than 40 percent of U.S. trade that could have cost the U.S. economy $2 billion a day.

Perez is the son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic (the first Dominican to be a member of a presidential cabinet) and speaks fluent Spanish. As such, he holds the most promise of being able to bring together the two sides of the Democratic Party that have splintered during the Clinton/Sanders primary. Beyond that, the timing of an announcement about a vice presidential pick will come this summer – just when five million Americans get a raise due to his efforts in the Department of Labor.

Tom Perez is passionate, intelligent and an articulate voice for progressive change. He has also demonstrated that he is the kind of person who rolls up his sleeves and gets things done. His one drawback is the lack of experience in foreign policy. But that is true of most all of the candidates listed above. Whether or not Perez is Clinton’s choice, the fact that more Americans will be hearing about his accomplishments during this vetting process is a good thing.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.