Like Clinton, Tom Perez Has Shown Himself to Be a Pragmatic Workhorse

Over the next month, the biggest news of the campaign season will be the vice presidential picks of the two candidates. As such, pundits are spending a fair amount of time these days prognosticating about the various possibilities.

On the Democratic side, that talk has zeroed in on three potential candidates: Tim Kaine, Elizabeth Warren and Julian Castro. What is interesting about that three-some is that each one appeals to a different constituency that  has been highlighted during the primary. Kaine is the establishment favorite,  Warren appeals to the Sanders constituency and Castro would mean having a person of color on the ticket.

To the extent that Clinton herself is considered “establishment,” I previously wrote about how Labor Secretary Tom Perez – as a progressive Latino – covers both of the other two constituencies and has the potential to unite the divisions that have surfaced recently. While he isn’t gaining much notice from “insiders,” Justin Miller took a pretty deep dive into Perez’s background in the summer issue of the American Prospect.

The article walks you through the accomplishments of Perez in the Obama administration as Secretary of Labor, including everything from the new overtime rule to removing the federal overtime and minimum-wage exemption for home-care and domestic workers.

During President Obama’s first term, Perez headed up DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, which he reformed after it had become dysfunctional and hamstrung by politicization during the Bush years. He went on to aggressively investigate misconduct in police departments across the country – opening more than any in DOJ history – and took on Arizona’s Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio for systemic racism against Latinos.

But perhaps more than individual accomplishments, these are the kinds of descriptions of Perez that will impress Hillary Clinton when she imagines the task of actually governing.

Perez has proven himself an able handyman, steering a dizzying array of labor rules and regulations through Washington’s often-stymied bureaucracy despite constant political threats and general hostility coming from Republicans and the business lobby…

His ability to promulgate a clearinghouse of policy proposals that have been on union and labor advocate wish lists since as far back as the Carter administration has led some of his allies in the labor movement to call him the most important U.S. labor secretary since Frances Perkins, who, under Franklin Roosevelt, implemented the trailblazing federal labor laws of the 1930s that still make up much of our framework to this day…

An institutional ball of energy, Perez comes to meetings armed with data, facts, and ideas, but he aims to listen more than speak. He is a quick study; a wonk able to quickly grasp the granular details of an issue and their potential consequences, but also zoom out and see the big picture. “He has a real curiosity, which is very good in a leader. In all my interactions with him, I’ve never felt like he’s come in to just make a speech and leave. He’s really wanted to engage people and ask a lot of questions,” says Sarita Gupta, head of the worker advocacy organization Jobs With Justice. “It’s never the Tom Perez show.”

There are a myriad of things for Clinton to consider when she choses a VP candidate. Far be it from me to speculate how she will weigh all of her options. But to the extent that she values a pragmatic workhorse who knows how to get things done (the way Clinton herself is often described), Perez has an impressive resume.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.