As soon as President Obama announced his choice for labor secretary, it became clear that Snyder native Thomas E. Perez had become the latest target of today’s toxic political environment.
Indeed, it’s going to be a bumpy ride, as News Washington bureau chief Jerry Zremski reported. But Perez, who has fought more than his share of battles representing the downtrodden and disenfranchised, will surely be up to the tough task ahead.
The president’s choice would replace Hilda Solis, who resigned in January. Republicans want to paint Perez as an obstructionist who has applied the rule of law in an imbalanced manner. We disagree. To the contrary, Perez has empowered the powerless.
In his three-plus years at the Justice Department, he aggressively pursued fair housing cases and fought Republican attempts to reduce voter turnout by making the act of voting difficult. That record won him the praise of Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. Harkin’s Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold hearings on the Perez nomination.
Conversely, it is the reason Sen. David Vitter, R-La., vowed to put a hold on Perez’s nomination. Vitter complained that as assistant attorney general, Perez had sued Louisiana for refusing to make voter registration material available at welfare offices while ignoring another section of the National Voter Registration Act that requires states to eliminate felons and dead voters from the rolls.
Radio host Rush Limbaugh compared Perez to Hugo Chavez, the late president of Venezuela, and exclaimed, “He is a classic, classic radical leftist.”
The vitriol didn’t stop there, with several Republicans offering scathing descriptions of a man who, as head of the Labor Department, would oversee implementation in the workplace of comprehensive immigration reform expected to be passed by Congress.
Perez, the first Hispanic nominated to the president’s second-term cabinet, has approached his work with a sensibility and humility that has garnered support from Latinos and labor unions. He is the son of Dominican immigrants and has worked tirelessly in pursuit of justice for others – ranging from a number of investigations into civil rights abuses to a lawsuit last year accusing the office of Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio of racial profiling during that state’s crackdown on illegal immigrants.
Perez is the poster child for both the right and left. Conservatives believe he politicized the Civil Rights Division and will do the same at labor. And they worry about how he will handle workplace issues that will be part of any immigration reform. Supporters see someone who understands the injustices leveled at the least-powerful members of society.
Perez will have to defend his record during confirmation hearings. But we believe that his record shows that he is well up to the job of secretary of labor.