WASHINGTON – If Hillary Clinton picks Labor Secretary – and Snyder native – Thomas E. Perez as her running mate, his friends and supporters say it will be because he earned it.
But if she doesn’t, it may be at least partly because he’s also earned the wrath of conservatives and business interests who already appear to be waging a war of words against him.
Labor leaders praise Perez for pressing forward with several worker-friendly regulations that had been languishing for years, and that work follows a term as assistant attorney general for civil rights that left him beloved by minority leaders.
But all of Perez’s hard work expanding workers’ rights and cracking down on civil rights violations has made him enemies on the right.
That being the case, even Perez’s supporters acknowledge his selection would cut two ways.
“He could be a lightning rod, and a double-edged sword,” said former Rep. John J. LaFalce, D-Town of Tonawanda, who has been touting Perez for vice president for two years.
Both LaFalce and Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, said Perez has been the most effective labor secretary since the very first one: Frances Perkins, who served 80 years ago under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
“He has been an incredibly good advocate for all of us,” Henry said. “He’s a consensus builder. He goes to every stakeholder and finds out what their interests are. He uses the power of persuasion and the power of the pen. He’s just incredibly adept as a leader.”
Labor leaders such as Henry point to several important regulations that had languished for years but that moved forward under Perez’s leadership.
New regulations on overtime are projected to boost the pay of 4 million salaried workers. New regulations on lung-damaging silica dust are projected to save the lives of 600 workers a year. And another set of new regulations aims to ensure that financial advisers are putting their clients, rather than their profits, first.
But business leaders look at those same initiatives and see Perez as a rulemaking busybody with a far-left agenda.
“It’s absolutely true that he listens to business, but it’s our observation that he doesn’t do much more than listen,” said Jack Mozloom, spokesman for the National Federation of Independent Business. “He has been the principal architect and salesperson of a very aggressive anti-business regulatory agenda.”
Perez’s actions at the Labor Department have hurt small businesses so much that his selection as vice president would undercut Clinton’s promise to be “the small business president,” Mozloom added.
Taking things one step further, Iain Murray, the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s vice president of strategy, told the National Review that Perez is “possibly the most dangerous person in the administration right now.”
“His rewriting of U.S. labor law is probably the most fundamental attack on the free-enterprise system going on at present,” Murray added.
Perez and his aides opted not to comment for this story. But Robert Raben, a Washington lawyer and longtime friend of Perez’s who managed the Senate confirmation process after he was chosen to be Labor secretary, said there’s nothing surprising about the fact that conservatives in the business community would criticize Perez’s record.
“He’s a liberal champion,” Raben said.
But he’s much more than that, Raben added.
“He’s a wonk after our own hearts in the Washington industrial complex,” he said. “He’s got maybe 30 years now of holding, one after the other, a series of very serious policy jobs” and excelling at each one.
In fact, Perez’s tenure as assistant attorney general for civil rights wins just as much praise from Democrats as does his tenure at Labor.
Over the course of five years, Perez repeatedly took strong action against voting rights violations. In addition, he led the federal investigation into the shooting of Florida teen Trayvon Martin as well as a probe that found the Seattle police guilty of using excessive force – actions that could be especially politically relevant at a time of growing concern about relations between police and the African-American community.
“At Justice, he was a tiger on the implementation of the Voting Rights Act and the right and the ability to vote,” LaFalce said.
“He was a tiger in investigating what he considered to be abusive practices in police departments,” LaFalce said.
Those moves won Perez plenty of fans among the civil rights community, but not among conservatives who look back at his tenure at Justice as yet another round of liberal overzealousness.
“He is an ideologue … who sees everything that includes a racial element as a case of racism,” said Steven J. Allen, vice president of the conservative Capital Research Center.
People like Allen aren’t saying things like that about Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine or Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, more centrist Democrats also known to be on Clinton’s list for vice president.
Then again, Perez supporters say he can do something that few other people on Clinton’s short list can do, save for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren: He can appeal to organized labor and minorities and progressives who supported Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont in the Democratic primaries.
Perez has one more big strike against him. The highest elected office he’s ever held is on the Montgomery County Council in Maryland, and it’s rare for presidential candidates to pick a running mate with so little political experience.
But Henry, of the SEIU, said Perez’s performance campaigning for Clinton earlier this year proved that he could handle the traditional role of the running mate: Attacking the opposition.
“He’s an incredible advocate (for Clinton) and impassioned at making the case that Donald Trump is dragging us down,” she said.