It was a close race, but still only took two rounds for Tom Perez to be elected new chair of the Democratic National Committee over Rep. Keith Ellison, winning by a 235-200 vote at the February 25 election in Atlanta.
The contest left some with impression of a divided party, though, and even though Perez’s first action was naming Ellison deputy chair. Ellison, the U.S. representative from Michigan, was supported by Bernie Sanders, while Obama cabinet member Perez was backed by Hillary Clinton. And to some, that indicated sharp difference between these top two of an original 10 candidates for the seat.
Supporters of Ellison argue that he is more liberal, and can take the party in a needed direction. They use Ellison’s voting record in congress as example, though.
The two are actually remarkably similar in their stances. Perez never served in congress, and thus has no voting record to go by, but he served in other roles that provide many examples of liberal, progressive actions.
Consider these four stand-out points, for example:
- Perez holds the record for prosecuting police brutality and discrimination
When he was first appointed Assistant Attorney General of the Dept. of Justice’s Civil Rights Division in 2009, Perez was “determined to play hardball with rogue cops and departments,” The Los Angeles Times reported. In fact, in his four years there, Perez set new records in the number of investigations of local police departments (17) for brutality, discrimination, and civil rights violations.
Perez went after Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio – he opened the inquiry regarding Trayvon Martin’s death –– he investigated the Ferguson, Missouri police department after its infamous shooting – he charged Seattle’s police department for discrimination in its shooting of a homeless Native American – and he convicted New Orleans police officers for misconduct after Hurricane Katrina.
Before Perez took this role under President Obama, the previous presidential administration hadn’t accepted any claims for police misconduct for four years.
- Perez established legal precedents in protection from gay discrimination
While with the Civil Rights Division in 2009, Perez filed suit against two New York schools for allowing harassment and discrimination of gay students; he won that case in the following year. He also reached settlement with a Minnesota school district that previously forbid teachers to discuss homosexuality in the classroom.
- Perez successfully fought against “voter ID” laws
When laws were passed requiring state-issued photo identification to vote, Perez tackled them in two states that had it worst. The new rules in Texas and South Carolina were discriminatory against minorities, he argued.
And Perez won, too, successfully getting court order to prevent ID implementation in South Carolina in 2011. The state’s attorney general challenged in court, but quickly changed its voter ID law, allowing guaranteed vote to any who claimed a “reasonable impediment” prevented them from acquiring photo identification. Those impediments include lack of birth certificate, religious objection to being photographed or any other reason, which the voter doesn’t have to identify. In those cases, the voter’s ballot legally must be counted.
After Perez blocked the law in Texas, the Lone Star State challenged in court, but lost (three times, too). Texas’ voter ID rule can’t be used.
- Perez is a hero of organized labor
After becoming Secretary of Labor in 2013, Perez took many bold actions in support of labor rights and unions. So bold were these actions – including the Fair Pay Act, extending overtime pay rules, protecting home healthcare workers – that many wound up in court, with some cases receiving unfortunate rulings that found those actions to be over-extensive.
He regularly visited workplaces across the country to speak directly to workers, and even oversaw a settlement between Verizon and its striking employees right in his D.C. office, too.
“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.”
He’s been pro-labor since childhood, too; his surrogate father (after his real father died while Perez was only 12) was a Teamster, and who’s credited with teaching Perez many labor concepts.
Perez, 55, is a first-generation American whose parents moved to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic. He became a civil rights attorney immediately after graduating from Harvard Law School in 1986. Saturday’s election makes him the first Hispanic chair of the Democratic Party.
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