Thomas Perez: The Right Pick for Secretary of Labor

President Barack Obama talks with his nominee for Labor Secretary, Thomas E. Perez, during a announcement, Monday, March 18,
President Barack Obama talks with his nominee for Labor Secretary, Thomas E. Perez, during a announcement, Monday, March 18, 2013, in the East Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

As a former chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the long-time head of its civil rights task force, I am particularly proud to hear that the president has nominated current Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice, Thomas Perez, to lead the Labor Department.

Thomas Perez, as Secretary of Labor, will serve our nation well. He is an impressive public servant who has a strong record of building consensus and making government work. And that's exactly what we need in Washington right now -- someone who will reach across party lines to get things done.

The son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Perez has an impressive résumé. He earned his law degree at Harvard and has served at all levels of government, as a County Councilman in Maryland, Secretary of Labor for the State of Maryland, and various civil rights positions in the federal government, including Director of the Civil Rights Office at the Health and Human Services Department during the Clinton Administration.

As a county councilman, Perez worked with Republicans to get results for Montgomery County residents, and as Maryland's Secretary of Labor he was known for working with both labor and business. His commitment to getting the job done over politics was evident through the bipartisan support he received in his 2009 confirmation where he won the support of 17 Republican senators, including my fellow Texans John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Perez has had to draw on all of his leadership abilities in his current position to turn around a Civil Rights Division that was in internal disarray when he arrived there. A report by the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General (OIG) released last week highlighted that during the Bush administration, the long-established integrity of the Civil Rights Division suffered significant damage and inner turmoil. In Congress at that time, I recall the first glimpse of that came when political appointees overturned recommendations by voting rights attorneys that Tom Delay's congressional redistricting plan for Texas violated provisions of the Voting Rights Act. In addition, Bush appointees then began to illegally use partisan criteria for hiring attorneys throughout the Department of Justice, including the Civil Rights Division, fueling a toxic cycle of mistrust, harassment and poor morale.

In the same OIG report, Perez was recognized for having put reforms in place to restore non-partisan professionalism and integrity to the Civil Rights Division. The report also found that since he took charge, none of the decisions enforcing our nation's voting rights laws have been based on racial or partisan political criteria.

Some might have their hands full just cleaning up a mess like the one Perez found, but he was also able to focus the Civil Rights Division on the important work it is duty-bound to carry out for the American public. Few of us take time to recognize the division's important work in protecting a veteran's right to get a job, a student's right to be safe from bullying, a woman's right to a workplace free of sexual harassment, the right to dignity of Americans with disabilities, and everyone's right to be treated fairly by mortgage lenders. Perez led the way on all these fronts.

Among his many notable accomplishments, Perez' leadership helped foreclosure victims by settling the three largest Fair Housing Act cases in history, winning more money for victims of unfair lending practices than in the previous 23 years combined. The Justice Department brought a record number of cases to the courts to protect the employment rights of our nation's service members returning to civilian life, and increased prosecutions for human trafficking by 40 percent in four years.

Perhaps most important of all is Perez' work to protect the right to vote -- one of the rights most central to our democracy. In addition to implementing internal reforms, Perez led the Justice Department in taking on more new voting rights cases in 2012 than any year ever, including critically important cases to defend the constitutionality of central provisions of the Voting Rights Act and curtail the implementation of overly burdensome voter ID laws -- the modern-day equivalent of poll taxes. By their nature, such cases are always fraught with controversy, but Perez has steered a path forward with integrity and professionalism.

Perez has demonstrated the kind of outstanding leadership that will serve our country well. Any attacks or attempts to discredit his experience belie his life of personal commitment and sacrifice to serve the American people. I congratulate President Obama on his selection of Thomas Perez to lead the Department of Labor. This selection will bring honor and credibility to his Cabinet.