During his time as a politician in Maryland, Tom Perez was a combative crusader for the Left. Perez, now President Obama’s nominee for labor secretary, wasn’t shy about his sharp disagreements with Republicans. In 2005, when Perez was president of the Montgomery County Council, he lambasted them during a council meeting. “Perez, a self-described progressive,” reported the Washington Post, “gave a five-minute speech about how some conservative Republicans do not care about the poor.”
Referring to budget cuts that affected various social programs, including housing, Perez said, “If you thought Ronald Reagan was radical, you haven’t seen nothing yet,” and, “The beast is being starved, and it is a very conscious strategy.” Nor did he shy away from criticizing Republican voters: “I don’t understand the values voter because if you look at the Koran, the Torah, the Bible, there are 10,000 references to social justice.”
After serving on the council for four years, Perez made a bid for Maryland attorney general in 2006. His candidacy came to an end when a court ruled that he was ineligible to run because he had not practiced law in the state for the requisite number of years.
Perez had joined the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division as a lawyer when George H. W. Bush was president, and he continued there until Senator Edward Kennedy retained him as special counsel in 1995. For the last two years of Clinton’s second term, Perez served as the director of the Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Health and Human Services, but he was unable to stomach the notion of remaining there when George W. Bush became president. “Perez says he left federal service at noon Jan. 20, 2001, the moment President George W. Bush took office,” reported the Baltimore Sun in 2008. Two years later, he was vocal about his opposition to Bush’s policies. “Budget surpluses have evaporated, largely as a result of the reckless Bush tax cuts and the recent military buildup,” he opined in a press release, adding, “In our zeal to begin the war against Iraq, we are ignoring the war against poverty.”
Perez’s ascending to county council president coincided with Bush’s reelection, and he saw “Montgomery County as a foil to the Republican policies of President Bush and Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr,” according to the Washington Post. Perez had a “frightening realization” the morning after Election Day that the GOP remained in power. “Because of gridlock on Capitol Hill and Annapolis, we are going to take the bull by the horn and we are going to be innovative because I believe in progressive government. . . . We are going to push the envelope,” Perez said at the time.
Perez’s “progressive government” agenda included spending taxpayer dollars on a day-laborer site (which reportedly attracted a significant number of illegal immigrants), trying to regulate bank loans, and pushing to provide county employees, among others, with prescription drugs from Canada. He pushed for the drug-importation plan even after top FDA official William Hubbard said in 2004, according to the Post, “It’s undeniably illegal to import unapproved foreign drugs — there’s no question about that.” In 2005, when the FDA refused to grant the county a waiver from the federal prohibition on importation, Perez blasted then–county executive Doug M. Duncan for not instructing county employees to violate the law, calling him “so timid,” according to the Washington Times. During Perez’s run for attorney general, the issue came up again at a candidate forum; Perez remained defiant, saying, “Federal law is muddled” and “sometimes you have to push the envelope.”
If he is confirmed, that’s the kind of attitude Perez will likely bring to the Labor Department: one centered not on the law but on pushing the envelope for progressivism.