Politics & Policy

Meet the DNC’s New Organizer in Chief

Tom Perez addresses the DNC audience in Atlanta, Ga., February 25, 2017. (Reuters photo: Chris Berry)
Tom Perez is both a hard-core progressive and a hard-fighting party insider.

The election of a new chair of the Democratic National Committee on Saturday was clearly an inside-baseball affair. Only 17 percent of Democratic voters had even heard it was happening, according to a new Morning Consult poll.

Media analysts breathlessly touted the race as one between Representative Keith Ellison, pushed by the forces behind Bernie Sanders’s insurgent challenge last year, and Tom Perez, a former secretary of labor who was supported by Joe Biden and effusively praised by Barack Obama and other establishment voices.

In reality, both candidates are hard-core progressives committed to the party’s scorched-earth opposition to the Trump administration. As Jeff Stein of Vox noted:

The purpose of this fight can appear somewhat mystifying. Perez was one of the most left-leaning members of Obama’s Cabinet, muting the contest’s ideological stakes by making it hard to understand what precise ideological division the party’s two factions are fighting over.

The more salient difference was in the candidates’ varying degrees of professionalism. Ellison, a former community organizer in Minneapolis, simply didn’t convince enough DNC members that he could raise enough money or manage the infrastructure that the party needs to rebuild if it is going to climb out of its electoral hole.

Even though Perez has won only one election in his life (for a Maryland county council), he convinced party insiders that he could rebuild the party’s cadre.

Conservatives need to pay attention, now that the “whip-smart” Perez (Obama’s words) is running the DNC.

“After nearly a decade as a powerful federal bureaucrat, Tom Perez will finally be able to be out in the open about using the law to help Democrats,” Christian Adams, a former career Department of Justice lawyer who worked for Perez and now runs the conservative Public Interest Legal Foundation, told me. “At Justice, he used the law to help Democrats win elections. Now he can finally be honest about his agenda.”

Adams was one of several critics at Justice who observed just how political and biased Perez could be as he headed the Civil Rights Division at the DOJ from 2009 to 2013. In July 2012, a federal district-court judge concluded that the DOJ’s own documents in the New Black Panther Party case “appeared to contradict” the sworn testimony of Perez before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

The New Black Panthers stood accused in early 2009 of being behind a blatant form of voter intimidation after two of their members stood outside a Philadelphia polling place with nightsticks yelling racial epithets at both black and white voters. After the case was effectively dismissed at the very moment it was on the verge of victory by Justice, the watchdog group Judicial Watch was refused access to documents on the case it had requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The case was heard by Judge Reggie Walton, the same federal judge who presided over the conviction of Scooter Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff.

Walton awarded attorneys’ fees and costs to Judicial Watch for Justice’s withholding of the documents. He also made it clear that while the original decision to dismiss the New Black Panther case pre-dated Perez’s appointment to the Justice Department, his direct involvement in the case’s aftermath may have contributed to a cover-up of the decision’s origins. Walton wrote:

The documents reveal that political appointees within DOJ were conferring about the status and resolution of the New Black Panther Party case in the days preceding the DOJ’s dismissal of claims in that case, which would appear to contradict Assistant Attorney General Perez’s testimony that political leadership was not involved in that decision.

Perez’s entire tenure at Justice was controversial and politicized. In 2013, Justice’s inspector general, an Obama appointee, issued a stinging 256-page report slamming Perez’s unit for “deep ideological polarization” and a “disappointing lack of professionalism.”

Perez’s entire tenure at Justice was controversial and politicized.

The report criticized Perez’s Civil Rights Division for, among other things, basing hiring decisions on whether applicants had supported civil-rights causes. Out of 113 people picked for “career” (meaning not politically appointed) slots in the Civil Rights Division, the New York Times reported, “none of the new hires listed conservative organizations” on their résumés. Senator Chuck Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said at the time that the IG report demonstrated “an inherent culture of harassment against conservatives in the Civil Rights Division.”

That culture stemmed in part from Perez’s own fanatical liberalism, including an obsession with unrestrained immigration. In our book Who’s Counting? How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk, Hans von Spakovsky and I point out that Perez has a history of lawless positions on immigration issues:

Perez was president of Casa de Maryland, an extreme advocacy organization that opposes the enforcement of our immigration laws. This group has encouraged illegal aliens not to speak with police officers or immigration agents; it has fought restrictions on illegal aliens’ receiving driver’s licenses; it has urged the Montgomery County Police Department not to enforce federal fugitive warrants; it has advocated giving illegal aliens in-state tuition; and it has actively promulgated “day labor” sites, where illegal aliens and disreputable employers openly skirt federal prohibitions on hiring undocumented individuals.

 . . . As a councilman in Maryland in 2003, Perez sought to force local governments to accept matricula consular ID cards, which are issued by the Mexican and Guatemalan governments, as a valid form of identification. He insisted that individuals with such cards not have to show any U.S.-issued documents to prove their identities, even though matricula ID cards are known to be rife with fraud. No major bank in Mexico accepts them if someone tries to open an account.

With this kind of record, we can expect Perez to fight particularly hard against any efforts by the Trump administration to find out how many noncitizens are registered to vote or are actually voting in this country. Despite evidence that the Democratic party’s obsession with “identity” politics hurt the party with many voters in 2016, Perez is likely to double down on such efforts. But because he has proven to be an effective advocate and skillful infighter for his beliefs, Perez will probably be more effective than his predecessors in mobilizing disparate elements of the Democratic coalition. In Tom Perez, Democrats have more than just an effective fundraiser; they have a partisan steeped in what it takes to mobilize voters.


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