Department Of Labor Nominee Left His Mark In Arizona

By Jude Joffe-Block
March 18, 2013

In this file photo from May 2012, Thomas Perez announces the filing of a federal lawsuit against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, his office and the county.

PHOENIX -- President Barack Obama's choice to lead the Department of Labor is known for his aggressive tactics as a Department of Justice official, including civil rights enforcement in Southwestern states.

Thomas Perez is also the first Latino that Obama has nominated to the cabinet in his second term.

After President Obama announced Perez as his pick for Labor Secretary at a Monday press conference, the Dominican-American nominee thanked him, in two languages.

"Thank you Mr. President," Perez said before switching to Spanish. "Le agradezco, Señor Presidente el gran honor de ser nominado en esta posición."

Or in English, 'I thank you Mr. President for the great honor of being nominated to this position.'

Language issues came up in Perez's term as the head of the DOJ's Civil Rights Division.

His office, along with the Department of Education, found Arizona's method for testing English Language Learners was causing tens of thousands of students to be misclassified. As a result, the state Department of Education agreed to a settlement, and is implementing changes this school year.

And in Maricopa County, Perez will likely be long remembered for filing a 2012 civil lawsuit against Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office that alleges racial profiling.

Former U.S. Attorney for Arizona Paul Charlton said the case, which is progressing in federal district court, is highly unusual.

"It is almost unheard of that the Civil Rights department would have to bring suit against a law enforcement agency to compel them to turn over documents, or to compel them to comply with civil rights laws," Charlton said.

"It's an example of how unusual it is to have a sheriff such as Joe Arpaio, and to have a Department of Justice Civil Rights Division aggressively pursuing someone like Joe Arpaio."

Perez also made headlines last year for rejecting a Texas voter ID law on the grounds that it would likely discriminate against Latino voters. A federal court agreed with him.

Perez will replace Hilda Solis, the first Latina to serve in the post.

Rodolfo Espino, a political scientist at Arizona State University, said Obama's first term cabinet was unusually diverse in both ethnicity and gender.

"There was a lot of criticism against Obama by many of his supporters heading into his second term in office that his cabinet was not as diverse," Espino said.