Labor Secretary Thomas Perez speaks at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation's Hiring Our Heroes program and the George W. Bush Institute's Military Service Initiative national summit, Wednesday, June 24, 2015, at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington. The summit  focuses on creating employment opportunities for post-9/11 veterans and military families.  (AP Photo/Molly Riley)

Why Tom Perez is the Feminist Vice President We Need

Ed. note: This post was originally published on the Community site.

The Democratic presidential primary is over.

Following her victory in New York, Hillary Clinton could lose every race going forward and still win the primary. To his credit, Bernie Sanders has committed to fighting until the party convention for his progressive platform of increased wages, single-payer healthcare, tuition-free public college, and accountability for Wall Street.

But the de facto end of the primary raises the question: what next?

For many feminists, this election season has been a choice between two disappointingly limited conceptions of justice. Hillary Clinton has been criticized by commentators like Daniel Denvir at Salon for deploying racial and gender justice rhetoric in order to undermine support for progressive economic policies and to justify imperialism. By contrast, Bernie Sanders has struggled to treat discrimination as a phenomenon that is both interrelated and distinct from economic inequalities.

Fortunately, there’s one individual who doesn’t buy into the intellectually bankrupt distinctions between “economic” and “social” issues. His name is Tom Perez, and he should be your choice for Vice President. As the Clinton campaign will likely move to the center in anticipation of the general election, the selection of her running mate presents an important opportunity for feminists to mobilize and influence the course of the election.

While the New York Times recently reported that Perez, who currently serves as Secretary of Labor, is under consideration by the Clinton camp, he isn’t as well-known as some of the sitting Senators and former governors who accompany him on the short list. That’s a real shame because Perez has spent the past decade cleaning up after the catastrophe that was the Bush Administration.

For example, in 2005, companies like Walmart  of inspections, enabling them to cover up abuse and avoid accountability. Not so under Perez. As Secretary of Labor, he has revolutionized the Department and increased its enforcement activities against abusive employers. And when he’s not declaring that our pitifully low federal minimum wage “sucks,” he’s working to deliver raises for millions of workers by expanding access to overtime pay. This move will disproportionately benefit low-income women and women of color who are more likely to be employed in low-wage jobs.

Couple his economic justice work with his accomplishments as the leader of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. Perez revived a division that had been systematically decimated under Bush: A report from the Government Accountability Office found that six years of case tracking data had gone missing during the Bush years and that cases were often closed with no explanation and against the recommendation of nonpartisan career officials. By contrast, Perez aggressively pursued cases related to discriminatory voter ID laws, initiated a suit against the infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio, investigated claims of employers stealing wages from immigrant workers, protected key provisions of the Fair Housing Act, and forced lenders like Wells Fargo and Bank of America to pay hundreds of millions of dollars after they discriminated against Black and Latino borrowers in the years leading up to the housing crisis.

And even before his appointment to the Civil Rights Division, Tom Perez fought against the legalized exploitation of domestic workers. These individuals, the vast majority of whom are women of color, are often exempted from basic minimum wage and overtime protections due to decades-old government policies rooted in racism. During his tenure on the Montgomery County Council, Perez pushed for a domestic workers’ bill of rights, which eventually passed.

In short, Tom Perez is committed to a holistic form of justice that recognizes legal rights must be coupled with the material means to actualize them. It’s an understanding of justice that we need now more than ever, particularly as millions of low-income women are categorically excluded from abortion access through the Medicaid program and as advances in marriage equality fail to protect LGBT people from discrimination in employment and public accommodations.

Unfortunately, because he is from Maryland — a reliably blue state — and due to his lower levels of name recognition, Perez may be at a disadvantage in “the Veepstakes.” As the Times reported, the Clinton campaign is confident that she will secure the votes of Bernie supporters when she prevails in the primary. But while there are other individuals  — Senators Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown come to mind — who would also make for excellent VP candidates, no other official matches Tom Perez’s track record of wielding the power of the executive branch to dismantle oppression in our society. That, combined with his deep grasp of policy issues and his powerful rhetorical skills, would make Perez a formidable challenger to any Republican vice presidential nominee in the general election.

As for me, I have to admit that I have an ulterior motive for being #TeamTom. It involves a presidential election in 2024.

Header image via.

Alyssa Peterson serves as a Campaign Coordinator for Know Your IX, a national survivor-run, student-driven campaign to end campus sexual violence.  

Alyssa Peterson serves as a volunteer Campaign Coordinator for Know Your IX.

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