President Barack Obama today (Monday, March 18) picked a Latino official with the surname Perez to be his next labor secretary, but it wasn’t the one many in California were anticipating.
As the Bay Area Reporter‘s Political Notes column had reported last month, rumors had swirled in Washington, D.C., Sacramento and Los Angeles that gay Assembly Speaker John A. Perez (D-Los Angeles) could become the first out member of a president’s cabinet after the Associated Press included the Golden State lawmaker on its list of possible candidates for the high-level post.
Labor Secretary Hilda Solis is stepping down in order to run for a seat on the powerful Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors next year. And the news that Perez could be leaving for the nation’s capitol set off speculation in the statehouse on who could succeed him as speaker.
Those at the top of the list include lesbian Assemblywoman Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), who in December became the majority floor leader, and freshman Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles), whom Perez named a Democratic whip this session. With Perez termed out of office in 2014, talk of who will replace him as speaker will only grow louder in the coming months.
As for Perez, in late 2012 he started a campaign committee to begin raising money for a potential run for lieutenant governor in 2018 when the current officeholder, former San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom, would be termed out if elected to a second term.
He could still end up in D.C. if he runs for Congress next year. Perez is on the list of potential candidates for the Congressional District 40 seat, currently held by Lucille Roybal-Allard. The Democratic lawmaker turns 72 this June, sparking talk she may opt to retire instead of seeking re-election.
Also among those who could jump into a race for the open seat is Perez’s close ally, gay state Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Los Angeles). Elected last fall to a four-year term in the Senate, Lara is also seen as a potential successor to Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), who is termed out next year.
As for the Perez who was nominated to be labor secretary, it is Thomas E. Perez, 51, who heads the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department. The son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, he would be the only Latino in Obama’s cabinet if confirmed.
“In his current role as the head of the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, Tom has fought to open pathways into the workforce for everyone willing to contribute, including people with disabilities, LGBT Americans, and immigrants,” said Obama at the news conference announcing his pick. “And he has helped settle some of the largest cases ever on behalf of families targeted by unfair mortgage lending.”
Perez, speaking partly in Spanish, thanked the president for forwarding his name to the Senate and said it was “a remarkably humbling and exciting phenomenon to be here today.” He added that the “nation still faces critical economic challenges, and the Department’s mission is as important as ever. I am confident that together with our partners in organized labor, the business community, grassroots communities, Republicans, Democrats, and independents alike, we can keep making progress for all working families.”
The nomination won quick praise and support from LGBT groups. In a statement issued shortly after the announcement, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force urged the Senate to confirm him.
“A champion of civil rights, he represented the administration and testified before the U.S. Senate in 2009 in support of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill that would protect employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity,” noted the group’s executive director, Rea Carey, in the press release.