Eight years ago, the Aspen Institute initiated a new fellowship program designed to counter the nasty partisanship that had seeped into the political system. It was not our goal to create some form of magical political “center”; democracy depends on vigorous debate and we expected conservatives and liberals to hold firm to their principles, as they should.But we did want to bring together those political leaders, left, right, and center, who were willing to listen to the other side and see whether there were areas where they could find common ground in the national interest. That first class of Fellows included a great mix of the best young political leaders we could find, beginning with Gabby Giffords, who was then a Democratic state legislator in Arizona; Jon Bruning, the conservative Republican attorney general of Nebraska; Michael Steele, who became the national chairman of the Republican Party; two who have since become Republican members of Congress (Erik Paulsen and Lynn Jenkins) … and Tom Perez, then the president of the Montgomery County Council in Maryland.
It’s understandable that Senate conservatives would prefer a secretary of Labor whose views are more closely in line with their own. But a Democrat won the presidency and his Cabinet will naturally reflect views similar to his. Presidents are not automatically entitled to have their nominees confirmed but it is an abuse of the Senate’s constitutional prerogatives to reject a nominee simply because he shares the president’s views rather than those of the minority party.
What one ought to look for in any department head is character, intelligence, integrity, fair-dealing, an openness to competing viewpoints – in other words, somebody who will serve not just the president but the nation. I have known and worked with Tom Perez for nearly a decade now. I have watched him in countless interactions with men and women whose political views are very different from his own. And I have seen the tremendous respect he has engendered from highly-regarded public officials representing the entire range of political philosophies.
If Perez had been a member of Congress during my years as a member of the House Republican leadership, it’s almost certain that we would have disagreed on a number of important issues. But I would have had confidence that Tom and I could sit down together, talk about our differences, and work to find ways to move forward together in the best interests of the country we both love. It wouldn’t always be a successful effort but it would always be an honest one.
It’s time for members of the Senate, Republican and Democrat alike, to stop engaging in knee-jerk hostility to anybody who carries the other party’s label: if a nominee for a Cabinet position is lacking in the ability to do the job or unwilling to consider divergent views, he or she might well merit a vote against confirmation. But that most assuredly is not the case with Tom Perez. He will enforce the nation’s labor laws with fairness and integrity and that’s exactly what we should want in the head of any government department. He understands what it takes to be an effective Labor Secretary, because he has done the job successfully at a state level.
The support he has received from business leaders, educators, unions, and grassroots leaders is an impressive but not surprising illustration of the Tom Perez I have seen in action. He’s not a conservative but he deserves confirmation and the country deserves to have him sitting in the president’s Cabinet and bringing his judgment and intellect to the collective management of the nation’s business.
Mickey Edwards is director of the Aspen Institute and was a Republican member of Congress from Oklahoma for 16 years (1977-92).blockquote>