On Thursday the outgoing labor secretary of the Obama administration, Tom Perez, announced his candidacy for Democratic National Committee chair. He comes several weeks after the most-high profile aspirant, Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison, entered the race. Ellison used his head start to wrap up some high profile endorsements from Democrats like Sens. Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren and New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio.
Though Ellison may have the leg up, Perez still shouldn't be counted out of the running. As a regular surrogate of Hillary Clinton during her run for the presidency (and even a shortlist candidate for her vice president) and an Obama cabinet member, Perez has ties to the two highest-profile people in the party establishment. But he also has enthusiasm from the grassroots. As secretary of labor, he became a hero of progressives for implementing expansive overtime rules and for resolving a strike between Verizon and its workers. Before he was appointed to the Department of Labor, he was an assistant attorney general at the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, where he fought Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio in a high profile lawsuit over racial discrimination in his immigration enforcement.
But it is exactly this kind of real-world experience in crafting and implementing government policy that makes Perez's bid for DNC chair seem so strange to me. Perez is shaping up to be among the Democrats' most accomplished and skilled people when it comes to working in government. He has however only once run for office — for County Council in his home state of Maryland more than 10 years ago.
The DNC chair is not a government position. It's not actually a policy position at all. The job of DNC chair is to get Democrats elected at every level across the country. That means recruiting good candidates to run for office, coordinating the party's message in opposition to Donald Trump, raising and allocating money for races that need it, and bolstering grassroots organizing. Perez, by all accounts, is a skilled manager, and likely would be good at many of these tasks. But as someone who has had almost no experience with electoral politics but lots of experience governing, it seems like a waste of his talents to make him the most important figure in Democratic elections, without any connection to governing.
Perez is often touted as a rising figure within the Democratic Party. With his star beginning to shine, it would be foolish to dim it now. But aside from DNC chair there seems like a position ready-made for him: Maryland's governorship is up in 2018, and it's currently held by a Republican. Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in the state by a nearly two-to-one margin, but Gov. Larry Hogan is absurdly popular. Democrats need a good candidate to take the state back, and Perez, with his high national profile, strong support among the Democratic base, institutional support, and real-world accomplishments, seems like he could be the party's best hope.
Of course, seeing Perez as a good candidate for a race that needs one is exactly the kind of thing a good DNC chair should do. That Perez thinks he'd be better suited at DNC than in Annapolis suggests he may be missing the most important aspect of the job he's running for.