Secretary of Labor Tom Perez is currently considered to be the frontrunner to replace Eric Holder as the next Attorney General in the Obama administration. If nominated, the irony would be that the most ignominious moment in Perez’s political career was when he was thrown off the ballot in Maryland in a 2006 bid to be that state’s attorney general.
In 2006, Perez was a first-term county councilman in Montgomery County who had previously spent years working in Washington for Teddy Kennedy and in the Clinton administration. He was beloved by many liberal activists on his deep blue native turf (Takoma Park, the Maryland town he lived in is a self-proclaimed nuclear-free zone that allows non-citizens to vote in municipal elections). With the state’s longtime attorney general retiring, Perez decided to mount a bid for that office.
Perez faced a three-way campaign for the Democratic nomination to be AG (considered paramount to victory in famously liberal Maryland) against Montgomery County state’s attorney Doug Gansler and Stuart Simms, Maryland’s former Secretary of Public Safety. The campaign was a tight three-way battle until two weeks out when Perez was suddenly and dramatically thrown off the ballot.
The Maryland Constitution requires a candidate spend ten years practicing law before running for attorney general. A Republican activist filed a complaint that Perez was ineligible because he had only joined the Maryland bar in 2001. At the time, Perez accused Gansler of encouraging the lawsuit to push him at the ballot.
The embattled attorney general candidate responded to the suit by arguing that his work as a federal prosecutor should count towards that the ten-year requirement. This was backed up an opinion from the office of the outgoing attorney general and a lower court judge. But the state supreme court disagreed and threw Perez off the ballot. The decision happened so close to Election Day that ballots printed with Perez’s name already had been sent out. Gansler, whom Perez had accused of being behind the litigation, won the primary by a margin of 56-44 and then cruised to victory in the general election.
Perez may have the last laugh. While Gansler may have served two terms as Maryland’s attorney general, the current Secretary of Labor has a far brighter political future. Gansler was crushed in Maryland’s gubernatorial primary this year and Perez is a cabinet member on the short list of the nation’s top law enforcement job. And, unlike its counterpart in Maryland, being the U.S.’s attorney general doesn’t come with any goofy constitutional requirements.