U.S. labor secretary expected in Anchorage for official visit, Begich fundraiser

Nathaniel Herz

U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez this weekend is taking an official trip to Alaska, where he’ll advocate for an increase of the national minimum wage and also headline a joint fundraiser for Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Begich and the Alaska Democratic Party.

Perez will be in the state Saturday through Monday, with official appearances at local businesses and job-training centers in Fairbanks, Palmer and Anchorage, said Xochitl Hinojosa, the press secretary for the labor department.

“He believes that you have to make house calls to understand what’s happening across the country,” she said.

Perez will also appear at the fundraiser for Begich, which is being held Sunday at an Anchorage home with several local labor leaders including Vince Beltrami, president of the Alaska AFL-CIO. A labor group also is expecting Perez to make an appearance at a campaign kickoff event in Anchorage on Monday evening.

Hinojosa said that Perez travels regularly across the country, and that his trip was organized by the Department of Labor.

She said in a follow-up email that the state’s entire congressional delegation has been invited to Perez’s official events, and that Begich has confirmed his attendance.

Perez’s itinerary starts Saturday with a trip to a bookstore and café in Fairbanks to push for an increase in the national minimum wage. President Barack Obama has asked Congress to boost the rate to $10.10 an hour, up from $7.25, though Alaska’s is currently $7.75 and voters will decide in November whether to raise it to $9.75 by Jan. 1, 2016.

Perez will also visit a training center for pipeline workers while he’s in Fairbanks, where he’ll discuss veterans’ employment.

On Sunday and Monday, he’ll visit job training centers in Palmer and Anchorage, where he’ll meet with students and again discuss veterans’ employment, Hinojosa said. Begich will appear at all of Perez's public events, according to an announcement emailed by Hinojosa late Thursday.

She referred questions about the fundraiser to Begich’s campaign but added that any of Perez’s political activity on the trip would comply with the Hatch Act, which governs the political conduct of federal employees.

The act — which was approved in 1939 and is also known as An Act to Prevent Pernicious Political Activities — permits federal employees to appear at political rallies and at candidate fundraisers, as long as they don’t ask for money.

Obama nominated Perez to his Cabinet post in March of last year. In his previous position, Perez was in charge of the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice.

Republicans criticized Perez’s nomination, saying some of his work for the Department of Justice had been politically motivated and aimed at helping illegal immigrants. But he was ultimately confirmed July 23.

A spokesman for Begich’s campaign, Max Croes, said that the senator appreciated the opportunity “to show people the realities of Alaska, and the fact that things are different here than they are in the Lower 48.”

Begich has recently tried to distance himself from Obama, describing himself in a recent Washington Post article as a “thorn” in the president’s posterior.

Croes said Begich’s fundraiser with an Obama Cabinet member has no bearing on his posture toward the president.

“These events don’t stop and will never stop Sen. Begich from telling people when they’re wrong on Alaska issues,” Croes said. “Mark Begich is ready to stand up for Alaska to Cabinet secretaries, to other senators, to the president, to agencies when the decisions they’re making are wrong for Alaska, or when they’re leaving Alaska out.”