By Patricia Guadalupe & Joel Russell
January/February 2001 - President George W. Bush initially picked three Hispanics as members of his inner circle. The president tapped Alberto Gonzales as White House chief counsel, Mel Martinez as secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and Linda Chavez for secretary of Labor.
But within a week of her nomination, Ms. Chavez withdrew her name from the list. The immediate cause was controversy about Ms. Chavez's housing an illegal alien, but even before that, the nomination stirred opposition from Hispanic groups and organized labor.
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) raised "serious concerns" about her ascension to secretary of Labor. "A Spanish-sounding surname does not make a person sympathetic to the concerns and needs of the majority of the Latino population," said MALDEF Regional Counsel Marisa J. Demeo. "Who exactly is Bush trying to reach in the Latino community through this nomination?"
Mr. Martinez will move to Washington, D.C., from Orlando, Florida, where he chairs the Orange County Board of Commissioners. He co-chaired the Bush campaign in Florida last year. In accepting the HUD nomination, Mr. Martinez called affordable housing "a vital element of compassionate conservatism."
Former Texas Supreme Court Justice Alberto Gonzales has longstanding ties to Mr. Bush, having served as his general counsel and secretary of state in Austin. Previously, he worked as an attorney with the Houston firm Vinson & Elkins, specializing in business law, mergers, and acquisitions.
The Bush team faces an uphill battle if it hopes to win over the Hispanic electorate. A late December poll by Zogby/Reuters found that more than half of the Hispanic respondents lacked confidence in the Bush presidency. Fifty-three percent viewed his presidency as "not legitimate" and "not the will of the people." And 75 percent said they believe the U.S. Supreme Court ruled according to the "political interests of the majority" rather than "the best interests of the nation" in the electoral endgame.
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