By James E. Garcia and Joel Russell
Given their strong turnout at the polls, many Hispanic groups – particularly Mexican Americans – expected a visible presence in the cabinet of President George W. Bush. Indeed, his first cabinet nominee was a Hispanic – Mel Martinez, a Cuban American from Florida, who serves as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development – but the appointment has some Hispanics feeling left out. With Mr. Bush’s vow of diverse representation, Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, Central Americans, and other Hispanic groups are wondering if they’ll have a voice in the nascent administration.
“At a time when you’re looking at a rapidly growing Latino population – growing not just in population but in political clout – I think you can’t help but be disappointed that, at least at first glance, there are going to be fewer Latinos at the highest levels of government than in the last three administrations,” says Charles Kamasaki of the National Council de La Raza (NCLR).
During his tenure as governor of Texas, Mr. Bush received support from many Mexican-American leaders, including prominent Democrat Tony Sanchez Jr. And according to the Bush campaign, several Mexican Americans gained a high profile on the fund-raising front, including Mr. Sanchez, former US WEST CEO Sol Trujillo, Raul Romero of S&B Infrastructure in Texas, and Hector Barreto, CEO of Barreto Insurance and Financial Services in Los Angeles and vice-chair of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC).
On the campaign trail, Mr. Bush repeatedly pledged to represent all Americans. Even though Democrat Al Gore defeated Mr. Bush by nearly a 2-to-1 margin among Hispanic voters, that number has Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Gilmore beaming. On the basis of historical trends, the GOP is making progress. Bob Dole, the 1996 Republican presidential candidate, received only 21 percent of the national Hispanic vote. In contrast, exit polls show that between 32 and 38 percent of Hispanics cast their ballots for Mr. Bush.
But neither votes nor money earned Mexican Americans a seat in the Bush cabinet. When Hispanics are compared to African Americans, the disparity between poll power and appointments shows. Less than 10 percent of African-American voters supported Mr. Bush, yet his cabinet includes two African Americans – Secretary of State Colin Powell and Secretary of Education Rod Paige.
Antonio Gonzalez, president of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, says Mexican-American voters favored Democrat Al Gore by a 2-to-1 ratio, Puerto Ricans by 3-to-1. “The only Latino constituency that supported [Mr. Bush] was the Cubans,” by what Mr. Gonzalez estimates at a 2-to-1 margin. “I don’t think anyone can say Mexican Americans deserve a cabinet seat based on the polls,” he reasons, “although you can say that Latinos deserve a seat, and Mexican Americans represent the majority of Latinos.” In contrast, Republican pollster Sergio Bendixon’s Web site (www.HispanicTrends.com) claims Cuban-American support may have decided the national election by giving Mr. Bush an edge in Florida, lending a strong case to the Cuban-American lobby.
Rudolfo O. de la Garza, a professor of government at the University of Texas and director of research for the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute, believes Hispanic business owners occupy a special place in the debate. Most Hispanic advocacy groups and community leaders supported Democratic candidate Al Gore, so they don’t expect much from the Bush administration, according to Mr. de la Garza. Business owners, on the other hand, supported Mr. Bush. The USHCC and other Hispanic economic development groups and think tanks publicly endorsed Mr. Bush. In the words of Eli Rodriguez, president of Dallas-based Mexican American Advisory Organization, President Bush was seen as “supporting better education for our community and economic opportunities for our businesses.”
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