News Column

Power and Influence on the Hill

March 2005, HISPANIC BUSINESS Magazine

Patricia Guadalupe

Alberto Gonzales

ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: The contentious U.S. Senate confirmation last month of White House counsel Alberto Gonzales to U.S. Attorney General – the first Hispanic to hold the nation's top law enforcement position – also saw the first Hispanic senators in 30 years taking key roles. The 60-36 favorable vote came after a Senate floor discussion that focused mainly on Mr. Gonzales' role in crafting U.S. policy on the treatment of enemy combatants. Democrats had claimed he was not forthcoming in answering questions, while Republicans argued that Mr. Gonzales had become an unfair target of legislators opposed to President Bush. Freshman Sen. Mel Martínez (R-Fla.) broke tradition by speaking in Spanish during the floor debate, saying, "I am disappointed that his nomination has fallen into a partisan attack. There has never been a Hispanic head at Defense, State, Treasury, or Justice, the four key Cabinet positions, and to be the first Hispanic attorney general is an incredible accomplishment and great progress for Hispanic Americans and one that should not be blocked by partisan politics." The other freshman Hispanic Senator, Ken Salazar (D-Colo.), was one of just six Democrats who gave his nod to Mr. Gonzales. Sen. Salazar, who had introduced Mr. Gonzales at a January Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing, said that the former Texas Supreme Court judge was "a good man" and that Gonzales had given the senator a written commitment to "fight" for civil rights. Most national Hispanic groups, including the National Council of La Raza and the League of United Latin American Citizens, supported the nomination. One notable exception was the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which said it had serious reservations about the Harvard Law School graduate, among them the enemy combatants issue and whether he would be sufficiently independent in matters concerning previous advice given to the president.

ON THE WATCH LIST: Speaking of Senator Salazar, he has been identified by the Associated Press as one of the "10 Rising Stars to Watch" in the 109th Congress. "For a primer on winning elections in GOP-leaning states, Democrats need look no further than Salazar's November victory," the AP said, adding, "Sporting a cowboy hat and boots, Salazar campaigned on the themes of traditional values and faith while criticizing Bush on Iraq and tax cuts for the rich." Senator Salazar was the only Hispanic legislator to make the list.

GUTIERREZ CONFIRMED: Former Kellogg CEO Carlos Gutierrez was recently confirmed by voice vote in the U.S. Senate to become the first Hispanic ever to lead the U.S. Commerce Department. Mr. Gutierrez becomes the only member of the Bush Cabinet to lack a college degree, an issue that surfaced during hearings before the Senate Commerce Committee. Committee member Senator Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) said he would support Mr. Gutierrez but noted that in his 42 years in the Senate, he had never spoken to a nominee for such a high-ranking post – one that required "significant technical knowledge" – who lacked a college degree. Mr. Gutierrez studied at Mexico's Monterrey Institute of Technology but never earned a degree.

NEW POLICY FIRM: The Washington-based lobbying firm The Raben Group has established a new division, LATINStrategies, to focus on the largely untapped market of Hispanic political strategies. "Washington is well-known for lobbying firms … but there is no policy firm that provides strategy, media relations, and legislative guidance on the Hispanic community," LATINStrategies' Estuardo Rodriguez told Hispanic Business. Mr. Rodriguez, who serves as the group's counsel on media and communications, is a former attorney with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and previously worked with MAYA Advertising, a Hispanic marketing company based in Washington.


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