News Column

Hispanics in Obama's Cabinet Need Not Stop with Richardson

Nov. 21, 2008


Hispanic Candidates, hispanic politicians, barack obama, obama administration, obama cabinet

The transition team of President-elect Barack Obama is breaking records with the rapid-fire rate in which it is announcing high-level cabinet appointments. Today's reports suggest New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is in line to be selected as the next Secretary of Commerce. That appointment however does not exhaust the list of desirable Hispanic cabinet secretaries, say leading Hispanic political organizations.

Lydia Camarillo, vice-president of Southwest Voter Registration Education Project (SVREP), noted the swift work of the Obama transition team. She thinks the team might complete all its appointments even by the early date of mid-December. Today's multiple reports certainly support that.

Organizations like the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project (SVREP), the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO), the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA) and the National Latino Congreso are all seriously involved in finding, vetting and promoting Latino talent for the Obama cabinet.

The appointment of Richardson shows those efforts have already paid off. One of the main supporters of Richardson was the NHLA, which is composed of 26 national Latino organizations, including the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

NHLA issued a letter on Nov. 10 endorsing Governor Richardson for the post of Secretary of State. The letter said, "No one is more qualified to serve as our country's chief diplomat than Gov. Bill Richardson." It also detailed a host of accomplishments by the former governor, including "helping to free hostages North Korea, Iraq, and Cuba" and negotiating a peaceful transition of power in the Congo.

The campaign for Richardson for Secretary of State, however, faltered when Sen. Hillary Clinton emerged as the front-runner for that cabinet post. The list of viable Hispanic cabinet appointees, however, doesn't end with Richardson. And, in any case, Hispanic organizations expect more. Rosalind Gold, senior director of policy, research, and advocacy for NALEO, said the level of Hispanic representation achieved in the Clinton and Bush administrations are "just a benchmark."

Lydia Camarillo, vice-president of the SVREP, says the pool of talented, skilled and experienced Hispanic candidates for cabinet positions is deep. SVREP, however, is also looking for those candidates who have an ongoing relationship with the Hispanic community, care about it, and wish to serve it. She mentioned President Clinton's former cabinet members Federico Pena and Henry Cisneros as examples.

"There are a lot of names being floated around," Ms. Camarillo said. Among the possibilities she mentioned were Fabian Nunez, former Speaker of the California State Assembly, as a possible candidate for Secretary of Transportation; and Congresswoman Linda Sanchez as a good candidate for Secretary of Labor. She also mentioned Congresswoman Hilda Solis for the Environmental Protection Agency; and Texas Assemblyman Juan Garcia as a good contender for Secretary of the Navy.

Ms. Gold also mentioned Los Angles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa as a viable contender for the Department of Labor. For the Secretary of Housing and Urban development, she saw a handful of Hispanic officials as possessing superior qualifications. She included Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, and former HUD officials Saul Ramirez and Nelson Diaz.

Ms. Gold further noted that NALEO believes the Obama administration, "not only needs to look widely, it also needs to look deep." Much important policy and leadership work occurs below the cabinet level. So, for the transition team, the priority should not just be on a few Hispanic leaders at the top, but "all the way down to the undersecretaries, the deputy assistants and the White House staff as well."

Certain positions too, Ms. Gold, said were especially key to NALEO mission of political empowerment of Hispanics. She pointed to the policy posts with the Census Bureau and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigrations Services.

Source: (c) 2008. All rights reserved.

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