When New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson withdrew from the nomination process for President-elect Barack Obama's choice for Secretary of Commerce, the abrupt decision sent shock waves throughout the Hispanic political community. Many expressed regret and sadness for this detour in Richardson's career of public service. Leading Latino organizations, however, are reacting by gearing up to promote other qualified Hispanic leaders as a replacement for this powerful Cabinet post.
"We are very disappointed, but we do believe that Bill Richardson is being very noble and doing the right thing," said Brent A. Wilkes, executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). According to Mr. Wilkes, Richardson did not want to entangle the President-elect in what could have turned into a lengthy and contentious confirmation process.
"We think the world of Gov. Richardson. He's a tremendous star for the Latino community, and we are very confident that he will be able to clear his name in short order. This is not the end of his career, but a little 'hiccup.'"
Bloggers across the nation had conflicting opinions on Richardson's withdrawal and ethics probe. Was this merely a small bump in the road for the governor's career, or did it indicated underlying problem? The blog Crooks and Liars declared that Gov. Richardson has always had an aroma of corruption. "I know that scent well, and it always made me leery."
Geoffrey Dunn at the Huffington Post was even harsher in judging Richardson. He wrote, "Richardson's penchant for lying and unsavory associations has finally caught up to him."
In contrast, La Opinion said, "With Richardson's withdrawal, we lose an experienced voice in governmental affairs, a supporter of trade, and a major political figure who self-identified as a bridge between the next government and Latin America."
With Richardson gone, where do leading Hispanic organizations stand on Hispanic representation in the Obama Cabinet?
"We are disappointed but we are moving on," Mr. Wilkes said. However, "we are not ready to be disappointed that we lost a Latino appointment." Three Latino appointments to the Cabinet, Mr. Wilke noted, would still be "historic."
Lydia Camarillo, vice-president of Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project too stated that her organization, in conjunction with National Latino Congress, are urging President-elect Obama to nominate another Hispanic, "so that Latinos can celebrate a third Cabinet post." At times, in the Cabinet of President George W. Bush, there were two Hispanic members. But in Obama's administration, Ms. Camarillo said, "We hope to stay at three."
LULAC is already fielding a list of viable candidates for the Commerce post, confirming their interest in serving and then sharing those names with the Obama transition team.
"Probably at the top of the list," Mr. Wilkes said," would be Federico Pena." Mr. Wilkes said the former Cabinet secretary under President Bill Clinton possesses the ideal skill set for the secretary post, but also he has a "great relationship with President-elect Obama. He is the favorite to take this position if he wants it."
Demonstrating the depth of the pool of Latino talent, Mr. Wilkes mentioned many more potential nominees for the Cabinet position. "Great candidates who we know are interested" include Gilbert Casellas, the former chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and now vice-president at Dell Computer. Mr. Casellas has "that corporate government experience we know they are looking for." Another worthy choice would be George Munoz, a former Clinton appointee who oversaw the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC),
LULAC is still checking if other qualified Hispanic are interested in the Cabinet post. They are in communication with Rep. Xavier Beccera (D-Calif.), who already declined the nomination as U.S. Trade Representative. But, as Mr. Wilkes notes, the position of Secretary of Commerce has a "much greater profile" and thus might be tempting for a man of Mr. Beccera's abilities.
Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), who chairs the House Small Business Committee, could also function well in the position of secretary. Mr. Wilkes added the name of Maria Contreras-Sweet, who was secretary of business, transportation and housing under California governor Gray Davis and currently serves as chairwoman of Promï¿½rica Bank.
Ms. Camarillo also noted Southwest Voters' conversations with the Obama transition team on possible replacements for Gov. Richardson. "Southwest Voter and National Congresso have already submitted several names." Ms. Camarillo included on her list of viable candidates Congressman Becerra, Congresswoman Velazquez, and Mr. Casellas.
We've had a very good conversation with the transition team and are very confident," she stated.
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