Fourteen years after becoming the first Hispanic woman elected to the California senate,
Hilda Solis made history again on Tuesday, becoming the first Hispanic woman to be named the United States Secretary of Labor.
The Senate confirmed appointment of the 44-year-old California Democratic Congresswoman on Tuesday afternoon, putting an end to the two months of debate that followed her nomination by President Obama.
The daughter of a Teamsters shop steward, Solis's strong union ties seem to stand in stark contrast to the background of her predecessor, Bush-appointee Elaine Lan Chao, wife of U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky), and herself the department's first female Asian-American leader.
Ms. Chao's relationship with unions was rocky, and her eight-year tenure was characterized by high turnover among her staff, as well as the accusation that she used taxpayer funds to campaign for Republican candidates, according to the United States House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Solis's appointment means President Obama will have two Hispanics serving on his cabinet – as did both of his predecessors. The other, Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar, was approved in January.
Solis's political career began in 1985, when she was elected to serve on the Rio Honda Community College of Trustees. In 1994, after a two-year stint with the California State Assembly, she became the first Hispanic woman elected to the California Senate. In that capacity, she spearheaded the drive to raise the state's minimum wage from $4.25 to $5.75 in 1996.
A lifetime resident of the agricultural-turned-suburban area of the San Gabriel Valley, she is the daughter of immigrants who met in citizenship class.
Her father, an immigrant from Mexico, came to work in the battery recycling plant in the city of Industry. There, he organized for the Teamsters, fighting to improve the health-care benefits for employees. Her mother, an immigrant from Nicaragua, was a member of the United Rubber Workers union while working for 22 years on the assembly line for Mattel Inc.
On the heels of Solis's nomination, some Republicans threatened a filibuster, citing concerns that she was unresponsive to their concerns, and too union friendly. Also, at one point her confirmation was jeopardized by her husband's tax troubles. Sam Sayyad, who runs an auto shop, recently paid about $6,400 to the government to settle a tax lien for his business stemming from 1993.
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