Date: Fri, 26 Dec 2008 13:31:48 -0500
Subject: Obama's cabinet gives Latinos reason to cheer
Obama's cabinet gives Latinos reason to cheer
By Ed Morales,
The Progressive (December 22, 2008)
President-elect Barack Obama deserves praise from Latinos for constructing a diverse cabinet.
The announcement of U.S. Representative Hilda Solís (D, CA) as Secretary of Labor last week went a long way toward satisfying the Latino community's desire to wield political clout in this country. The daughter of union workers, a defender of the Employee Free Choice Act and a leading proponent of green jobs, she will be a welcome face in that department at a time when labor hopes to regain some power.
Early on, when Obama named New Mexico governor Bill Richardson secretary of commerce, Latino political leaders were pleased, but as other cabinet positions were given out, they felt shut out. Latino votes were key to
Obama's election victory, particularly in the Southwest and Florida.
The naming of Solís, as well as Colorado senator Ken Salazar as secretary of the interior, seems to have smoothed things over.
The elevation of mainstream Democrats who happen to be Latino to the cabinet is a welcome contrast to Bush's choice of Alberto Gonzales for attorney general. Gonzales was out of touch with the Latino community, while Solis, Richardson and Salazar are much more representative.
But there is a downside to these appointments.
First, all three come from the West, which slights the large Northeastern and South Florida constituencies that turned out in great numbers for Obama.
Second, the departures of Salazar and Solís from the Senate and House draw attention to the grim reality that Latinos, as well as other minorities, are vastly underrepresented in Congress. Latinos, who make up 14.7 percent of the U.S. population, hold only 5 percent of the seats in the current Congress. We can't afford to let that shrink.
And it remains to be seen what the cumulative impact of the incoming Obama administration will be on the Latino community.
Labor activists are concerned with Obama's pick of Dallas mayor Ron Kirk, a NAFTA proponent, as U.S. Trade Representative
Eric Holder, Obama's pick for attorney general, also worries Latino labor leaders, since Holder represented Chiquita, which has a notorious record of labor repression in Latin America.
But Obama's cabinet, featuring five women, four blacks, three Latinos and two Asians, is the most diverse ever.
This is the kind of historical change voters had hoped for, and on that level, Obama has delivered on his promise.
Ed Morales is a contributor to the New York Times and Newsday and is the author of "Living in Spanglish" (St. Martin's Press, 2002). He can be reached at email@example.com.
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