Seneca penned a comprehensive update on Latino appointments in the Obama administration last night with lots of detail, but today we learned that Congresswoman Hilda Solis (D-CA) has been nominated for the Secretary of Labor post. Hilda Solis has been a strong advocate of organized labor, and upon hearing this news, Eliseo Medina, the International Executive VP of SEIU, offered this about the congresswoman from CA, “She has been a true workers champion in California. There could not be a better choice.” SEIU, one of the more prominent unions, and advocates for Janitors for Justice, also offered this statement today. Solis is the daughter of Mexican union shop steward and a Nicaraguan assemblyline worker, so she definitely has blue collar credentials.
Here is Seneca’s update:
As Obama goes into home stretch just before the holidays on his first tier appointments, which include the Cabinet, top White House Staff and a few other lesser appointments, it looks like Latinos will now have three Cabinet slots: Commerce (Richardson) , Interior (Salazar), and Labor (Solis), two White House upper middle selections Cecilia Munoz (Inter Government Affairs) and Louis Caldera (White House Military Office). Rep. Becerra is not accepting USTR. Mayor Manny Diaz of Miami is now apparently out of the running for Transportation. Rep. Grijalva lost out on Interior, but another Latino Sen. Salazar was named. Now it remains to be seen if this only Mexican-American US Senator will be replaced by his brother in Congress, John Salazar. With Mel Martinez (R) leaving after one term from Florida and if no Latino replaces Salazar in the Senate, then Bob Menendez (D-NJ) may be the only Latino (Cuban American) US Senator after 2010.
Congress will see in 2009 at least one more Latino Congressman, Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM). Also the newly elected Connecticut Democrat Jim Himes defeated the last remaining GOP Congressman from New England, Chris Shays. Himes, who is Peruvian born to white American parents and grew up in Lima and Colombia, speaks fluent Spanish. But will he join the Congressional Hispanic Caucus? If he does, he will be the first Rhodes scholar in the Caucus.
In the next Congress the Cuban-Americans will retain their six people in Congress: Sen Menendez (D) and Sen Martinez (R), two GOP Diaz Balart brothers (Mario and Lincoln) and Ileana Ros Lehtenin (R) from Florida and Albino Sires (D) from New Jersey who replaced Menendez in the House. The three Democrat Puerto Ricans will remain unchanged in numbers: Jose Serrano and Nydia Velazquez from New York and Luis Gutierrez of Illinois. The Mexican-Americans will have 17 members with New Mexican Lujan’s election. Texas has Democrats Hinojosa, Ortiz, Gonzalez, Rodriguez, Cuellar and Reyes, add Arizona’s Democrats Pastor and Grijalva and California’s Democrats Roybal, Napolitano, Becerra, Baca and two sisters Loretta and Linda Sanchez and Colorado’s Rep. John Salazar and his brother soon to be Secretary of Interior, US Senator Ken Salazar. Now we have to wonder who will replace Hilda Solis. It looks like CA State Senator Gloria Romero is interested in the seat. The current national grand total is three Latino US Senators and 23 Latino Congress-persons (House) plus ‘honorary’ Hispanic Caucus members Reps Costa and Cardoza. Unfortunately, the four Cuban GOP members and the two Sanchez sisters are not members of the Hispanic Caucus (see Joe Baca’s name calling, but it looks like the Sanchez sisters will rejoin now that Nydia Velazquez is the chair of CHC), another painful indication of the Latino lack of unity and penchant for squabbles.
The Obama sub-cabinet (Deputy Secretaries, Under Secretaries, Assistant Secretaries, members of powerful federal regulatory agencies and some other independent agencies) basically all the Presidential Appointments with Senate Confirmation (PAS) will be closely monitored. Obama will have the opportunity to name the first Latino to the ultimate Uber-independent regulatory agency: the Federal Reserve Board in Washington. Also, the possible opening of a seat on the Supreme Court thus enabling Obama to name the first Latino to that August body. Meanwhile all eyes in the Latino community will be on the rest of the Obama PAS appointments. The primary focus will be in the Education, Health, Labor and immigration areas. Also will the Congressional Hispanic Caucus get to ‘vet’ or at least meet as a whole with the nominees for Homeland Security (Secretary) and its two (Under Secretaries) Latino key component agencies: Immigration (CIS) and Immigration Enforcement (ICE)? And will the CHC get to vet the Health, Education, Justice and Labor nominees for Secretaries? And will the CHC be consulted regarding the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere, the nominee for US Ambassador to Mexico, the OAS Ambassador, Special Envoys and others?
Latino advocacy groups should ensure that these nominees address their NGO groups and appear before the Congressional Hispanic Caucus members and staff to review the Hispanic agenda (if one can be agreed upon) and provide ‘top cover’ to the Latino appointees and Latino career personnel be moved upwards. One expectation, which should be conveyed to the senior Latino appointees (Cabinet), is that they should periodically gather the senior Latino PAS appointees and other identifiable high fly-er Latino appointees and career types i.e. diplomats and senior civil service (SES). Latino numbers among military General/Flag rank officers should be reviewed to provide interest and top cover in the DoD selection and promotion process. Also the process of gathering Latinos federal movers and shakers is to ensure that it helps tremendously to improve the Latino esprit de corps among the Hispanic federal work force as well as the appointee group. The national Hispanic issues agenda should be reviewed, promoted, changed or modified as needed and addressed publicly whenever required. Immigration, for instance, will most likely not be addressed in the first year or two of the new Administration because of the high political costs. Obama will need to preserve his ‘going-in political capital’ for the most urgent national needs: the economy and extracting ourselves out of the quagmire of Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Yet, the fact that Latinos are over 60% of the undocumented immigrants in the US, which is a reality and requires attention especially in an alarmingly declining economic situation, could provoke an ugly and contentious anti-Latino backlash from the US body politic. This tangle’s remedy cannot be postponed indefinitely. To avoid or duck the immigration challenge would be highly irresponsible.
Forceful leadership at the highest level of the Executive and the Congress will be indispensable for an inevitable Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR). In sum, Obama has his work cut out. The expectations are high within the whole Latino agenda. Hence, the appointments and social/economic issues will be paramount. The challenge for the Latino community is to wisely articulate its expectations, its needs, and its vision of the role of the Latino population in the out years. This will require unity of purpose, focus, constant reminders to the Administration, public commentary and provide top cover to Latino public servants, similarly judicious cooperation and coordination with Latino advocacy groups are necessary to address the Latino community’s needs and the hurdles posed. Lastly, the palpable tomfoolery among some of our Latino Congress people is readily viewed as a lack of seriousness. The recent antics of the Sanchez Sisters, Joe Baca and former California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez’s madcap caper are dreadful examples…por lo tanto veremos!
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Ron Edmonds, Hilda Solis at DNC 08/27/08