President-elect Obama has not chosen any Hispanics is top cabinet post picks, including snubbing Governor Bill Richardson. Latino voters were instrumental in the new President's election. Not to mention that Richardson supported Obama during the primaries and was called a traitor for doing so. He proved his loyalty, not Hillary. Why is he ignoring them?
If there is one message President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team has broadcast about Cabinet picks, it is that ethnicity and gender will not be the first considerations when filling the slots.
Credentials over tokenism, after all, was a fundamental principle of Obama’s presidential campaign that highlighted his ideas and community values over his African-American background. Still, if all goes as planned, Cabinet members with hefty résumés will present a picture of diversity.
Hispanic political leaders agree. Their expectations for seats at the president’s top policy table are not about meeting quotas but about advancing the reality that within this fastest-growing ethnic group are seasoned policy experts who understand the economic, foreign and domestic policy concerns shared by everyone.
Obama promised hope and change, and Hispanics hoped for the usual two Latinos in the Cabinet. And heck, why not three or four? Now that would be a change.
But at this early stage in the appointments process, there is a trickle of disappointment running through the Latino community.
First, the most prominent Hispanic leader, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, lost the plum secretary of state assignment to New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Last spring, Richardson angered the Clintonistas by backing Obama over Clinton during the heated Democratic Primary contest, only to now see her being offered the top diplomatic post.
“There’s nobody more prepared and experienced” for the job than Richardson, said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. Richardson was energy secretary and ambassador to the United Nations during the Clinton administration, and he helped free hostages in North Korea, Iraq and Cuba.
Bush had more hispanic-Americans in his cabinet than Obama. How could the multi-cultural, inclusive Obama be less diverse than the Republican Bush?
If the president-elect fails to deliver, he and his Latino surrogates will be held accountable. If Obama doesn't at least match President Bush's good record of Latino appointments, they will have "problemas" explaining it to their own constituents.
Yet as more and more people are appointed -- or reported to be shoo-ins for various nominations -- the cards being drawn have only black and white faces. The brown-faced cards are not coming up.
In fact, the main card Latinos have in this game -- bearing the face of New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson -- has been switched.
Instead of secretary of state, which is the job Richardson is most qualified to fill and the high-level appointment Latinos expected from Obama, it looks as if Richardson will be relegated to commerce secretary.
Ironically, Sen. Hillary Clinton, the presidential candidate who enjoyed the most Hispanic support during the primaries, is now the leading candidate for the high-level job that could have gone to a Latino. Richardson, a former Cabinet member under President Clinton, was called a traitor for supporting Obama over Clinton during the Democratic primaries. Now it is Clinton who is getting the secretary of state position, the job Richardson wanted, and it is Latinos who still are waiting for the appointments they feel they earned on Election Day.
To do better than recent presidents, Obama would have to name a significant number of Latinos not only to his inner circle of White House advisers and his Cabinet but also throughout his administration. According to a Brookings Institution study, in 1993, 6 percent of President Clinton's initial round of appointments went to Latinos. In 2001, Latinos got 8 percent of President Bush's appointments.
In 2009 will Obama do better? He should! More Latinos voted for him than for any other president.
Of course, Obama himself helped to raise Latinos' expectations. "When I'm president, I'll be asking many of you to serve at every level of government," Obama said during a speech to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute in September.