“The political irony of Obama’s situation has got to tickle Republicans,” writes Jill Lawrence at the National Journal in her spotlight of a new problem for Barack Obama in his second-term appointments. Lawrence says to forget about the lack of women in the new round of high-ranking nominees, and start looking at the dearth of Latinos. With Ken Salazar and Hilda Solis heading for the exits, what had been an issue for Obama even prior to the election may erupt into an open squabble on the Left:
“After Secretaries Solis and Salazar announced that they will be stepping down as the heads of their respective departments, our apprehension is amplified,” NHLA Chairman Hector Sanchez said in the follow-up. With a historic policy debate on immigration approaching, he wrote, “your Cabinet can ill-afford to not have the unique perspective and voice of high level Latino members. At this critical time our voices need to be amplified, not diminished.”
Obama named Sonia Sotomayor as the first Latina justice to the Supreme Court, and his domestic policy director is Cecilia Munoz. But that doesn’t cut much ice at this point with NHLA, which is suddenly much further away from its goal of seeing at least three Hispanic Cabinet members.
So what did the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda do to push Obama into appointing more Latinos to high-ranking positions? They, er, sent him a binder full of Hispanics:
Even before the latest developments, the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, a coalition of 30 large groups, was concerned about lack of Latino representation in the administration and told Obama so in a letter last November. The coalition sent the president another letter Wednesday, complete with 19 names for him to consider for his second-term Cabinet.
The problem, as Lawrence points out, is that Democrats are doing worse at promoting Latinos to elected office, where most Presidents would look for candidates to appoint:
[Republicans] may be having trouble winning the votes of minorities and women, but they are doing noticeably better than Democrats when it comes to diversity in the jobs that typically lead to bigger things. High on the GOP roster are two Hispanic senators (Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas) and two Hispanic governors (Brian Sandoval of Nevada and Susana Martinez of New Mexico).
Prominent Latinos in the Democratic fold include Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, Rep. Xavier Becerra of California, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Some are more feasible Cabinet prospects than others. Menendez, the only Hispanic Democrat in the Senate, is in line to become chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee within weeks or even days. Becerra was just elected chair of the House Democratic Caucus and is the only Latino in his party’s House leadership.
Richardson has corruption issues trailing him in New Mexico, which is why he had to bail out of his Commerce appointment four years ago. After that, Democrats have to start looking for mayors, like Villaraigosa, who has his own problems in LA, or Julian Castro, who spoke at the Democratic convention but is only 38 years old — perhaps a little young and inexperienced to take seriously as a Cabinet officer, but not so much as to completely discard him as a candidate. I’d expect Castro to get a call for one of these positions, but Castro would have to ask himself whether he wants to be a bureaucrat or pursue elected office to move up. Not too many Labor Secretaries get around to being President, but then again, not too many mayors do, either.
Like so much of the diversity box-checking, this is mostly a silly, political “scandal” that has little meaning for good government. However, this is the Democrats’ petard, and especially after the “binders full of women” campaign they ran in 2012, they deserve to get hoist with it.