Bill Richardson’s withdrawal from his commerce secretary nomination Sunday didn’t just leave a major gap in the new administration, but it also sorely disappointed Latinos who view the New Mexico governor as their most prominent representative.
“We are hugely disappointed. It’s a stunned community out there,” said Janet Murguía, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States.
“He is a very well-recognized leader not just in the Latino community but in this country and he has a long record of public service,” she said.
Yet many Latino bloggers and activists openly grumbled that the president-elect should have given Richardson an even more prominent post in the administration, namely secretary of state.
“Secretary of commerce equals ‘Where we stick Latinos to say we’re diverse,’” one prominent Latino blog declared in December.
But with Richardson stepping aside from consideration for commerce secretary amid an ethics investigation relating to a company that has done business with his state, only two Latinos are now set to serve in the new Cabinet: Labor secretary-designate Hilda Solis and Interior secretary-designate Ken Salazar, neither of which, some critics have argued, will hold a prominent Cabinet post.
The prospect of having only two Latinos on Obama’s Cabinet riles some members of the Hispanic community who say their support of Obama was crucial to his success on Election Day
“It’s disappointing at least for now that this administration doesn’t have three Latinos as members of its Cabinet,” said Arturo Vargas, the executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.
Exit polls on Election Day show Obama, a Democrat, won the Latino vote by more than 2-1 over Republican Sen. John McCain. Latinos’ support of Obama was significantly greater than their support of the 2004 Democratic nominee, John Kerry, who that year won the Latino vote by only 9 percentage points over Bush.
Obama’s support among Latinos especially made a difference in a string of tossup states—including New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada and Florida—and Latino leaders had hoped the support would translate to several high-profile posts in the new administration.
“President-elect Barack Obama owes Latinos much more than three Cabinet positions. That’s just a beginning of the kind of inclusion, involvement and engagement that his entire presidency has to have with Latinos,” Arturo said.
“We do think another Latino should replace Mr. Richardson,” Murguía of NCLR said. “It’s not out of a sense of entitlement, it’s really out of sense of historic precedent. President-elect Obama was ushered into office by a wide diverse coalition of different voters. There is a strong sense of pride among Latino voters that they played a special role.”
Obama transition officials say the president-elect has already set a record for the number of Hispanics appointed to White House posts and discount criticisms the Latino community is getting slighted.
But even as prominent Hispanic leaders publicly call for the president-elect to replace Richardson with another Latino appointee, not all Latinos necessarily feel the same way.