Obama Naming Hispanics to Top Posts at Record Pace

Laura Wides-Munoz, Buffalo News, December 21, 2009

President Barack Obama is on track to name more Hispanics to top posts than any of his predecessors, drawing appointees from a wide range of the nation’s Latino communities, including Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans and Colombians.

That won’t necessarily give the president a free pass on issues such as immigration, but it may ease Hispanics’ worries about whether Obama will continue reaching out to a group that was key to his winning the White House.

{snip} In less than a year in office, the president has also tapped at least 48 other Hispanics to positions senior enough to require Senate confirmation. So far, 35 have been approved.

That compares with a total of 30 approved under Bill Clinton and 34 under George W. Bush during their first 20 months in office, according to U.S. Office of Personnel Management data.

The personnel office does not track appointments of judges or ambassadors. Early indicators suggest Obama is naming many Hispanics to those positions as well, though he has been slow to appoint judges in general.

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In some ways, Obama is simply following his predecessor’s example. Until the Obama administration, Bush’s Cabinet was widely considered the most ethnically diverse in U.S. history, with Hispanics serving as secretaries of commerce and housing and as attorney general. Less than half of Obama’s Cabinet consists of white men.

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About half of Obama’s picks trace their roots to Mexico and the former Spanish holdings in the Southwest, not surprising since two-thirds of Hispanics in the U.S. identify themselves as Mexican-American. But the administration also includes about half a dozen people of South American descent and nearly a dozen Hispanics from the Caribbean.

Oddly, that geographic and international diversity may come in part from Obama’s lack of experience in working with Hispanics, said Matt Barreto, an associate professor at the University of Washington who studies Latino politics.

Bush had a long history of working with Mexican-Americans in Texas and had family and political connections to the Republican-leaning Cuban-American community in Florida. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Obama’s chief opponent during the primaries, had strong support from the Democratic Hispanic leadership in heavily Mexican-American Texas and California, and to some extent Florida. Obama didn’t have those ties.

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More than half of the appointees hold an Ivy League degree, and more than a quarter, like the president, have a diploma from Harvard, an Associated Press review found.

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