Hispanics Flex Political Muscle for Choice Obama Appointments

Hispanic advocacy groups are pressing hard to get President-elect Barack Obama to name unprecedented numbers of Hispanics to his administration.

Hispanics interested in working in the Obama administration will have a friendly face on the transition team to receive their résumés, starting Tuesday, when Tampa lawyer Frank Sanchez is expected to join.

Sanchez was Obama’s Latin American advisor and a national Hispanic finance chair during the campaign. He also served in the Clinton administration as chief of staff to the White House’s special envoy to the Americas and then as assistant secretary of transportation in charge of aviation and international affairs.

Sanchez’s name has surfaced for a potential White House job as well, according to a Democratic operative on Capitol Hill familiar with the key players.

Sanchez, whose placement on the transition team had not formally been announced at the time this story was written, declined comment. But top Hispanic advocates say that he has accepted a place on the team that will help select those who will work in the Obama Administration.

 

“He’ll be coming to D.C. and he’ll be on the transition staff, and so he’ll be able to do a lot of the leg work,” says Brent Wilkes, executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).

 

LULAC is one of 26 national Hispanic groups that will launch a Web site (www.nationalhispanicleadership.org) later this week that will offer advice to Hispanics interested in administration jobs. Site managers will also accept résumés that they will forward to Obama’s transition team.

Buoyed by an estimated 10 million Hispanic voters who overwhelmingly backed Obama in the Nov. 4 election, the organizations believe the historic turnout gives Hispanics their best shot at a larger share of appointments.

According to the Edison/Mitofsky exit polls, 67 percent of Hispanics voted for Obama, far more than the 53 percent that went for John Kerry in 2004. Kerry lost several key states with large Hispanic populations: Colorado, Florida, Nevada and New Mexico. Obama, who with the Democratic National Committee vowed to spend more than $20 million on voter outreach and Spanish-language ads fall, won all four with significantly lopsided help from Hispanic voters.

Clarissa Martinez, immigration director of the National Council of La Raza says that: “Latino voters definitely helped (Obama) achieve the presidency. Our hope is, given the significant role that Latinos had on his campaign, that he will have a diverse administration that truly reflects the face of America.”

Dr. Paul Light, a New York University professor who tracks presidential appointments, says he expects Obama will tap more Hispanics than prior administrations. Hispanics made up about 5 percent of Clinton’s appointees and 8 percent of George W. Bush’s appointments, he says.

“I think all of (Obama’s) numbers will go up in terms of diversity,” Light says. “I think he’s deeply committed to it, across all groups.”

 

Obama’s vow to spend $20 million on Hispanic outreach came after he met with Hillary Rodham Clinton and a number of her Hispanic supporters in her hard-fought primary against Obama. After Clinton conceded, Obama and former Denver mayor Frederico Peña met at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington with her and her Hispanic fundraisers, strategists and congressional backers, according to media reports and those who say they attended the meeting.

 

At the meeting, advisors reminded Obama of the importance of targeting Hispanics in battleground states, says Raul Yzaguirre, who helped Washington attorney Jose Villareal arrange the meeting. They also stressed the importance of Hispanic appointments if he won.

“We indicated the standard had been set by both Republican and Democratic administrations of having at least two in the cabinet and everybody expected that to be the floor,” says Yzaguirre, adding that the meeting “helped clear the air and heal the wounds” from the contentious primary battle.

Wilkes says LULAC is promoting Linda Chavez-Thompson, a former AFL-CIO vice president, as a Labor Secretary nominee. On Monday, the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda sent a letter to the transition team, urging Obama to nominate New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Mexican American, for secretary of state.

Richardson, like Peña, was a cabinet member in President Bill Clinton’s administration. Richardson served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and Energy Secretary under Clinton. Both endorsed Obama over Hillary Rodham Clinton’s run for president.

Dr. Juliet V. García, president of the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College, was added to Obama’s transition team as an adviser on education. So was Dr. Espiridion “Al” Borrego, director of public administration at the University of Texas-Pan American.

Peña reportedly nominated García, but declined to comment to Diverse.

“We’re very pleased that that has happened, because, in essence, she is a CEO of a Hispanic-serving institution in an area of the country where Hispanics continue to struggle day in and day out for access and success in higher education,” says Dr. Antonio Flores, president of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities.

Flores sent a letter to Obama Thursday, congratulating him on his win and recommending 14 Hispanic college or university leaders for potential cabinet- or sub-cabinet-level posts. García was among them.

Often, those tapped for the transition team are seen as potential appointees themselves in a new administration. In addition to Peña, García, Borrego and Sanchez, Obama’s transition team includes several other Hispanics:

Former Securities and Exchange Commission Commissioner Roel Campos is on Obama’s Transition Economic Advisory Board. So is Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Both names have surfaced as potential appointees, with Campos for treasury or the Securities and Exchange Commission, and Villaraigosa rumored as a potential pick for secretary of transportation, according to the Capitol Hill staffer who wanted to remain anonymous.

 

Rosalind Gold, senior director of policy research and advocacy for the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, is generally advocating for more Hispanic posts. But the group is particularly interested in the leaders who will be tapped for a couple of key positions that affect its members’ constituency.

“For the positions of director of [U.S.] Citizenship and Immigration Services or the Census Bureau (director), we’re going to be actively involved in making sure the right people get appointed to those positions,” Gold says.

Among the names being floated as a potential director for USCIS is Mariano-Florentino “Tino” Cuéllar, a Stanford law professor and senior adviser to the under-secretary for enforcement in the Clinton administration.

Another former Clinton administration official, Sarita Brown, who currently presides over Excelencia in Education, an organization that promotes higher education for Hispanics, says she’s not interested in a post this time around, but is very interested in seeing other Hispanics in posts that can promote educational success. Excelencia’s vice president for policy and research, Deborah Santiago, has been mentioned as a potential appointee in the Department of Education, according to the Capitol Hill source.

Brown says she will be proactive, just like other Hispanic advocacy groups.

“It’s imperative for those of us who are active in Latino organizations and institutions to do what they can to bring talent and readiness to serve to (Obama’s) attention,” Brown says. “This is not a time to be invited. This is a time for people to step up and step out.”

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