Image: Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar
The Secretary of the Interior announced this week that he will leave his cabinet-level post in March. Ken Salazar’s declaration came approximately a week after Hilda Solís’ announced departure from the Department of Labor, and with it the Obama administration was left without a single high-ranking Latino member.
We know from our interview of Solís in May of 2011, that she was disposed to stay in her post as long as Obama wanted her to be. “It is something he will have to decide,” she said in her roundtable interview with AL DÍA. Politico is quoting Salazar as having said much the same. It is clear — no matter the careful wording of their resignations — that their departures are part of a shift in the administration.
If Obama’s second term is to be characterized this early by the nominations he’s made, it is to be one that moves from diversity to dominant mainstream. Secretary of Treasury Jack Lew, CIA director John Brennan, and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, in addition to the perceived frontrunner for Secretary of State John Kerry, are all white men.
It leaves Latinos in a pickle. Since our strong showing in the reelection of the president, we’ve been telling ourselves we are a political force to be reckoned with. We’re feeling our oats. But in the speculation that followed Solís’ departure one thing has become abundantly clear: there is a lack of Latino Democratic political leadership at the level from which these selections are to be made. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is one of the people Angelo Falcon of the National Institute for Latino Policy posits as a possibility for a cabinet post. And Villaraigosa himself seems to be aware he’s one of the enviable few — he’s become more vocal at a national level since Solís announced her departure.
San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro has been on AL DIA’s radar for some time, and his recent “primetime” stint at the Democratic National Convention has given him national name value. But who else? There are no Democratic Latino governors to tap, and nine of the 25 Latino Democrats in the House of Representatives (where Obama went for Solís and Salazar in his first term) are brand new.
There are cabinet vacancies in Commerce, EPA, Office of Management and Budget, White House Chief of Staff, and potential vacancies in Energy and the United States Trade Representative. Guess how many of the names being floated for each of those positions is Latino? Zero. Not a single one.
We are getting the glare off the shiny, hard glass ceiling for Latinos in American politics.
If we end up with a second term administration with no Latinos at cabinet level we will have to face the ugly fact that while we might talk about electing a Latino president in the near future, we have no one positioned for it.
And, we have to take some share of the blame in that. When we survey the regional and local political scene at that mid-level which should feed that national level, all too often we see Latino politicians involved in internecine squabbling. Young Latinos elected as representatives of our communities don’t even get sworn-in before the accusations of not being the “right” kind of Latino, or not having “paid their dues” are levied against them. In Philadelphia, an entrenched parochialism renders it nearly impossible for fresh political voices to make themselves heard.
This is not unique to Latinos, of course, but we are uniquely positioned to address it in our own ranks.
In this we could do worse than to take a look at the GOP. Yes, that GOP —the one 71 percent of us didn’t vote for in the past election. But ... it is a party of young rising stars like the Republican National Committee’s Bettina Inclán; of a solid group of Latino senators, representatives, former senators and governors; and, in some states at least, a party of astute Latinos committed to developing local talent.
For example, in Texas an organization of Hispanic Republicans has made it its business to recruit, train and fund Latino candidates for political positions ranging from justice of the peace to the state’s Supreme Court. The organization has done everything from bringing in consultants to coach first timers on public relations issues to providing help in setting up campaigns.
It is at this level of engagement and development we need to work to see viable and strong Democratic and Republican Latino political leaders emerge from the local and regional ranks to the national one.
Otherwise, that political glass ceiling will always be too high for us to break through, and the only cabinets we’ll be looking at are the ones in our kitchens.
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