Secretary Hilda Solís’ resignation announcement yesterday was significant on two levels. One is the impact her resignation has on the Department and her next steps. But her resignation also immediately brought up the question of diversity in President Obama’s cabinet; Solís was one of two Latinos, the other being Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. All of President Obama’s recent high-profile nominations for the next term- Chuck Hagel for Defense Secretary, Jacob Lew for Treasury, and John Brennan for CIA Director – are white men.
Latinos such as Liz Lopez, a Democratic political strategist and Washington, D.C.-based attorney, says diversity in the President’s Cabinet and inner circles is a necessary goal.
“The voters who re-elected President Obama were amazingly diverse, and the Cabinet should reflect that, the way it was reflected in his first Cabinet four years ago.”
Lopez says an example of the real-world value of diversity is what Secretary Solis achieved at the Labor Department. ”Secretary Solis elevated the position of the Women’s Bureau at the Department of Labor, and she put people in key positions who will continue to do good work,” says Lopez. “For example, she was very outspoken about women’s pay disparities, and she was able to lead those conversations,” says Lopez.
Juan Sepulveda, a Senior Advisor to the Democratic National Committee who formerly headed the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, says he is confident the Obama administration will continue the diversity which was reflected in the first term.
“Though the media’s focus has been on President Obama’s recent picks, I tell folks we have to look at the overall picture,” says Sepulveda. “For the first time in presidential history, over 10 percent of President Obama’s Senate-confirmed political appointees are Latino, and out of those, half are women,” Sepulveda says.
Arizona State University political scientist Rodolfo Espino says it is understandable that voters and political observers would want to see Latinos, women and other groups represented in high-level positions in the administration. ”There are certain things about experience and upbringing you can’t quantify,” says Espino. “For example, Secretary Solis grew up in East L.A.; that’s an experience others in the Cabinet would not have, and while we were not privy to her conversations, a voter can assume her perspective would come up in discussions,” he explains.
For many Latino voters and groups, President Obama’s second term is a time of high expectations. Passing comprehensive immigration reform, expanding education funding and health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act, as well as bringing down the Latino unemployment rate are all seen as priorities.
“A diverse cabinet really has consequences,” says Mexican-American political scientist Allert Brown-Gort, a faculty fellow at the Kellogg Institute for International Studies at the University of Notre Dame. ”Corporate America realized a diverse management allowed them to make the sort of decisions that helped expand their businesses, and the same applies to government,” he says. The issue, especially for Democrats, is to “focus on a thoughtful approach to fostering the next generation of minority leaders – you have to keep the pipeline moving,” he says.
DNC’s Juan Sepulveda says talk of whether the new Administration’s top-level officials are not diverse enough is too premature. “We are also going through the beginning stages; we’re only getting started,” says Sepulveda.