Lawmakers urge Obama to keep diversity vow

Richardson picked as commerce head

Globe Staff And Associated Press / December 4, 2008
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Bill Richardson, announced yesterday as the nation's next commerce secretary, became the first Latino nominated for President-elect Barack Obama's Cabinet.

Hispanic lawmakers are serving notice to Obama that they don't want Richardson to be the last.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus delivered a letter Tuesday to Obama's transition office recommending a slate of 14 Hispanics for the remaining eight Cabinet slots. "We understand that the incoming administration will have a vast pool of talent from which to choose," the letter said. "The individuals we have endorsed constitute the best talent while reflecting the diversity that is so valued by President-elect Obama."

The group's chairman, Representative Joe Baca of California, warned that Obama's agenda could be jeopardized if he doesn't nominate more Latinos. "If it's just one, he's going to have to answer to a lot of the issues that come before us," Baca told Bloomberg.

Asked about the commerce post being a consolation prize for Richardson, who was also thought to be in the running for secretary of state, and for Latinos generally, Obama replied that "commerce secretary is a pretty good job" and that Richardson was the best person for it.

In a Chicago news conference, Obama also noted that he has only appointed half of his Cabinet and only some of his White House staff. When he's finished, he said, "I think people are going to say, 'This is one of the most diverse Cabinets and White House staffs of all time.' "

"There's no contradiction between diversity and excellence," Obama added.

There were reports yesterday that Representative Xavier Becerra, a California Democrat, has emerged as a leading contender to become US trade representative. Becerra, a proponent of labor protections in free trade pacts, has been in Congress since 1993 and is on the House Ways and Means Committee.

Despite concerns that Hispanic voters would be skittish about supporting a black candidate, Obama did well among them, winning 67 percent nationally, according to exit polls. Latinos helped him win several Western states, including Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico - part of his success in making inroads into Republican territory.

Richardson, 61, the governor of New Mexico, served in the Clinton administration as energy secretary and ambassador to the United Nations. But after he dropped out of the Democratic nomination fight, he endorsed Obama.

Obama called Richardson another key member of his economic team, who shares his values, who has seen from every angle how the economy works, and who has a record in New Mexico of creating green energy jobs. Richardson, the president-elect said, "is uniquely suited for this role as a leading economic diplomat for America."

And Obama said that with each passing day, the economic team's task becomes more urgent. He cited news that the nation has been in recession since December 2007 and that manufacturing output has plummeted to a quarter-century low.

Richardson said the Commerce Department has a "vital role" in the economic recovery and vowed that America will return to the forefront of technological innovation and that he will restore its strength in manufacturing. If confirmed by the Senate, he would take over a sprawling department that oversees the National Weather Service, the Census Bureau, and economic development programs.

Speaking in Spanish to thank Latinos for supporting him and Obama, Richardson noted that he is the third former competitor for the Democratic nomination - after Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton - to join Obama's administration.

"There are some who speak of a team of rivals," Richardson said. "But I've never seen it that way. Past competitors, yes. But rivals implies something harder edged and less forgiving. And in the worlds of diplomacy and commerce, you open markets and minds not with rivalry but instead with partnership and innovation and hard work."

In a new poll released yesterday, 88 percent of respondents said while Obama has appointed former rivals, it is likely that his Cabinet will be able to work together for a single set of goals and policies.

The CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey found widespread support for Obama's Cabinet picks - 75 percent support them as a group..

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