Richardson Withdraws From Obama Cabinet And Latino Representation Now Looks Slim

By Diego Graglia, FI2W web editor

Richardson and Obama.

Unless another Latino is nominated to be secretary of commerce, Bill Richardson’s exit will leave Latino cabinet representation in the Obama administration at the same level as the Clinton and Bush administrations.

The New Mexico Governor, and would-be highest-profile Latino politician in the incoming Obama administration, has withdrawn his name from consideration for the post of secretary of commerce, a position to which he had been nominated by the President-elect with considerable fanfare in early December.

Richardson stepped down because of uncertainty over the success of his confirmation process – uncertainty caused by a federal investigation into his administration’s dealings with a consulting firm that donated $100,000 to two of his political action committees.

While Richardson said he was confident he and his aides will be eventually cleared of any wrongdoing, he decided to withdraw from the Obama team to avoid delays in the confirmation process. He will stay on as governor of New Mexico.

Richardson — who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination before throwing his support to Obama (despite his longtime association with the Clintons) — apparently had expected to become Obama’s main Latino official, not only dealing with Commerce matters, but also helping improve the currently very cool U.S. relationship with Latin America.  He had also been mentioned as a candidate for secretary of state, and the naming of Hillary Clinton to that post instead caused discomfort in some Latino quarters.

Just two weeks ago, La Opinión columnist and FI2W contributor Pilar Marrero noted here that Obama has a “Latino problem,” namely that Latino leaders were not completely satisfied with their representation in the incoming cabinet. The latest news, made public on Sunday, can only increase the gap between the actual cabinet configuration and those leaders’ expectations.  As Marrero noted here, Latinos expected “at least 3 cabinet positions, because both Clinton and Bush had at least 2 Latinos in their cabinets at some point. Obama had to do better, critics said.”

“This is one of the most prominent Hispanic politicians in the country,” La Opinión, the Los Angeles newspaper, said today. “Now there would be only two Hispanics in the Obama government: Hilda Solís, San Gabriel Valley (California) congresswoman, and Ken Salazar, New Mexico senator, as secretaries of labor and the interior. Other nominations of Hispanics occur at a lowel governmental level.” Despite Richardson’s apparent confidence regarding the investigation, this would also be the first major blemish in a résumé that’s quite stellar, with legislative, executive and foreign affairs experience.

New York Spanish-language newspaper El Diario/La Prensa lamented Richardson’s announcement. In an editorial, it said it’s “disappointing that, at this moment, the next government and the nation will not be able to count on Richardson’s skill and experience.”

The paper encouraged Obama to name someone able for the job, while also sustaining his promise of “bringing diversity to the highest levels of his government.”

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