President-Elect Barack Obama (heard of him yet?) today announced he will nominate Bill Richardson to head the Commerce Department. Richardson is currently the Governor of New Mexico (the one with all the flavor and half the calories) and was formerly a candidate for the Democratic nomination for President. Richardson–whose mother was Mexican and who was raised in Mexico City until he was 13–becomes the first Latino/Hispanic Commerce Secretary since, well, the last guy.
Obama’s announcement was expected, coming weeks after leaks that Richardson had been asked. Speculation had been that Richardson was interested in the Secretary of State post, which would have been a high-profile Latino appointment (on the level of Alberto Gonzalez…ayayay!). Instead, the first Latino appointment in the Obama cabinet is to a relatively invisible department, though one with huge responsibilities.
At this morning’s press conference, Richardson offered some remarks, including the following ones in Spanish.
Not to be picky or anything, but Obama wasn’t the only one to tell us “Sí se puede.”
More importantly, Richardson suggests the political significance of his appointment in both his comments and choice of language. As the Latino (so far?) in the Obama cabinet, he also becomes the de facto representative of Latino issues and interests in the same, not to mention Obama’s version of a political “thank you” to the millions of Latino voters who helped elect him. Richardson’s comments about the flexing of “our” political strength and the need to continue to struggle for “our” rights are indicative of this.
And then a Latino with a press badge had to go and ask an appropriate question related to the nature of this political appointment, recognizing the above:
Did he just say Secretary of the Commerce Department “is a pretty good job”? Obama kind of struggled with his answer, no? I think he found his way at the end–at least the politically expedient way–by saying he is appointing people based on qualifications and not race or ethnicity. (Can’t be known as the affirmative action president, now can we?)
I would have been happier if he said the way his administration will appease Latino voters is to make sure their interests and issues are an integral part of his foreign and diplomatic agendas. In that way, “our” issues are the responsibility of everyone in his White House. But I’m not the President, now am I?
And, finally, I love Obama’s concluding verbal nod to latinidad, “Bueno…”
National Public Radio’s program All Things Considered featured a related story later in the day. (I wonder if they have any openings?) You can listen to it here.