Washington, D.C. – Several Latinos figure prominently on the short list of names floating around Washington as possible key replacements in the second Obama administration.
Many Latino groups say they will be watching the naming of successors particularly closely, looking for some recognition of the critical role Latinos played in the Nov. 6 elections.
Latinos turned out at a record rate, making up 10 percent of voters. And they threw the bulk of their support to President Obama, with more than 70 percent of them casting their votes for him.
“We are currently 17 percent of the nation’s population and we continue to grow, and we were decisive in this year’s election,” said Ruth Alicia Sandoval, CEO of BusinessconX, a management consulting firm in suburban Washington. “We are no longer absent or invisible.”
Sandoval, a former Deputy Associate of Economic Development at the Small Business Administration during the Clinton administration, says that it is simply good policy to have Latinos in key posts.
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“It is absolutely critical that we are present at the table where the policy decisions are made.”
Luis Aguilar, currently a commissioner at the Securities and Exchange Commission, is reportedly being considered for chairman at the agency.
He would replace Mary L. Schapiro, whose last day was Dec. 14. Aguilar was first appointed by President Bush in 2008, and before that he had a private practice specialized in securities law.
A former president of the Hispanic National Bar Association, he would be the first Latino in such a prominent spot at the influential SEC.
Former NASA astronaut and former congressional candidate José Hernández is also rumored to be up for a position in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) field.
Hernández, a son of farm workers who became the first astronaut to send a ‘tweet’ from space in Spanish, received 46.2 percent of the vote in a losing bid for a seat representing California’s 10 district in last month’s election.
He says he is seriously considering running again in 2014, and in the meantime has established a foundation to help low-income students who are interested in pursuing STEM careers.
“The (Obama) administration is very impressed with his talents,” says Democratic strategist Larry González of the Raben Group, a Washington lobbying firm with close ties to Capitol Hill and the White House. “And with a focus on STEM, what better role model than Hernández?”
Another Latino already serving in the administration, Assistant Secretary at the Department of Housing John Trasviña, is expected to be bumped up the ranks.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s name is being circulated as a possible replacement for Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who has suggested he may be stepping down.
Transportation is one of Mayor Villaraigosa’s areas or expertise, although his personal background would likely make confirmation hearings difficult at best. Also under consideration for a top spot is former Miami Mayor Manny Díaz, who as of late has been making a name for himself working in one of President Obama’s favorite issues: “green” technology.
Left pending to see whether they stay or leave are the president’s two Hispanic members of the Cabinet: Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Labor Secretary Hilda Solís.
Salazar has said in the past he is very happy with his job and focused on the agency’s issues, while not necessarily thinking about his role in a second Obama administration. Now he says he will take the Christmas holidays to think about it.
Likely factoring into a decision here will be a recent incident on which he had to apologize to a Colorado reporter ―Salazar had threatened to “punch him out” when the reporter asked him about an investigation into a Colorado rancher with reported ties to Salazar, who was allegedly selling wild horses to a slaughterhouse in México.
Over at the Department of Labor, Solís has not indicated what her plans are for the next term, but she is reportedly interested in staying on.
She had been considered for Interior before taking the Labor Department’s top post, and could move there to bring on another Latina whose name has circulated for a spot: Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.), a former lawyer who may be persuaded to leave Congress if offered the Labor slot.
Patricia Guadalupe is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.