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Richardson withdrawal disappoints Latinos

  • Story Highlights
  • Some Latinos already upset Richardson wasn't offered more prominent post
  • His withdrawal from commerce secretary nomination adds to disappointment
  • New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson cited ethics probe as reason he withdrew
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By Alexander Mooney
CNN
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(CNN) -- Bill Richardson's withdrawal from his commerce secretary nomination Sunday didn't just leave a major gap in the new administration, but it also sorely disappointed Latinos who view the New Mexico governor as their most prominent representative.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson was a Democratic presidential contender in the primaries.

"We are hugely disappointed. It's a stunned community out there," said Janet Murguía, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States.

"He is a very well-recognized leader not just in the Latino community but in this country and he has a long record of public service," she said.

Richardson was set to serve as the most high-profile Latino in President-elect Barack Obama's administration, and the announcement of Richardson's nomination in December drew praise from several Hispanic organizations.

Yet many Latino bloggers and activists openly grumbled that the president-elect should have given Richardson an even more prominent post in the administration, namely secretary of state.

"Secretary of commerce equals 'Where we stick Latinos to say we're diverse,' " one prominent Latino blog declared in December.

But with Richardson stepping aside from consideration for commerce secretary amid an ethics investigation relating to a company that has done business with his state, only two Latinos are now set to serve in the new Cabinet: Labor secretary-designate Hilda Solis and Interior secretary-designate Ken Salazar, neither of which, some critics have argued, will hold a prominent Cabinet post.

That's the same number that President Bush and former President Bill Clinton had in their Cabinets at a maximum at any given time.

The prospect of having only two Latinos on Obama's Cabinet riles some members of the Hispanic community who say their support of Obama was crucial to his success on Election Day

"It's disappointing at least for now that this administration doesn't have three Latinos as members of its Cabinet," said Arturo Vargas, the executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

"That would have been one of President-elect Obama's immediate legacies, to have appointed three Latinos to full Cabinet positions," Arturo added.

Exit polls on Election Day show Obama, a Democrat, won the Latino vote by more than 2-1 over Republican Sen. John McCain. Latinos' support of Obama was significantly greater than their support of the 2004 Democratic nominee, John Kerry, who that year won the Latino vote by only 9 percentage points over Bush.

Obama's support among Latinos especially made a difference in a string of tossup states -- including New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada and Florida -- and Latino leaders had hoped the support would translate to several high-profile posts in the new administration.

"President-elect Barack Obama owes Latinos much more than three Cabinet positions. That's just a beginning of the kind of inclusion, involvement and engagement that his entire presidency has to have with Latinos," Arturo said.

Community leaders are pressing the Obama transition team to consider a host of other prominent Latinos for the Department of Commerce post, including Miami, Florida, Mayor Manny Diaz and U.S. Rep. Nydia Vilasquez of New York.

"We do think another Latino should replace Mr. Richardson," Murguía of NCLR said. "It's not out of a sense of entitlement, it's really out of sense of historic precedent. President-elect Obama was ushered into office by a wide diverse coalition of different voters. There is a strong sense of pride among Latino voters that they played a special role."

The Obama transition team isn't commenting on who is under consideration to replace Richardson, though Berkeley professor and Clinton administration alum Laura Tyson as well as Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius are reportedly on top of the list, neither of whom is Hispanic. Sebelius has said she is not interested in the post.

"There are also minority replacements, but I think the Latino community particularly is going to watch this appointment," said Leslie Sanchez, a Republican strategist and CNN contributor.

Obama transition officials say the president-elect has already set a record for the number of Hispanics appointed to White House posts and discount criticisms the Latino community is getting slighted.

"Based on what I can cull from records, we have more Hispanics in senior positions in this White House than under either President Bush or President Clinton," Obama's incoming chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, recently told Politico.

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But even as prominent Hispanic leaders publicly call for the president-elect to replace Richardson with another Latino appointee, not all Latinos necessarily feel the same way.

"I think we are beyond that at this point. We need to have the very best people in these jobs. I hope that they pick someone equally brilliant and highly experienced. We are all in it together," said Fernando Espuelas, host and managing editor of Café Espuelas, a Los Angeles Spanish-language radio talk show.

All About Barack ObamaBill Richardson (Politician)New Mexico

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