In anticipation of Latino USA’s upcoming show about the U.S. Latino vote (premiering this Friday November 6), I plan to share daily historical examples of American politics and Latinos. My first post was about Jackie Kennedy campaigning in Spanish. The second post highlighted the country’s first Latino senator. The third post focused on U.S. Latino voters and the presidency. Last Friday, I focused on Hispandering. Yesterday, I shared three little-known facts about the Latino vote. Today, we explore the history of Latino appointees to the Cabinet.
Before we look at how many Latinos have served the Cabinet in our country’s history, permit me to share this point about the Constitution. The word “cabinet” does not appear in the Constitution, but Article 2 Section 2 does state this: “[the President] may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices.” There is also a “Heads of Departments” phrase at the end of that section. Section 4 of the 25th Amendment makes reference to “principal officers of the executive departments,” but no mention of the Cabinet. George Washington’s first Cabinet had only four positions. The current Cabinet for President Obama has 16 positions, including the Vice President. In other words, the Constitution gives government a lot of room in how Cabinets are formed and expanded.
So how many Latinos have served the Cabinet? Here is the report card of positions, in order of succession to the President. (NOTE: This list does not cover Cabinet-rank positions, such as those of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Small Business Administration, the White House Chief of Staff and others.)
SECRETARY OF STATE
SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE
ATTORNEY GENERAL (DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE)
Alberto R. Gonzales: Served from 2005–2007 during the second term of President George W. Bush. He was the country’s first Latino attorney general. Gonzales resigned in 2007.
SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR
Manuel Lujan, Jr.: The New Mexico native served from 1989-1993 under President George H.W. Bush. He served for close to four years.
Ken Salazar: Salazar was the second Latino to be appointed Secretary of the Interior. The former Colorado senator served from 2009–20013 for the President Obama’s administration.
SECRETARY OF AGRICULTURE
SECRETARY OF COMMERCE
Carlos M. Gutierrez: The Cuban-born Gutierrez was the country’s 35th Secretary of Commerce, serving from 2005-2009 during the second term of President George W. Bush.
SECRETARY OF LABOR
Hilda L. Solis: Solis was appointed by President Obama and served from 2009–2013. Before she was Secretary of Labor, Solis represented California’s 32nd Congressional district. She is Mexican American.
Thomas E. Perez: Perez succeeded Solis in 2013 and is the current Secretary of Labor for the Obama administration. He is of Dominican descent.
SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES
SECRETARY OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT
Henry Cisneros: President Bill Clinton nominated Cisneros in 1992. The former San Antonio mayor served from 1993–1997. Cisneros is Mexican American.
Mel Martinez: President George W. Bush nominated Martinez in 2001. The Cuban-born Martinez, a former Florida senator, served from 2001–2003.
Julián Castro: Secretary Castro, also a former mayor of San Antonio, is HUD’s current secretary. He has served as part of the Obama Cabinet since 2014. Castro is Mexican American.
SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION
Federico Peña: The former Denver mayor became President Clinton’s first Secretary of Transportation in 1993. He served until 1997, when he then became Secretary of Energy. He is originally from Laredo, Texas.
SECRETARY OF ENERGY
Federico Peña: Peña served as Secretary of Energy from 1997–1998 under the Clinton administration.
Bill Richardson: Richardson succeeded Peña in 1998 and served until 2001 for the Clinton administration. The former New Mexico governor was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations before becoming Secretary of Energy.
SECRETARY OF EDUCATION
Lauro F. Cavazos: Cavazos was the country’s first Latino Cabinet member ever. He served for President Ronald Reagan at the end of Reagan’s second term in 1988 and served another two years from President George H.W. Bush. He is a Texas Democrat.
SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS
SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY
So how does this all stack up?
Republicans presidents have had five Latino Cabinet members (Gonzales, Lujan, Martinez, Gutierrez, Cavazos). Democratic presidents have had seven Latino Cabinet members, eight if you count Peña’s two positions (Salazar, Solis, Perez, Cisneros, Castro, Richardson, Peña). There is only one Latina (Solis). If you take into account the highest-ranking Cabinet position, Gonzales was closest in succession to the President. There has never been a Latino Secretary of State or Secretary of Defense, and there has never been a Latino Vice President.
Featured image: President Obama’s first Cabinet (including Cabinet-rank positions), 2009 (Public Domain)