President-elect Barack Obama has named four highly respected Catholic public figures to critical cabinet positions this past week. Nominated were Representative Hilda Solis to serve as Secretary of Labor, Senator Ken Salazar to head the Department of the Interior, Governor Bill Richardson at Commerce, and former Senator Tom Daschle as Secretary of Health and Human Services.
Rep. Hilda Solis has been very active in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, having been born to parents who were both immigrants from Central America. She has represented the east side of Los Angeles, California, since 2001 after serving in the State Senate. In California she helped lead a 1996 effort to increase the minimum wage, and in Congress she authored workforce training legislation. With regard to social issues, she was the author in 2006 of a bill entitled, "The Communities of Color Teen Pregnancy Prevention Act" that made note of the higher teen pregnancy rates in African-American and Latina girls. This legislation advocated utilizing community-based intervention programs, schools, and multimedia education campaigns to promote the reduction of unintended pregnancies. Her nomination was heartily greeted by a wide cross-section of labor unions.
Senator Ken Salazar from Colorado is descended from 19th Century Mexican immigrants to the United States and briefly attended St Francis Seminary in Ohio. His political career began as legal counsel to the governor of Colorado, who appointed him in 1990 to the cabinet-level position of Director of the Natural Resources Department. He has been credited with originating the "Great Outdoors Colorado Amendment," launching a major conservation program, and the "Youth in Natural Resources Program" sponsoring educational programs about the enviroment in Colorado public schools. When he was elected to the Senate in 2004, he won a decisive majority of Catholic voters in Colorado despite the opposition of some conservative religious leaders. As Secretary of the Interior, he will regulate the use of public lands for natural resource recovery by industry, and will manage the National Park system and the Fish and Wildlife Service. He inherits a department wracked by scandal, with allegations at multiple levels of self-dealing and catering to corporate interests at the expense of the taxpayers.
Governor Bill Richardson was a candidate for president, and has served at every level of government. He has a masters degree from Boston's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and has been involved in successful hostage negotiations around the world. Through his time as US Ambassador to the United Nations and as Governor of New Mexico (since 2003), he has been an ardent advocate for the poor. In his book, "Between Worlds: The Making of an American Life," he describes his upbringing in Mexico City and an appreciation of the extremes of poverty and wealth that have led to so much suffering in the world. As Secretary of Commerce, he will be involved in building a new economic order out of the ruins of the current economic crisis that will have far reaching effects on the health of economics in the US and around the world.
Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle was saluted by the Catholic Healthcare Association as an "extraordinary and capable" leader who has "an enormous understanding of health care delivery issues and the need for meaningful reform for American families and businesses." He was recently the author of a book entitled, "Critical: What We Can Do About the Health-Care Crisis," and has been networking with former colleagues in the Senate to build consensus on healthcare reform under the new administration. In his capacity as Secretary of Health and Human Services and Director of a new White House Office of Health Reform, Senator Daschle will quarterback efforts to implement health reforms that will seek to expand coverage to the 80+ million Americans who are without health insurance in the course of every year (and certainly more with the current steep economic downturn).