An Arab-American, prominent Hispanic representatives and a Japanese-American, among other diverse nominees, are composing the president-elect’s diverse range of cabinet members. The unifying factor among most, however, has been the affinity for innovation, indicating the incoming administration’s attention to the most prominent and the most influential players in their fields.
Agriculture Nominee: Tom Vilsack
Once a Democratic presidential contender, Vilsack dropped out of the race to endorse Hilary Clinton. In 1998, Vilsack won the general election for appointment as the governor of Iowa and succeeded in securing a second term in 2002. His high position in a farm state is seen to legitimize Vilsack’s nomination. However, opposition has come from the Organic Consumers Association, which has drawn attention to Vilsack’s support for large industrial farms and the genetic modification of crops.
Commerce Nominee: Gov. Bill Richardson, Dem. New Mexico
Richardson was nominated, but withdrew on Jan. 4, 2009 and almost fulfilled a position to add to the unique minority representation in cabinet by being a prominent Hispanic politician. Pending grand jury investigations of state contracts to which he is a party, Richardson decided to withdraw his nomination. The media has been quick to point this nomination out as one of the “bumps” in a presidential transition that has garnered so much attention.
Defense Nominee: Current Defense Secretary Robert Gates
This nominee has been on the political scene for quite some time, being first recruited by the CIA while still in college. Gates’ on-and-off relationship with the CIA culminated in his nomination as director of Central Intelligence. This nomination did not go farther in 1989, as Gates withdrew his name because of a controversy surrounding his involvement in the Iran-Contra affair.
His second nomination to the post, under George H.W. Bush in 1991, resulted in an appointment. Gates’ close relations with figures deeply involved with the Iran-Contra scandal, which clearly indicated his knowledge of their activities, was still not enough to support an indictment. After a brief hiatus following the end of his role as director, Bush nominated Gates to the post of Secretary of Defense after Rumsfeld’s resignation.
Gates’ involvement with Afghanistan, though seen as a stability factor, has also been marred with accusations of skewing or concocting evidence in presenting the situation in the ravaged nation. This controversial figure is seen as an effort toward stability and a nod to the Republicans. Obama’s disclaimer? I speculate Gates may only be in the post for the first year of the Obama administration.
Education Nominee: Arne Duncan
Known for his unconventional techniques in augmenting the educational system, Duncan began his career in education by tutoring underprivileged students while playing professional basketball in Australia. Upon returning to his hometown in Chicago, Duncan pursued his educational career and was eventually chosen as schools chief in 2001.
There is no overlooking the 13 percent increase in attendance rates within his first two years as (schools chief.) Among his controversial methods were offering tickets to sports events for good attendance, and requiring dropouts to sign forms recognizing that their actions will likely result in reliance on the state welfare system and the high risk of receiving “bad jobs that don’t pay well,” if any at all.
Most recently, in the fall of 2008, Duncan opened a private donation to offer up to $4,000 to straight-A students. Among topics Duncan will have to tackle will be fixing up the No Child Left Behind policy and making college more feasible and affordable for students.
Energy Secretary Nominee: Steven Chu
The president-elect’s nominee for Secretary of Energy is the 1997 Nobel Prize Winner in Physics for his work with atoms at Bell Laboratories. His role as director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California has allowed him to advocate research on climate change and possible solutions as well as carbon-neutral renewable energy. This appointment seems to indicate that the president-elect intends to seriously pursue a reduction of carbon emissions.
Health and Human Services Nominee: Former Sen. Tom Daschie, D-S.D.
As both a Senate and Congress member, Daschie has firm political ties to the Democratic Party. His qualifications for the Health and Human Services post largely stem from his ideas on health care coverage in his recently published book on the health care crisis. The book reviews past health care plans and outlines a detailed plan for change.
Under his post, Daschie will also become director of the recently created White House Office of Health Reform, likely crafted after his book’s call for a Federal Health Board — an impartial and accountable healthcare/medical organization.
The controversy around his appointment, however, centers on his indirect affiliation with health care lobbying clients, including CVS Caremark, through his role as “special policy adviser” with a legislative and public policy group after his career in the Senate. This allegation would work against Obama’s sensitivity toward special interests in the White House.
Homeland Security Nominee Gov. Janet Napolitano, D-Arizona
This nominee is currently serving her second term as Arizona governor. Previous appointments include her role as U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona, to which President Bill Clinton appointed her in 1993. In this role, she was involved in investigating the Oklahoma City bombing. In November of 2008, Napolitano was chosen as a member of the advisory board of the Obama-Biden Transition Project.
State Nominee: Sen. Hillary Clinton D-New York
Adding to his “team of rivals,” the president-elect chose another key contender in the democratic race to serve as his Secretary of State. The controversy around this New York senator is whether she and the president-elect will be able to reconcile their differences. Another key issue will be the role and actions of former-President Clinton, who has agreed to limit his international activities in order to protect and maintain the independence of the incoming administration.
Justice Nominee: Eric Holder
If confirmed by the Senate, Holder may become another first: the first African-American Attorney General of the U.S. As he previously served as Deputy Attorney General under the Clinton administration, he will have familiarity with proceedings in cabinet. His involvement with the Clinton administration led to questionable outcomes, including the reduction of sentences of the Boricua Popular, labeled a terrorist organization by the FBI, among other strange pardons that have often been attributed to his persuasion of the administration.
Holder has advocated the closure of Guantanamo Bay, though he has remarked that detainees are not entitled to the Geneva Convention — an international agreement that pertains to every individual, regardless of political labels. At the same time, Holder has criticized the U.S. torture policy and the Patriot Act.
Interior Nominee: Sen. Ken Salazar D-Colorado
From state to federal government, this nominee has served as Attorney General, a senator and a cabinet member for the outgoing president. Salazar began as a state cabinet member in 1986 and eventually became director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources in 1990, during which he created the youth in natural resources program to educate public schools about the environment.
In 1994 his appointment as Colorado Attorney General resulted in the creation of several unit branches dedicated to the curbing of civil and environmental crime. Despite these forthcomings, his appointment as U.S. Senator in 2004 has resulted in confusing voting patterns — most notably, his vote against increasing fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks, which environmental organizations have viewed as anti-environment.
Labor Nominee: Rep. Hilda Solis, D-California
Another Californian has been nominated for a cabinet post, her Hispanic background adding to the diversity among the soon-to-be incoming nominees. Solis is currently serving her fourth term in Congress for the 32nd District. In 1994 she became the first Hispanic woman to serve in state Senate, as well as the youngest. Her merits are largely from her creation or support of California legislation aimed at preventing domestic violence, education, environmental reforms, as well as legislation pertaining to labor. As a member of the House of Representatives, Solis consistently voted on reforms and acts that would protect workers and unions, winning her 100 percent voting raters from many pro-labor groups between 2005 and 2007.
Transportation Nominee: Rep. Ray LaHood, R-III
While this nominee was once on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, he no longer serves a larger role within national transportation. His status as a Republican representative and only the second Republican among cabinet, has led many to believe that his appointment is merely an attempt at a bipartisan cabinet. His affiliation and familiarity with Obama as a member of the Illinois congressional delegation may be another factor in the appointment.
Treasury Nominee: Timothy Geithner
This nominee began working with the Treasury Department in 1988, eventually becoming the under secretary of the treasury for international affairs under the Clinton administration. In addition to being an integral part of the treasury for three different presidential administrations, Geithner has experience in the international sector, having worked for the International Monetary Fund as well as the Council on Foreign Relations. Such an appointment may be an asset in assessing and delegating resources to ongoing international conflicts in the Middle East, as well as in assessing aid donations to nations around the world.
Veterans Affairs Nominee: Retired Gen. Eric K. Shinseki
The president-elect chose this former Army Chief of Staff from the current Bush administration, yet not because of stability factors. This retired general is known for publicly criticizing the Iraq war strategies of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The general’s actions resulted in him losing the post shortly after his public remarks. Time has shown that the remarks were well founded, and as Obama has stated, he “was right.” With 28 years as a soldier, and four years as Army Chief of Staff, Shineski will likely receive more merit and attention from the incoming administration.