WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama has appointed more Hispanics to high office than any president ever has during the first year in office, reflecting the growing political clout of the nation’s largest minority group.
The 43 appointments since Inauguration Day also reflect Obama’s debt to the Hispanic community, which helped propel him into the White House.
Obama won two-thirds of the Hispanic vote in the 2008 presidential race, according to an analysis of exit polls by the Pew Hispanic Center. He beat Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., overwhelmingly among Hispanic voters despite McCain’s generally moderate stance on immigration issues.
Brent Wilkes, national executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said he believes Obama has made a conscious effort to hire Hispanics in part to keep a campaign promise.
“I think the president has been very intentional about it, and he’s delivered,” Wilkes said.
But the White House put a slightly different spin on it.
“The president has made it a priority that his administration reflect America’s great diversity,” said Adam Abrams, a White House spokesman. “But the most conscious effort has been to appoint the best and most qualified candidates for each position.”
The Senate has so far confirmed 43 Hispanics nominated by Obama to serve at top levels in his administration and in the federal government, including two Cabinet secretaries and the nation’s first Hispanic Supreme Court justice, Sonia Sotomayor.
Those appointments represent 14 percent of the 304 Obama nominees the Senate has confirmed.
Hispanics make up 15 percent of the U.S. population and about 8 percent of the overall federal workforce, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and the Office of Personnel Management.
“Fourteen percent is certainly a high-water mark for any president, and it represents incredible progress at the White House,” Wilkes said.
Those 43 confirmed appointees don’t include the more than two dozen Hispanic staffers working in the White House who did not require Senate confirmation.
In eight months, Obama has far exceeded the number of Hispanics appointed by his two predecessors in their first 12 months in office, according to the White House. In his first year, President George W. Bush appointed 34. President Bill Clinton appointed 30 Hispanics in his first year.
“I am proud that this administration has appointed a significantly higher proportion of Latinos … than previous administrations,” Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, the daughter of a Mexican immigrant, said in Puerto Rico this summer. “More importantly, while we have made the strongest start in history in this area, we also know that we have more opportunities in the coming months.”
Obama still has more than 200 appointments to make.
Even before taking office, Latino leaders lobbied Obama to appoint Hispanic Cabinet secretaries and to fill the first Supreme Court vacancy with a Latino.
Shortly after taking office, the president nominated three Hispanic Cabinet secretaries, choosing Solis, a California congresswoman, for Labor secretary; Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., for Interior secretary; and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson for Commerce secretary.
Richardson withdrew from consideration amid a federal grand jury probe involving his campaign donors and was replaced by former Washington Gov. Gary Locke, who is Asian-American.
But it was Obama’s nomination of Sotomayor that resonated most with the Hispanic community, Latino leaders say. Sotomayor, of Puerto Rican descent, was confirmed in early August.
“All appointments aren’t equal, and that’s the most important one a president can make,” Wilkes said. “It ensures that there will be a diverse viewpoint on the court for many years to come.”