Richardson withdraws, historic opportunity at hand

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News broke this afternoon that New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, Barack Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Commerce, has withdrawn his nomination over questions regarding a federal investigation of the state’s $1.5 million dollar financial services contract with a Beverly Hills, California firm, CDR, who’s CEO, David Rubin, donated $110,000 to political committee’s affiliated with Governor Richardson.

 

I am heartsick because I’ve always felt that Richardson’s presence in the cabinet essential to Obama’s success. Nevertheless, as my grandma is fond of saying, “one monkey don’t stop no show.” The vacancy represents an opportunity to do something no president has done and after the Warren fiasco a few weeks back, I’ve come to feel pretty strongly that Barack Obama needs to appoint a “gay American,” as former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevy put it, to the cabinet of the United States.

 

When you stop and think about it this is a barrier that Bill Clinton should have shattered years ago, and one Al Gore probably would have if the ignorant tumbleweed that is George W. Bush hadn’t tripped him up. Clinton, after the broken promise of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” attempted to buy off the LGBT community with the appointments of James Hormel as ambassador to Luxemburg and Roberta Achtenberg as Deputy Secretary of HUD. The public break with activist David Mixner, a leading LGBT fundraiser and convention delegate for Clinton, damaged Clinton’s relationship with the LGBT community in a big way.

 

Nothing of that magnitude has occurred in this new Administration, but the hue and cry over Rick Warren’s inaugural invocation channels the white-hot righteous indignation of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Debate, and Bubba’s craven signing of the Defense of Marriage Act, which were straightforward betrayals. Obama hasn’t gone back on his word to the LGBT community on any significant issue, at least not yet. But he’s black, so I suppose there are some activists who feel the need to put Obama, and the rest of his dark skinned brethren, “in our place,” and psychologically project their legitimate anger for the failure of prop 8 on the most convenient scapegoats in America—black people, who don’t even make up 7% of California’s population.

 

Anyway, y’all, after little investigation, I’ve come up with two outstanding people that I think can send an inclusive message to the country and tamp down some of the fires of faux outrage burning in the blogosphere.

 

JARRETT BARRIOS

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The first person to come to mind is former Massachusetts State Senator Jarrett Barrios, the CEO of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Massachusetts. As CEO, he oversees a $55 million dollar endowment that focuses on expanding health care access and improved delivery to the uninsured and underinsured. Barrios, a Cuban American originally from Tampa, Florida, served for 8 years in both Houses of the Massachusetts legislature. An honors graduate of Harvard University, Barrios also possess a law degree from Georgetown University.

 

In the legislature he made Health Care access and delivery his signature issue and authored legislation requiring Massachusetts hospitals to provide interpreters to non-English speakers. In addition, he authored legislation protecting consumers from unscrupulous predatory lenders and required that lenders abide by Massachusetts laws requiring community reinvestment and he pushed for tax credits to subsidize the construction of more affordable housing.

 

A practicing attorney, Barrios has worked for the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and for the law firms DLA Piper and Hill & Barlow.

 

Lastly, as you may have already surmised, Jarrett Barrios is a gay man who led the fight in the Massachusetts Senate to preserve marriage rights for same-sex couples. He is married to Doug Hattaway, a democratic strategist and former Hillary Clinton spokesman.

 

The Obama Administration has focused on excellence in its cabinet appointments. I believe that Jarrett Barrios’ academic and professional credentials will stand the test and that he would be an outstanding Secretary of Commerce.

 

SUSAN LEAL

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Because I believe in balance, it is necessary to consider people of both genders and the accomplished Susan Leal, a former businesswoman, health-care executive, Public Utilities Regulator, San Francisco Treasurer and Supervisor, is an even more qualified choice than the first I put forward.

 

Ms. Leal, 59, is a native of San Francisco and a veteran civic leader. She is a first generation daughter of Mexican immigrants and the first Latina to serve on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. While on the board, Ms. Leal co-authored San Francisco’s landmark domestic partners ordinance.

 

An honors graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, Leal has degrees in Economics and Law and has an extensive background as a staffer in both the California General Assembly and the U.S. Congress. While in Washington Ms. Leal served as a staff attorney for the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Investigations. Back in California, she served as general counsel to the Assembly Committee on Ways & Means.

 

Elected San Francisco’s Treasurer in 1998, she oversaw a $3 billion dollar portfolio of investments and she was the first treasurer to screen the city’s investments to ensure the city invested with socially responsible companies that respected workers, consumers and the environment.

 

A shrewd and successful businesswoman, Ms. Leal and a few friends created a health care startup that they subsequently took public and later sold at a profit.

 

Finally, Ms. Leal last served the public as a utilities regulator and she tangled with PG&E, the powerful utility made infamous in the movie Erin Brockovich.

 

Ms. Leal would make an excellent Secretary of Commerce, Chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or as a Deputy Secretary of Energy or Interior. Both of these individuals are qualified, well-educated, Latino and Gay.  It’s past time that all God’s children are represented in the halls of power.

 

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Proposition 8: a triumph of bigotry

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As some of you know, one of Skeptical Brotha’s longtime contributors has posted that he succumed to the cacophony of lies, hatred, and fear peddled by the homophobic religious right, and voted to ban same sex marriage in California.  In so doing, he defecated on the legacy of many gay and lesbian people who fought for the rights of African Americans and similarly situated people of color for full equality in this country. 

Without community organizers like Bayard Rustin, a gay black man who traveled to India to study and bring back the nonviolent tactics of Mahatma Ghandhi, the civil rights movement would have suffered in this country.  The remarkable thing about the multi-talented Rustin is that he was always upfront about his sexuality, he didn’t hide who he was from anybody.  For a man born nearly one hundred years ago in 1912, that little factoid is a big honkin’ deal.   In addition to his civil rights activism and his methodical planning of the 1963 March on Washington, he was also a dedicated labor organizer.  You remember the March on Washington, right?  I believe Dr. King said somethin’ about a dream–a dream that his only living sibling has said has now been realized with the election of Barack Obama.

The late Mrs. Coretta Scott King was clear in her support for equal rights for all:

I still hear people say that I should not be talking about the rights of lesbian and gay people and I should stick to the issue of racial justice… But I hasten to remind them that Martin Luther King, Jr., said, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere’ … I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream to make room at the table of brotherhood and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people.”

“…Gays and lesbians stood up for civil rights in Montgomery, Selma, in Albany, Georgia, and St. Augustine, Florida, and many other campaigns of the Civil Rights Movement. Many of these courageous men and women were fighting for my freedom at a time when they could find few voices for their own, and I salute their contributions.

…Gay and lesbian people have families, and their families should have legal protection, whether by marriage or civil union. A constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages is a form of gay bashing, and it would do nothing at all to protect traditional marriages.”

If the First Lady of the Civil Rights Movement could be for marriage equality, what is your problem?