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broke this afternoon that New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, Barack Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Commerce, has withdrawn his nomination over questions regarding a federal investigation of the state’s $1.5 million dollar financial services contract with a Beverly Hills, California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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The Purpose Driven Invocation

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With the announcement of Rick Warren’s selection by the inaugural committee to give the invocation at the most historic inaugural ceremony in American History, it shows that the realpolitik that is Barack Obama never misses an opportunity to make a symbolic appeal. The selection of Rick Warren is significant because it extends an olive branch of tolerance to the religious conservative and evangelical christian communities that are historically so resistant to Democratic Presidential candidates. Showing deference and respect to a moderate conservative powerhouse like Rick Warren, an admitted McCain supporter, narrows the psychological chasm between people of faith and the Democratic Party.

Don’t believe me? How about the Pew Forum?

Overall, 45% of Protestants voted for the Democrat, an increase of five points since 2004…Interestingly, Obama’s gains were among white evangelical Protestants (5 points), a traditionally Republican constituency, rather than among white Protestants who do not describe themselves as evangelical or born-again (no gain).

..Just as Obama made gains among most religious traditions, he also held steady or improved over Kerry’s 2004 support among people of all levels of religious observance. More than four-in-ten people (43%) who attend religious services regularly, that is, once a week or more, supported Obama, compared with 39% who supported Kerry.

Obama’s gains were particularly pronounced among the subgroup who attends religious services most often – that is, more than once a week; 43% of this group supported Obama, up from 35% who supported Kerry in 2004. Obama also received support from nearly six-in-ten voters (57%) who attend church occasionally (a few times a month or a few times a year), while Kerry won 53% of this group.

Rick Warren, despite his faith based a conservatism, is not a sanctimonious phony like a Pat Robertson or James Dobson. He is not totally bound by the straight jacket of homophobic religiosity and judgmental hypocrisy. Pastor Warren does not believe he’s on a personal mission from God to galvanize religious conservatives into supporting the Republican Party and it’s entire slate of right-wing candidates. While he is clearly on the conservative side of the abortion divide and marriage rights for same-sex couples, he also believes that same sex couples are entitled to partnership benefits, insurance, and hospital visitation rights. That tells me he has a firm grasp on reality and has both feet firmly planted on Earth. Robertson and Dobson are literally a stonesthrow away from homicide. Their unbounded intolerance and malevolent influence polarizes people of faith and goads them into negating the gospel they profess to live by.

I know that some of you find my criticisms of Barack Obama interesting and thought provoking, but this ain’t one of my critiques. I am more interested in making policy based criticisms instead of criticisms based on political correctness. The politics of this invocation are crystal clear and I admire Obama’s peerless skills.

Barack Obama, unlike the ignorant patrician who preceeded him, is really trying to unify the nation. I can’t think of a better way to do that than inviting Rick Warren to give a purpose driven invocation.