January 14, 2009

Latino Angst Over Democrats' Political Appointments In Colorado

Guest post by Meg.

A statement jumped off the front page of the Sunday Denver Post at me: "This will have legs down the road, I swear to God it will." Upon further examination, this hot-headed and mildly blasphemous statement was not made by a grade-school student, but by a man who was once duly elected by the people of Colorado, former Democratic state senator Paul Sandoval.

The issue? Colorado's Latino political and business leaders believe that they have been left out of the recent slew of political appointments and turnovers at the state level. Former U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar has moved on to Interior, but the man that Gov. Ritter chose to be his replacement? Michael Bennet, the Denver Public School superintendent, a white man. Then the man Ritter tapped to take Bennet's place at DPS? Tom Boasberg, DPS's chief financial officer, also a white man. The Colorado secretary of state position, vacated by Republican Mike Coffman, was also Ritter's to fill. His choice was Bernie Buescher, recently rejected by Grand Junction voters in his state House re-election bid. You guessed it… Buescher is a white man.

All of this has caused much angst among the Latinos in the state. Former Denver Councilwoman Ramona Martinez joined the chorus. She reminded "those who feel we are not good enough to fill positions of power" that "no more will we be taken for granted. No more will our numbers be only counted on Election Day. No more. No más."

The Latino leaders' main issue is said to be that they were not consulted before the appointments were announced. In the case of DPS, they specifically asked the president of the Denver school board, Theresa Peña, if she would meet with them beforehand. The request was ignored. They sent Peña a subsequent letter chastising her for her inattention, and seeking a discussion of "the creation of an open and transparent process for this and future appointments within the Denver Public Schools." The Latinos also disagreed with the "secret" process to appoint the secretary of state of the Senate seats.

Ritter asked a blue-ribbon panel, as is his wont, to give him three names for the secretary of state finalists. The three names were white men. The Post jumped on the critical bandwagon today by blasting Ritter in an editorial, saying that it was "unfathomable" that Ritter did not "ensure" that Rosemary Rodriguez was one of the finalists. The Post's rationale was that Rodriguez has more election experience than those who were recommended, and suggested that Buescher's appointment "seemed to be a nod to the Western Slope." They were similarly critical of the Boasberg appointment. The Post editorial board made a token concession that the selecting officials "can and should hire the candidate who best fits their needs" and that they shouldn't be "intimidated by any person or group." They even declared that they "like Boasberg… [he is] well-versed in district operations." But then they return to the complaint that the Latinos were not involved in the process.

The Latinos' response is wildly out of proportion. It is entirely Ritter's prerogative to decide who is nominated to empty state positions (Article IV, Section 6, Colorado state constitution). He does not have to involve anyone else whatsoever in the process. The Post editorial called the shutout and the "secret" process "bad politics and even worse policy." My guess is that if a Latino had indeed been named using the same secrecy, there would be no outcry. As a Latina myself, I am well acquainted with this notorious double standard.

It is not the "secret" process that the Latinos don't like. It's their perception of losing ground, of being disrespected, of being left out. Latino culture is very heavy on demands of respect. When this respect is not forthcoming, they become vocal and agitated, even when, as in this case, the process was completely correct. Both the Post and the Latino leaders seem to be arguing for a quota in state appointments. They seem to be suggesting that although a Latino did not originally hold two out of three of those positions, they should have been top contenders for the appointments—solely on the basis of race.

The Post plays into this by not criticizing Ritter for appointing Buescher, a Democrat, to fill Republican Mike Coffman's shoes. All is fair in politics, but when it comes to race? Then the Latino community is a "growing constituency" who must not be ignored. We're not supposed to remember the majority who elected a Republican secretary of state.

The Latino leaders are unseemly in their endless demands for "respect," even to the point of vague "No más" threats in Spanish. Many of them fought hard to be elected to office. Why are they clamoring for jobs to be handed to them for free? They should look inward and work to put forth quality candidates for public office in the future. If their growing constituency is as outraged as they say, such candidates should be quite competitive in future political races.

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