"A troublesome sign for Bush's intestinal fortitude"

Washington reacts to the withdrawal of Labor Secretary-designate Linda Chavez in an unexpected return to Nannygate politics.

Published January 10, 2001 12:57AM (EST)

Clint Bolick is executive director of the Institute for Justice.

It's a tragedy, and it's once again made it more difficult for individuals to accept public service. She was persecuted for her compassion. The case against her was extremely weak, and I'm appalled that the president-elect would not stand strongly behind her. It's a troublesome sign for the administration's intestinal fortitude. She mounted a very vigorous defense. What she did was by all appearances a rousing defense of her actions. It would have made for a very good counteroffensive. It appears Linda was preparing for a counteroffensive while the administration was in full retreat. Anytime there is any concern relating to an FBI investigation, people get extremely weak-kneed.

She would have been the first truly conservative labor secretary in modern times. Even Reagan and Bush did not have strongly conservative labor secretaries. We would have seen a new approach on affirmative action. She would have abandoned preferences in favor of economics-based affirmative action, gearing [the policies] toward individuals who were [financially] disadvantaged rather than focusing on their race. The statutes are actually written in those terms, but they were turned into racial preferences. You would have seen a much more business-friendly Labor Department, without crushing OSHA rules or the application of OSHA to home-based businesses -- the sorts of things we were seeing with the past administration.

Looking prospectively, this will be a real test for the Bush administration in terms of whether another conservative will be named. In terms of the courage of the Bush administration, the path will be determined in large measure by who is named as a replacement for Chavez. Chavez is known to be a good fighter and the ease with which her nomination went down is not a good sign for the other nominees.

Lisa Navarrete is spokesperson for the National Council of La Raza in Washington.

It's not something we view with regret in terms of her nomination. What we do regret is the way it happened. This should not have been the issue on which the success or failure of her nomination rested. This was a minor incident. We would have much preferred to have had a full debate on her track record, on whether she would be an appropriate person to be the secretary of labor.

As secretary of labor, she would be in charge of the federal government, the largest affirmative action program. She is vociferously opposed to affirmative action. She has been critical of the Job Training Partnership Act, which would be under her jurisdiction. She's opposed to the minimum wage; she has problems with pay equity, with sexual harassment laws -- all those issues and a hostility toward increasing the federal government's ability to enforce people's civil rights. All those issues were the real issues as to whether Linda Chavez should have been the secretary of labor. But we unnecessarily focused on this issue, and we hope that on the next go around we will focus on the issues that face the secretary of labor rather than tangential issues from a person's private life.

From the minute Chavez's nomination was announced, we were perplexed. It's a very mixed message from President-elect Bush. On the one hand, he has made diversity a focal point of his Cabinet. We applaud the appointments of Norm Mineta and Colin Powell and Mel Martinez. But he has also talked about being a "uniter, not a divider" and a "compassionate conservative," and Linda Chavez has been someone who has been a divisive, controversial, lightning-rod figure in the Latino community. Certainly we didn't see this as a triumph for the Latino community because she has made a career out of holding the exact opposite views of the vast majority of Latinos and making that clear in her role in Punditryland.

Michael Myers is executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition. He served on the board of the organization Linda Chavez led before she was tapped as labor secretary-designate.

Linda Chavez was in the hot seat, and she had to make a decision for herself and her family as to whether she wanted to go through that mess. It's one of the reasons good people just don't go into government service anymore. I find it distressing and debilitating to see a good, decent, honorable person like that smeared and attacked gratuitously and gleefully by the opposition to her ideological views. That's what really bugs me.

I would have liked for her to have gone through the process and gone before those hypocritical senators to answer any and all of their questions as capably as I know she can and as empathetically as she would. But I'm not going to substitute my judgment for hers on the decision to withdraw. Why drag herself and her family through all that? These folks are just shameless. I am disgusted by the politics of personal destruction, and I don't care who follows it -- Democrats or Republicans.

Linda Chavez is a very capable, very smart, very savvy, very decent and honorable human being. That's the only way I know her. I don't know her as a person who would skirt, undermine or erode the law. Behind a lot of this is the question of who won the election and whether or not Bush will be able to pick and have people serve in government who have different points of view from those who lost the election.

Gregory Rodriguez is a contributing editor to the Los Angeles Times Sunday Opinion section and a research scholar at the Pepperdine Institute for Public Policy. He is also a fellow at the New America Foundation.

It was genius. Just watching it, you can see how this whole compassion thing can somehow further the Bush agenda. Chavez was supposed to be some right-wing, hardhearted awful person who was against bilingual education, against affirmative action. Liberal Democrats have gotten away with painting anyone against those programs as hardhearted. So she went in a monster and came out a person. She spun herself well. The whole trotting-out worked. When was the last time you saw a Mexican immigrant who barely spoke English in front of the national press corps? It was a redeeming moment. She'll be the minority scorned.

As a nominee, she was two-sided. She's thoughtful on one level. Her book is actually a lot more thoughtful than people give her credit for. But she's a polarizing figure because of the way she says things. Her need to be provocative as a columnist conflicted with her thoughtfulness.

The real question now is [whether] Bush's next appointee is going to be another Mexican-American. On one hand, he needs a Mexican-American. But if he appoints another one, it'll be just like the Democrats: It's just patronage. And if he does that, then the Republican Party has reinvented itself as a coalitional party.

This shows that the Republicans are a lot more sophisticated than they were in 1994. Chavez is going down looking like a human being, not a right-wing witch. Democrats have been getting away with pulling moral superiority for so long. They have this notion that if you're against a certain program, you're a racist. The GOP is making that a bit more difficult to sell. They sacrificed her for Ashcroft. But it was pretty good political theater.

Patty Murray is a Democratic senator from Washington State. She serves on the Senate Labor Subcommittee.

Clearly, hiring illegal immigrants has been an issue in past nominations ... But in particular, it's important on this issue as the Cabinet secretary overseeing the Department of Labor and labor standards and labor laws. We need to make sure that the person who's in charge of that isn't above the law herself.

By Salon Staff

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