Richardson, Hispanic Organizations Fail the Gonzales Test
It's no surprise that the ongoing controversy over Alberto Gonzales' role in the purging of U.S. prosecutors has revealed the limitless intent of the Bush administration to convert the Department of Justice into an appendage of the Republican Party. What is more surprising - and deeply disappointing - is the unwillingness of leading Hispanic figures and organizations to take on one of their own.
With his hesitation to call on Attorney General Gonzales to resign, Democratic presidential hopeful Governor Bill Richardson failed his first test when it comes to transcending identity politics. On April 17, the New Mexico Governor and first major party Hispanic candidate made it clear his continued support for the Attorney General hinged solely on their shared ethnicity:
"The only reason I'm not there is because he's Hispanic, and I know him and like him. It's because he's Hispanic. I'm honest. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt."
Eventually, holding his fellow Hispanic to a lower standard of accountability became too much of a political albatross even for Richardson. On April 20, the day after Gonzales' calamitous appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Richardson finally acknowledged the magnitude of Gonzales staggering incompetence and likely criminality:
"After reviewing the attorney general's behavior, I must reluctantly conclude that new leadership is needed. It's time for him to go. He's lost his ability to lead."
Sadly, the majority of the national major Hispanic American organizations have failed to admit the inevitable and tell Gonzales "no mas." As I wrote in early April, the National Council of La Raza had not yet "taken a public position on the firing controversy." As of April 1st, fence-sitting was the rule, with the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Latino Coalition, and the National Hispanic Bar Association to date having all withheld public support - or condemnation - for Gonzales in the face of the mounting evidence of his role in the U.S. attorneys controversy.
And as the Washington Post reported Tuesday, many of the same groups have continued to remain silent about Gonzales, placing ethnic pride over good government. Despite the deepening U.S. attorneys scandal, the revelations over Gonzales bed-side visit to an ailing John Ashcroft to coerce an extension of President Bush's illegal NSA domestic surveillance and the testimony of Gonzales aide Monica Goodling, only La Raza and LULAC offered public statements of "buyer's remorse" when it comes to their earlier support for the embattled Attorney General.
Janet Murguia, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza, said that with the Hispanic community, "people are conflicted," adding that Gonzales is "a follower, not a leader." And executive director Brent Wilkes expressed the regrets of the League of United Latin American Citizens:
"I have to say we were in error when we supported him to begin with. We hoped for better. Instead it looks like he's done the bidding of the White House."
But through their letters of support or mere silence, the majority of Hispanic civic and business organizations continue to stand by their man. Gilbert Moreno, president of the Association for the Advancement of Mexican Americans, on whose board Gonzales once sat, said, "We're not really in a position to comment." And as the Washington Post reported:
The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, which offered enthusiastic support for Gonzales, also declined to discuss him. William Ramos, director of the organization's Washington office, said, "We provided a support letter, yes," then hung up.
The U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the National Latino Peace Officers Association, the Latino Coalition and the Hispanic Alliance for Progress Institute all wrote letters supporting Gonzales when he became embroiled in the scandal over the prosecutor firings.
"We strongly oppose what is nothing but patently political calls for the resignation of Alberto Gonzales," the Latino Coalition wrote. "He has been, and continues to be, a leading example to all in the Hispanic community of what we can accomplish through hard work and keeping true to our dreams."
In explaining his tardiness in calling for Gonzales' ouster, Bill Richardson said,
"Did it affect that he was Hispanic in what I said? Yeah, it did, and I said so. I'm just being honest."
Honest maybe, but not right, and certainly not presidential. But unlike his allies among the leading Hispanic organizations across America, Bill Richardson eventually put the national interest above identity politics.