A Case for another Latino Secretary of Interior

Photo: Office of Congressman Raúl Grijalva

Photo: Office of Congressman Raúl Grijalva


Last week, Ken Salazar announced he would be stepping down as Secretary of the Department of Interior. With Hilda Solis at the Department of Labor also leaving, that would bring the number of Latinos at the Cabinet level down to zero.

Though calling for a quota of Latinos in the Cabinet may or may not be the best strategy, the White House has been under some calls for more to diversity in the next Cabinet—with an Obama response of “wait and see until I’ve made all my appointments and nominations.”

But with the departure of Salazar, there would be logic to another Latino appointment as Secretary of Interior.  This was highlighted at the end of 2012 when a coalition of conservation groups released a letter calling for Congressman Raul Grijalva as a candidate for the position—a call that was renewed after Salazar’s announcement. Grijalva was also included among a list of Latino candidates in a recent letter by the National Hispanic Leadership agenda.

The call for Grijalva rests on some key points:

  • He is the ranking member and former chairman of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands.
  • Having represented Arizona’s 7th Congressional District (now redistricted as the 3rd Congressional District), he has a strong understanding of border issues and expertise with Native Americans and Indian tribes.
  • He has a record of strong support for conservation issues that include a pragmatic conservation ethic.

These points matter from a conservation viewpoint because the Department of the Interior has jurisdiction over several key natural resource and conservation agencies. These include the National Park System, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Fish & Wildlife Service (The Forest Service is managed by the Department of Agriculture).

Most of these public land holdings are in the West. A Latino Interior Secretary would make sense given that the West is home to a significant number of Latino communities and Latino history.

Part of that history for many Latino communities is a checkered past with public lands ever since the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. As a result of continued Anglo migration, many Hispano land grants ended up as public lands or transferred to Anglo hands.

But more significant is that a big part of the future for public lands is Latino. With an increasing need to have more diversity in the management and public use of public lands, what better way than to model that with a Latino at the helm?

A candidate like Grijalva would fit the bill given that he has experience with many of the issues a Secretary of Interior needs to deal with. Most notable is the need for a balance between conservation and resource extraction. Some think we have gone too far into extraction and that Obama needs to swing back towards conservation and preservation.

Many of the public lands also border Native American reservations, and co-management, or at least collaboration is key—experience and praise that Grijalva has. In addition, the Bureau of Indian Affairs is under the Department of Interior.

Lastly, many public lands in the border are stages for issues with the recent Mexican Drug War, the polarizing politicization of immigration, and general push of migrants into the desert. Having a Latino Secretary of Interior with experience and knowledge of those issues would be an additional boon.

Ultimately in politics, the most obvious choice from one perspective is not the most obvious from another. Grijalva was rumored to have in the short list for Secretary of Interior in 2008 but lost out to Salazar due to being “too green” for oil, gas, and mining interests. What was better from a conservation viewpoint was less so from a political one. But in the wake of the 2012 elections with Latinos taking a more prominent role in politics, a Latino Secretary of Interior like Grijalva may make a bit more political sense, in addition to a set of robust conservation credentials.


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