Brown’s legacy with Latinos parallels that of Latinos and the Kennedys.
By Carlos Alcala, Managing Editor, The American Latina
SACRAMENTO, CA - On March 22, 2011, California Governor Jerry Brown continued a legacy he had established 36 years ago by appointing Anna Caballero as Secretary of the State and Consumer Services Agency. By keeping his pledge to California’s burgeoning Latino population to make them a vital part of his administration, he has gained many new friends.
This appointment is crucial because the Secretary of State and Consumer Services Agency oversees thousands of employees in several departments including the Department of Consumer Affairs, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, and one of the largest purchasers and contractors in the state, the Department of General Services. But, perhaps the most significant is the role the Secretary plays in the powerful Public Employment Retirement System (CalPERS) and the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS).
Each of these pension funds have control over billions of dollars in investments worldwide and are also the topic of current heated budget debates. More recently, CalPERS has been a news item because of alleged bribes to Board members.
As Brown’s first major appointment in 36 years of a Latino, Anna Caballero is unquestionable skilled and qualified. Only the appointment of the legendary Mario Obledo in 1975 as head of the Health and Human Services Agency by Brown rivals Caballero’s appointment in stature and importance to California’s Latino community of fourteen million.
According to the United States census, Latinos now comprise 38% of California’s 37,254,000 people. Therefore, the appointment of Anna Caballero to a cabinet level position may say as much about Brown as it does about Caballero.
The continued historical relationship between California’s Mexican-American population and the Brown family was more than evident in the 2010 gubernatorial election. According to the Los Angeles Times, as many as 80% of Mexican-American voters (or 4 of every 5 voters) cast their ballots for Jerry Brown. This relationship has affected California politics by causing dramatic power shifts, as witnessed in the lack of Republicans holding any Constitutional office.
Jerry Brown’s iconic position with the Mexican-American community is paralleled only by the Kennedy family’s own relationship. Both, the late Robert Kennedy and the Browns, tied their wagon to legendary labor leader Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers (UFW). Although Chavez is gone, the ties he forged continue to endure today.
However, unlike the late President John F. Kennedy, who built his relationship with Mexican-Americans through Jacqueline Kennedy’s Spanish-language appeal, Brown constructed his relationship through solid action in the appointment of Mexican-Americans to his first administration. Thirty five years ago, Brown made history and won the loyalty of the Mexican-American community when he appointed Mario Obledo, Irene Tovar, and Dr. Jerome Lackner (physician to Cesar Chavez) to prominent agency secretary, board member, and department director positions in his first Administration. Obledo and Lackner brought in other Mexican-Americans, such as Obledo’s and Lackner’s civil rights officer who was instrumental in greatly increasing Mexican-American representation in state government. These efforts propelled Brown into the iconic position that he holds today with the Mexican-American community.
The significance of the Brown/Mexican-American community ties cannot be understated. There were 5.4 million eligible Mexican-American voters in California in the 2010 election. The lopsided Mexican-American vote for Jerry Brown determined the outcome of the 2010 gubernatorial election. If the Mexican-American vote had split evenly, Republicans would be celebrating Meg Whitman as Governor and not Democrat Jerry Brown.
Brown has grown accustomed to winning elections in California, largely due to his relationship with Mexican-Americans. It is fair to say that the Brown/Mexican-American community relationship has defined Brown’s career. At a recent March 2011 event supporting the Dolores Huerta Foundation, Dolores Huerta introduced Jerry Brown as “California’s Latino governor.”
Many Latinos identify the appointment of Cabinet level appointment of Mario Obledo to the Health and Human Services Agency as the catalyst for progress and equity for Mexican-Americans in the First Brown Administration. This explains the immediate expectations placed upon Anna Caballero. For all these reasons, Mexican-American leaders were ecstatic about Brown’s appointment of Anna Caballero to Brown’s cabinet. A recent Pew Institute Study disclosed that 74% of Latinos could not name a Latino leader.
Jim Hernandez, CEO of the California Hispanic Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, reflected on the appointment, “Anna Caballero has a tremendous opportunity to become the Latina leader in the United States. She simply has to exercise the courage to advocate civil rights fairness for Latinos. Brown has shown us his good faith, now she must show us that she can lead.”
As the former mayor of Salinas and a long time civil rights activist, the Latino community’s expectations of Anna Caballero are already very high. Whether she will be able to match those expectations remains to be seen.
Taty Aguilera, a high-level state employee and recipient of the Latino Journal’s Employment Advocate of the Year opined, “Caballero is the right choice for the cabinet. I know that she will stand up for justice for Latinos and all Californians.”
Arnulfo Hernandez, former General Counsel for the Department of Veterans Affairs, applauded the appointment of Caballero, “Brown could not have made a better selection.”
Caballero’s appointment is an affirmation of the careers in public service that she and her husband, Juan Uranga, have chosen. Juan, also a former CRLA lawyer, is now Executive Director of a non-profit organization in Salinas, CA, that advocates for housing for the low income and migrant farm workers.
We welcome Gov. Jerry Brown’s first overture and anticipate many more appointments for Latinos throughout his term.