LatinaLista — The Latino blogosphere has been busily speculating about the chances of Gov. Bill Richardson being appointed Secretary of State in President-elect Obama’s administration. It goes without saying that the governor is qualified for the position but word is that he faces stiff competition —Â ”Sen. Kerry, Richard Holbrooke, a former senior U.S. diplomat; Sen. Richard Lugar, a Republican foreign-policy guru from Indiana; Sen. Chuck Hagel, the Nebraska Republican who is retiring; and Sen. Hillary Clinton.”
Caricature of New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson
Yet, though the position of Secretary of State is generating a lot of buzz and is probably considered the crown of all political appointments, that’s not the position I would like to see Gov. Richardson occupy. At this time in our country when people are starting to come down from the high of the Obama win and feeling again the painful divisiveness of punitive Bush policies, I feel Richardson can better serve the country and help heal it as the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.
The secretary is responsible for running a huge department encompassing a grab bag of agencies. These include a medium-sized Navy (the U.S. Coast Guard), an elite plainclothes presidential bodyguard regiment (the U.S. Secret Service), a substantial prison system (detention facilities run by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Bureau) and massive uniformed battalions that police airports and land borders. Not to mention the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a bureau that processes citizenship applications and the department’s own intelligence office.
While at first glance, it may not be appealing to someone who likes the glamour of handling global negotiations, the opportunity has arisen, because of the mismanagement of its current secretary, to expand the parameters of this department to include not just talking with our border neighbors but all those countries whose citizens still come in search of something better.
The next DHS Secretary has as big a task in front of him or her as President Obama has. In many ways, this position is more volatile than Secretary of State because it deals with trying to heal our own nation where diplomatic protocol doesn’t exist to restrain people to act in a civil manner — just read the comments section on Latina Lista or any Latino political blog.
The DHS position needs someone who can communicate with the largest group of people targeted by current immigration policies and the subject of DHS enforcement — Spanish-speakers. Right now, the list of possible candidates for DHS Secretary is rumored to be:
Los Angeles Police Department chief William Bratton; New York police commissioner Ray Kelly, who under President Clinton ran U.S. Customs; Rep Jane Harman, who chairs a House Homeland Security subcommittee on intelligence; James Lee Witt, a former Arkansas emergency-management and FEMA chief under administrations led by Bill Clinton; and Michael Sheehan, a former top federal and NYPD terrorism expert
While each of these candidates brings their own unique qualifications, the Department of Homeland Security needs someone at the helm who does have (dare I say) executive experience in combination with negotiating skills, ready-made leadership qualities and a strong sense of what is right and wrong when it comes to federal policy.
In handling issues of immigration enforcement, Gov. Richardson brings a tough compassion to the job because he intimately knows the situations of the people most targeted currently by DHS.
The Department of Homeland Security, like several other agencies, presents new opportunities for the next person in charge to remake it into an agency that is effective, respected and respectful.
These are qualities that Gov. Richardson already brings to the table and they are qualities needed to start a national healing.