Former Denverite Linda Chavez delights conservatives and infuriates Hispanic activists by charging that many government programs aimed at helping minorities actually hold them back.
As secretary of labor, she’ll be in charge of enforcing many of those programs.
She’s made her reputation as an opinionated Hispanic conservative, becoming a regular on political television shows and a nationally syndicated columnist.
She’s well known in Denver for leading a successful campaign to make English the official language of Colorado. Last year, she led another initiative drive to substitute intensive English for bilingual classes, but it was thrown off the ballot as unclear.
Still, her opinions are carefully phrased. She opposes hiring less qualified people. But she favors affirmative action programs that train minorities and increase the pool of job candidates.
In her new position, she will run those training programs and be responsible for enforcing affirmative action and equal opportunity laws.
When President-elect Bush announced her appointment Tuesday, Chavez promised to increase the skills of all Americans and promote safe working conditions. She could not be reached after the press conference.
Former Denver school board member Rita Montero, a onetime opponent of Chavez’s push to make English the state’s official language, applauded her nomination Tuesday. She said Chavez is a strong supporter of immigrants and hopes she will attack mistreatment of immigrant workers and improve the lot of migrant farmworkers.
Chavez has spoken in favor of a sharp change in U.S. immigration policy, shifting the preference away from relatives of residents and toward immigrants with skills needed by American business.
U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, who worked with Chavez on the intensive-English initiative, called Chavez “gutsy and brilliant.”
“When you try to begin to identify people out there that are true heroines or heroes, she easily comes to mind for me,” Tancredo said. “She says what she believes regardless of the political consequences.”
But the National Council of La Raza criticized her position on affirmative action as “troubling behavior in someone who as labor secretary would oversee the Office of Federal Contract Compliance, which is charged with monitoring the affirmative action plans of federal contractors.”
Chavez jumped into the affirmative action debate in Colorado again in 1997 when her Washington think tank undertook a study that found the state’s colleges and universities admit minorities with significantly lower test scores and grade-point averages than whites.
The study also found that far fewer of the minorities graduate. Chavez said that many of them might have graduated at less-elite schools.
“Does it really improve race relations to have a white student sitting next to a minority student, thinking that student has lower scores and is ill- prepared?” she added.
Chavez has said she herself suffered from such assumptions. Nuns discouraged her from attending college amd critics assumed that she could not be writing her own columns.
In a 1994 interview with the Denver Rocky Mountain News, Chavez condemned the multicultural movement for trying to “retribalize people,” making them think of themselves first as members of a tribe and not as Americans.
In the same interview, Chavez condemned “diversity” consultants for telling employers they must change to accommodate minorities. She likened this to a belief “that a person’s character is determined by the color of his skin and by his ancestry.”
Chavez began her Washington career as a staffer to a Democatic congressman. Then she became a lobbyist for the teachers’ unions, and served a year in the Carter administration.
She returned to the American Federation of Teachers to become editor of its journal, American Educator. Her resume says she published articles on such issues as moral education and the survival of the American family, by noted conservatives such as William Bennett. Bennett became her mentor in the Republican Party.
In 1983, President Reagan tapped her as staff director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, where she immediately denounced racial quotas. In 1985, she moved to the West Wing of the White House as director of public liaison. In 1986, she failed in her try for a Senate seat from Maryland.
She then moved strongly into conservative causes as president of U.S. English, where she ran initiatives to make English the official language in dozens of states.
In 1989, she began working for think tanks on Hispanics and immigration. As head of her own think tank called Center for Equal Opportunity, she became an adviser on the successful initiative that banned bilingual education in California in 1998.
In 1990, students at the University of Northern Colorado protested her scheduled commencement speech. She was disinvited, but showed up anyway and distributed copies of the Constitution.
Chavez’s paternal ancestors arrived in New Mexico in the 1600s.
Age: 53; born June 17, 1947
Education: B.A., University of Colorado, 1970; Doctoral study in English literature at University of California at Los Angeles, 1970-72.
Experience: Nationally syndicated political columnist; president and founder, Center for Equal Opportunity, 1995–present; served as a U.S. expert on the U.N. subcommission on the prevention of discrimination and protection of minorities, 1992-96; member of the Council on Foreign Relations; deputy assistant to president and White House director of public liaison, 1985-86; staff director, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 1983-85; editor, American Educator, 1977-83; counselor, civil rights section, Office of Management and Budget, 1977; staff member, House Judiciary subcommittee on civil and constitutional rights, 1972-74.
Family: Husband, Christopher; three children, two grandchildren.