SPOTLIGHT

How President Obama’s Cabinet Has Changed Local and National Politics

Julian Castro, Mayor of San Antonio, TX
©2010 Chet Susslin
Scott Bland
July 9, 2014, 7:45 a.m.

San Ant­o­nio May­or Ju­li­an Castro‘s (D) con­firm­a­tion today will make him the latest in an un­usu­ally long line of elec­ted of­fi­cials Pres­id­ent Obama has tapped for his Cab­in­et. We don’t know what will hap­pen to Castro, but Obama’s man­euv­er­ings have already had a huge im­pact on na­tion­al and state polit­ics throughout the coun­try.

— The single biggest one? Not only did Obama’s ap­point­ment of then-Sen. Hil­lary Clin­ton (D) as Sec­ret­ary of State do much to set up the 2016 pres­id­en­tial race, it also in­dir­ectly launched Kirsten Gil­librand (D) — the formerly anti-im­mig­ra­tion, gun-tot­ing, Blue-Dog-rep-turned-lib­er­al-Sen­ate-darling — as a po­ten­tial Demo­crat­ic star when she was ap­poin­ted in Clin­ton’s place by Gov. Dav­id Pa­ter­son (D).

— But there are plenty more: George W. Bush only spar­ingly used cur­rent elec­ted of­fice­hold­ers, like then-Or­ange County may­or Mel Mar­tinez (R), to staff his Cab­in­et, but Obama’s ap­point­ments opened up two gov­ernor­ships and two Sen­ate seats with­in weeks of him tak­ing of­fice. Janet Na­pol­it­ano‘s (D) nom­in­a­tion to DHS paved the way for Ari­zona Gov. Jan Brew­er‘s (R) rise, the pas­sage of the SB 1070 im­mig­ra­tion law, and this year’s open gubernat­ori­al con­test. Where would DSCC chair Sen. Mi­chael Ben­net (D), the former Den­ver schools chief, be right now if Ken Salaz­ar (D) hadn’t moved to In­teri­or?

— Now, the ques­tion is: How will Castro’s move to DC af­fect Texas polit­ics? Even more than for former Char­lotte May­or An­thony Foxx (D), now head­ing the Trans­port­a­tion De­part­ment, there wasn’t an im­me­di­ate next step for Castro to take at home, while the na­tion­al ex­per­i­ence (not to men­tion time for His­pan­ic polit­ic­al power to grow) could help later, as it did with Mar­tinez — or he could skip run­ning statewide in Texas en­tirely.

But noth­ing is guar­an­teed, and it’s al­ways risky for am­bi­tious politi­cians to re­move them­selves from the day-to-day de­tails of elect­or­al polit­ics. In any case, as we’ve seen with Obama’s oth­er Cab­in­et ap­point­ments, Castro’s (and Foxx’s) moves are sure to have ma­jor ef­fects down the road — some planned, and some un­fore­seen.
Scott Bland

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