In my last column to you, the presidential election was still in turmoil. Even though it was several weeks after election day, the nation had not known who our next president would be. Now we know. And the turmoil continues.
In Vice President Gore's gracious concession speech on December 13, he eloquently called upon the nation to unite. "This is America. Just as we fight hard when the stakes are high, we close ranks and come together when the contest is done. And while there will be time enough to debate our continuing differences, now is the time to recognize that which unites us is greater than that which divides us."
And for a brief time, united we stood. While expressing disappointment in the outcome, the labor movement quickly stated that we would work with the new president-elect with the honor and respect that our nation's highest leader deserves. Then, the president-elect's Cabinet announcements came - beginning with Senator Ashcroft and ending with Linda Chavez. The turmoil returns.
Following in the "footsteps" of President Clinton, President-elect Bush wanted a Cabinet that "looked like America." And he has put forth a Cabinet that on the surface does. But when you look deep into the eyes of this Cabinet portrait, while they may look like America, looks can be deceiving. This is the most conservative Cabinet that our nation has seen in generations. No one should be fooled that diversity in composition means diversity in ideology. Working men and women should be on high alert with the announcement of some of the members of this Cabinet.
Perhaps no where is this more evident than in the President-elect's initial selection to head the Labor Department - Linda Chavez. Yes, Chavez withdrew from consideration, but the nomination itself speaks volumes about how this new Administration may really feel about the issues facing working families. Chavez has consistently attacked the minimum wage, overtime protections, the 40-hour week and federal family leave laws. She even suggested once that "Labor Department personnel who disagree are ‘Marxist'." Chavez also opposes nondiscrimination programs, including affirmative action, which the labor secretary is charged with enforcing.
Following the Chavez withdrawal, President-elect Bush tapped Elaine Chao as the new nominee to run the Labor Department. Chao, a past director of the Peace Corps and Deputy Transportation Secretary under former President Bush, is currently president and chief executive officer of the United Way. We will watch her confirmation hearings with interest and hope that she indicates a strong desire to work together on issues that continue to strengthen our economy and the security of all working families.
While we need to learn more about Elaine Chao, two other nominees put forth by the Bush team have very troubling records - attorney general-designate John Ashcroft and Interior Department nominee Gale Norton. The AFL-CIO Executive Council has called upon the Senate to reject both nominations.
According to the Executive Council, Ashcroft's views "are at radical odds with the laws over which an attorney general has authority - from the role of the federal judiciary, to the role of the federal government in protecting the rights of all Americans, to the rights of women in the workplace...were his views to become those of the Justice Department, they would threaten every federal labor and employment law currently protecting working families."
As a member of the United States Senate, Ashcroft has maintained an extremely conservative and anti-working family voting record. He has advocated religious school vouchers, voted against the Hate Crimes Act of 1999 and measures designed to preserve Social Security.
In 1999, he sabotaged the federal judicial appointment of Judge Ronnie White, the first African- American to sit on the Missouri Supreme Court. He repeatedly distorted Judge White's record, labeling White "pro-criminal" and saying he had a "poor record on the death penalty," a direct contradiction of the known facts.
Simply put, while President-elect Bush seems to take great pride in being a "uniter," he has nominated a "divider" to be his next Attorney General. Ashcroft's words speak for themselves: "There are voices in the Republican Party today who preach pragmatism, who champion conciliation, who counsel compromise. I stand here today to reject those deceptions. If there ever was a time to unfurl the banner of unabashed conservatism, it is now." (Human Events, April 1998.)
The nomination of Gale Norton to be our next Interior Cabinet Secretary also sends the signal that conservatism is the watchword of this new Administration - and we're not talking about "compassionate conservatism." Norton's nomination is being opposed by many of our nation's leading environmental organizations. As the AFL-CIO Executive Council stated, "Norton's nomination is a massive affront to environmentalists and to all who are concerned about the water we drink, the air we breathe and the earth on which we live together."
In contrast to the anti-worker, anti-civil rights, anti-women's rights selection of John Ashcroft, Gale Norton and Linda Chavez, the choice of Norman Mineta as Secretary of Transportation is an excellent one. Whether or not it was driven by the need to fulfill a promise to have a Democrat in the Cabinet, Secretary Mineta is a man who understands the transportation needs of our nation and has been a strong voice for working Americans. We are glad that this talented and dedicated public servant has been chosen and we look forward to working with him when confirmed.
It should be noted, however, that the Bush Administration has thus far failed to include any transportation workers on its transition advisory team. It is simply inexcusable that the voice of the millions of men and women who dedicate themselves to our nation's transportation system each and every day is not being heard during this important transition process.
So, yes, we are back in turmoil. But turmoil can also bring unity. And while we certainly already have our differences with this new Administration, we should not throw in the towel. We must work to find common ground. And when we disagree, express our right to do so.
This is particularly true in the coming months as Senate hearings on the Cabinet nominees continue and this new Administration settles in. Columnist E. J. Dionne Jr, recently wrote, " This is about a President-elect who, without a mandate, is pushing an ideological agenda - courageously so, in the eyes of his supporters. Those who disagree with that agenda have no obligation to go along with it or with those who should advance it. On the contrary, they should show the same determination in support of their ideas as Bush has shown in support of his..."
It's going to be an interesting year.