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Focus on APA Appointments in Obama Administration

Nichi Bei Times, News Report, Kenji G. Taguma Posted: Nov 17, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO -- While the mad dash to the finish line ended with the election of the nations first African American president, a new race has begun, with perhaps equal if not more flurry: Asian Pacific Americans jockeying for key positions in the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama.

The Nichi Bei Times asked attorney Dale Minami, a member of Obamas Asian American Pacific Islander Executive Committee, about his thoughts on potential Asian Pacific Americans (APAs) in an Obama administration.

Also providing insight was Congressman Mike Honda (D-San Jose), who as chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and vice chair of the Democratic National Committee is arguably the most influential Asian American politician in the country.

I suspect theres about close to a couple of thousand appointments that are available, said Honda, who added that over the past couple of months, Asian Americans across the country have been asked to prepare their applications.

In regards to Cabinet-level appointments, Minami suggested a number of APAs who could lead certain departments: Honda (D-San Jose) at the Department of Education, former San Jose Congressman and Presidential Cabinet veteran Norman Mineta at a variety of posts, Illinois Veterans Affairs Director Tammy Duckworth at the head of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, former Washington Governor Gary Locke as attorney general, U.S. Army General Eric Shinseki or Major General Antonio Taguba as head of the Department of Defense, and longtime U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye as ambassador to Japan.

Education Secretary Honda?

Congressman Hondas name has come up in the past as a potential Education Secretary. Is that a role suited for the four-term congressman and former school principal from the Silicon Valley?

Absolutely, asserted Minami. He started his career as an educator from ground zero in the classroom. He has been a teacher, an administrator and a strong proponent of effective educational policies.

He also understands the changing demographics of our country and what it means for educational reform, added Minami. Hes the person for the job.

In a telephone interview with the Nichi Bei Times, Honda admitted that hes put his hat into the ring for the position.

I put my name out there and am talking to different folks, said Honda, who mentioned that there has been no change in education policy in the last two to three decades. I think I know what we need to do. Thats the opportunity I want to address with the Obama administration.

Honda, who has been in public education for some 30 years, briefly outlined his priorities if he would be named to the post.

Aside from getting the Department of Education in order and aligned towards youngsters, there has to be a national dialogue as to what equity is, he said.

When asked what he thinks his chances for the post are, he said remote with a chuckle.

Nikkei Ambassador to Japan?

Although in a recent interview with the Nichi Bei Times he brushed off thoughts of returning to politics, Mineta is the most experienced Asian American Cabinet member, serving as both the Secretary of Commerce in the Clinton administration the first Asian American to serve any Cabinet position and as the longest-serving Transportation Secretary, from 2001 to July of 2006.

According to Minami, Mineta could ably serve in either of his former posts, or even as ambassador to Japan.

Minami also noted that Sen. Inouye who was recently slated to be the head of the Senate Appropriations Committee could serve as ambassador to Japan as well.

I think [Mineta and Inouye] are the only two with enough status and political capital to be considered, Minami told the Nichi Bei Times. I think Japan has seemed resistant to a Japanese American appointee but I believe these two candidates can change their attitude.

Honda agrees.

I think they both would be strong candidates, Honda told the Nichi Bei Times. Honda mentioned that Minetas preparation across different arenas may make him more prepared for the position.

Besides, Honda said, Sen. Inouye was just named as head of the Senate Appropriations Committee, a powerful position where he could have a major role in creating policies.

Key Iraq War Figures as Defense Secretary?

Gen. Eric Shinseki told government officials in the lead up to the war in Iraq that more troops were needed to secure the country, a notion that was dismissed by then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Gen. Antonio Tagubas report on the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq uncovered details of prisoner abuse by U.S. forces.

According to Minami, both could be capable to head the Department of Defense.

Honda said that if they submitted their names, and if former Secretary of State Colin Powell was involved in the selection process, they could get some consideration.

Shinseki, Honda said, has a proven record of doing the right thing.
However, Honda said that if Shinseki would go back to Hawaii, it could be great for him to run for that states governorship or eventually the Senate, thinking long-term when Sen. Inouye and Sen. Akaka leave the political scene.

Iraq War Veteran to Head Veterans Affairs?

Illinois Veterans Affairs Director Tammy Duckworth may be up for two political appointments tied to Obama: the president-elects Senate seat as well as the head of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

The Associated Press reported Nov. 7 that Duckworth would be honored to serve in the U.S. Senate if Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich selects her to fill Obamas seat. The governor mentioned several months ago that she was a contender for the seat.

Duckworth, a 40-year-old of Thai descent, lost both of her legs in a 2004 helicopter crash while serving as an Illinois Army National Guard pilot in Iraq. A Democrat, she lost her bid for a seat in Congress in 2006.

I think that shes a viable candidate because she is the veterans affairs head of her state, said Honda, who noted that while Duckworth would do great as the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, he would rather see her in the U.S. Senate.

Other Potential Appointments

When asked about other potential appointments, Minami pointed to other Asian Pacific Americans, among them is Glen S. Fukushima, the president and CEO of Airbus Japan who served in the Office of the United States Trade Representative in Washington, D.C. from 1985-1990. Fukushima has a joint law degree and MBA from Harvard University.

Glen S. Fukushima is one of the top choices, said Minami. His stellar educational background, his experience in government as a trade representative, his interest in governmental service, his diverse business experience and his work in both Europe and Asia present a perfect picture of a highly qualified candidate for a high position in trade or commerce.

Other potential candidates for appointments, as proposed by Minami, with prospective offices noted:

Paul Igasaki, at the Department of Labor or Department of Justice; Michael Yaki, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights; Stuart Ishimaru, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; former law school dean Frank Wu, Justice Department; and others such as former U.S. Department of Justices Civil Rights Division attorney Marisa Chun, former Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus Institute Executive Director Francey Youngberg, former Organization of Chinese Americans Executive Director Daphne Kwok, and AAPIs for Obama leaders Charmaine Manansala, Dr. Stan Toy and Betsy Kim.

There are many, many South Asians who were instrumental in galvanizing the APA votes and I know of many qualified individuals but dont know of their interest, said Minami. They will be a force in this administration.

While both President Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush had appointed hundreds of Asian Pacific Americans to various positions, Minami believes that President-elect Obama will appoint even more into such positions.

I believe so for several reasons, he asserted. First, APAs participated in unprecedented numbers and had a voice in the campaign at the highest levels. Second, President-elect Obama is aware of the presence of APAs in this country, in his campaign, and has appointed three APAs to his transition team.

He has also expressed his commitment to diversity which should include us as participants in his campaign and perhaps pivotal voters in several states, Minami added.

The pool of potential applicants has grown over recent years, Minami said, as APAs who were let into the door eventually rose through the ranks.

Finally, we have the critical mass of qualified and dedicated governmental administrators, Minami said. When Clinton was first elected, those APAs with government experience at high levels were few. As APAs received appointments and jobs at lower levels and rose through the ranks, many more qualified APAs were ready for appointment in the second Clinton term and were appointed. We now have an even larger pool to dip into for high-level appointments.

Related Articles:

Push for Diversity in an Obama Administration

Obama's Diversity Balancing Act

Ethnic Media Voices Weigh in on Obama Administration

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