January 5, 2001

Critics of Chavez sound off

PROFILE: Bush's choice for labor secretary has strong conservative credentials.

By Tony Pugh
Knight Ridder Newspapers

WASHINGTON — Once a liberal Democrat who worked for the American Federation of Teachers, Linda Chavez, President-elect George W. Bush's pick as labor secretary, is now a staunch conservative who supports school vouchers.

A Hispanic who does not speak Spanish, Chavez served on the board of an organization advocating English as the country's official language, only to resign because she considered the group racist.

Chavez, 53, is best known as a vigorous opponent of affirmative action policies.

The National Association of Manufacturers, which often speaks for corporate America in the nation's capital, extolled the appointment, saying that Chavez would help in "rationalizing 1930s-era labor laws with the modern-day workplace."

Organized labor was appalled. AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said in a prepared statement: "It is an insult to American working men and women to put an avowed opponent of the most basic workers' rights in charge of enforcing the federal laws and regulations that protect workers' wages, employment and pension rights, equal employment opportunity and other programs for advancement."

Chavez's opposition to affirmative action also alarms Democratic activists, who question her commitment to vigorously enforce civil rights laws in the workplace. While staff director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights from 1983 to 1985, Chavez pursued research to demonstrate adverse effects of affirmative action in hiring and in college admissions.

"I think this could be considered an `in your face' nomination," said Cecilia Muñoz, vice president for policy with the National Council of La Raza, the nation's largest Hispanic advocacy organization.

The daughter of a white mother and a Mexican-American father, Chavez has spoken frequently of growing up poor in Albuquerque, N.M. She attended a Catholic high school in Denver where, despite outstanding grades, she noted later, nuns discouraged her from attending college. She went on to earn a bachelor's degree from the University of Colorado in 1970.

After leaving the civil rights commission, Chavez, who switched parties in 1984, moved to the White House as a deputy assistant to the president and director of public liaison. In 1986, she won the Republican nomination for a Senate seat from Maryland but lost in the general election.

In 1998, she advised millionaire Ron Unz, who financially backed the successful ballot initiative that required the repeal of bilingual education in California.

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