You could be forgiven for not knowing that Linda Chavez, George W. Bush's appointment for labor secretary, is a fierce opponent of a minimum wage hike. Or that she opposes affirmative action. Or that she supports school vouchers. Or that she once served as the president of a group called U.S. English, which lobbied to make English the country's official language.
But chances are, if you've heard of Chavez, you've also heard that for some time in the early 1990s she employed -- or merely "housed," depending on whether you're a Bush flack -- an illegal alien named Marta Mercado, who received money from Chavez in exchange for performing various household chores. That fact has eclipsed all other news about Chavez and put her nomination in peril.
It would be difficult to imagine a more fitting turn of events, since Chavez was chief among the Republican critics who successfully attacked Clinton nominees Zoe Baird and Kimba Wood for employing illegal aliens. "I think most of the American people were upset during the Zoe Baird nomination that she had hired an illegal alien," Chavez said in a 1993 interview. "That was what upset them more than the fact that she did not pay Social Security taxes."
But Chavez has an unsettling record both before and after that choice quote. Chavez, 53, is a former liberal Democrat and union member who once worked for the American Federation of Teachers. But she voted for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and was appointed staff director of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission three years later. In that position, Chavez proposed studies intended to show the potential adverse effects of affirmative action, racial quotas and court-ordered busing. It wasn't a surprise when she switched parties in 1985.
Though Chavez is Hispanic, she doesn't speak Spanish, and would prefer that the nation's citizens speak English officially (something omitted from the official biography of her that was released by the Bush campaign). As president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, which purports to encourage racial harmony, she has attacked the idea of bilingual education. Not surprisingly, this has earned her the wrath of most Hispanic groups. The fact that she referred to her female Democratic opponent in a 1986 congressional race as a "Marxist-feminist" hasn't won her any points with women's groups. And her opposition to affirmative action and a higher minimum wage, coupled with her desire to limit union spending on political campaigns, has prompted an organized labor campaign to oppose her nomination. Chavez, said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, is "an insult to American working men and women."
Linda Chavez is unquestionably unfit to serve as Labor Secretary. And certainly there is something satisfying about seeing Chavez hoist by her own petard. But Democrats should resist the temptation to dwell for too long on Chavez's nanny problem lest they miss the chance to highlight her numerous other shortcomings.
If an illegal alien becomes the issue that costs Chavez the nomination, Republicans will have only themselves to blame. But if it becomes the centerpiece of her nomination battle and she wins, the blame will lie squarely with Democrats.