Chavez Couldn't Beat Long Odds

Sets of twins cruise down the street during the Twins Parade at the 20th annual Just for Laughs comedy festival Saturday 20 June 2002 in Montreal. About 2,000 twins and triplets participated in the annual parade. AFP PHOTO/Marcos TOWNSEND (Photo credit should read MARCOS TOWNSEND/AFP/Getty Images)
Although revelations that she provided housing and financial aid to an illegal alien ultimately scuttled Linda Chavez's chance to be labor secretary, the conservative commentator and former Reagan administration official was already facing an uphill battle in her bid to win confirmation by the Senate.

Even before the weekend reports that she housed and paid a Guatemalan woman, Marta Mercado, in the United States illegally, Chavez was under fire from Democrats, women's groups and union leaders for some of her outspoken positions on labor issues.

Chavez, who was George W. Bush's campaign adviser on immigration, is a steadfast opponent of affirmative action who has scoffed at raising the minimum wage and cheered proposals to trim Social Security benefits.

A syndicated columnist and author, she wrote earlier this year: "America is increasingly a multiracial, multiethnic society, one in which both women and men are found in most jobs and universities. It is foolish and dangerous for the government to rank favorites on the basis of skin color, ancestry and sex."

A review of Chavez's writings also finds that she:

  • Argued there was no "glass ceiling" blocking women from advancing at work, saying women make different job choices from men, often putting their families first.
  • Suggested the increase in sexual harassment lawsuits is making the United States "a nation of crybabies." She added: "With men so often the targets of such witch hunts, it's no surprise that a few strike back."
  • Ridiculed the Americans With Disabilities Act as "special treatment in the name of accommodating the disabled."
  • Called raising the minimum wage "bad policy" and suggested that "the folks at the Clinton Labor Department" who disagree think that wage policy should be based on Marxism.
  • Wrote that "Union members are hardly representative of the American working public."
John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, which represents some 13 million American workers, expressed extreme disappointment at Chavez's nomination.

"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," Sweeney said in a statement.

"Oh, my God. I thought I knew how bad she was," said Ellen Bravo, co-director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women, when told of the "crybaby" comment.

The Chevez-Mercado incident has drawn comparisons with the so-called "Nanny-gate" episode involving Zoe Baird, President Clinton's early choice for attorney general, who failed to pay Social Security taxes for a nanny she employed.

Chavez herself commented on the Baird episode in 1993, telling PBS: "I think most of the American people were upset durin the Zoe Baird nomination that she had hired an illegal alien. That was what upset them more than the fact that she did not pay Social Security taxes."

An official with the Immigration and Naturalization Service said it is against the law to house an illegal immigrant, even if the person is not an employee. Violators are subject to fines and up to five years in prison, although there are few prosecutions of such breaches.

Chavez is currently president of the Washington-based Center for Equal Opportunity, which has done studies supporting its position against affirmative action programs. She is also on the board of the American Civil Rights Union, which has been billed as a "constructive alternative" to the American Civil Liberties Union.

She was staff director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights during Ronald Reagan's first White House term, and was White House director of public liaison in 1985. She won the 1986 Republican nomination for the Senate in Maryland, but lost the election.

She is the author of Out of the Barrio: Toward a New Politics of Hispanic Assimilation, published in 1991.

Married and the mother of three sons, Chavez received a bachelor's degree from the University of Colorado.

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