DALLAS — At a luncheon for union leaders, I asked what people hoped to see in new government appointments. ‘Nobody from Texas,’ was the sharpest and most agreed-on response. Neoconservative Republicans have dominated all state offices since Bush first ran for governor in the mid 1990s. Even before that, under Democratic Gov. Ann Richards and President Clinton, state leaders set up a big ‘Yee-haw’ for NAFTA.
Former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, whose NAFTA ‘Yee-haw’ was as loud as any, was chosen as the Obama administration’s trade representative. The announcement came on the same day that a strongly pro-worker congresswoman, Hilda Solis, won the labor secretary spot. Labor celebrated Solis and expressed some concern about Kirk on the same Dec. 19 morning.
Although African Americans and other progressives here in Dallas were proud when Ron Kirk became our first non-white mayor, we also knew that he was a long-time lobbyist for the city’s shadow-government Citizen’s Alliance and for other unseemly groups and causes. His terms in office did not change anybody’s opinion. His main ‘accomplishments’ were the big sports auditorium now known as the American Airlines Center and the toll-road boondoggle known as the ‘Trinity River Project.’ Both have been enriching the rich and discomforting the rest since Kirk was in office.
On the other hand, Texas labor and other progressives worked hard for Kirk when he headed the Democratic ticket in his run for U.S. Senate in 2002. Nobody faulted him for losing. Republicans won all statewide offices then and since then.
Ed Sills, communications secretary for the Texas AFL-CIO, remarked on labor’s good relationship with Ron Kirk during the 2002 campaign, but added, ‘We should have no illusions on this particular appointment, though. As an attorney at Vinson & Elkins, which advocates for clients who hold the unfettered ‘free trade’ position, Kirk will bear careful watching on trade policy.’
Kirk-supporting editors at the Dallas Morning News, totally devoted to NAFTA and other anti-worker policies, celebrated the appointment with extensive news stories. They pointed out that labor may not be entirely happy with the Kirk appointment, but that Obama had reportedly offered the trade rep position earlier to Congressman Xavier Becerra of Los Angeles. Becerra turned it down and was quoted saying that trade ‘would not be priority No. 1, and perhaps, not even priority No. 2 or 3’ for Mr. Obama.