01/19/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Hilda Solis: Get Excited

by Zach Carter, Media Consortium MediaWire blogger

UPDATE: Friday afternoon, President-Elect Barack Obama confirmed the nomination of Rep. Hilda (D-Calif) for Secretary of Labor.

President-elect Barack Obama named Rep. Hilda Solis, D-Calif., as the next administration's Secretary of Labor this morning. To put it simply, progressives are ecstatic about the pick.

"If you were to sketch an ideal Labor Secretary, you could hardly do much better," Jonathan Stein writes for Mother Jones.

"Solis should make progressives feel pretty good," according to Steve Benen of The Washington Monthly, who calls her nomination, "a big win for unions."

Why all the excitement? As Harold Meyerson details in a great profile for The American Prospect, Solis led the successful push to raise California's minimum wage in 1996, diverting funds from her own State Senate political account to fund a signature-gathering campaign that culminated in the measure's passage over strong resistance from Republican Gov. Pete Wilson.

Solis doesn't just have passion and patience, she's got guts. When she ran for the House of Representatives in 2000, she took on a 9-term Democrat with a terrible record and absolutely trounced him in the primary, going on to win back California's 32nd District for the left.

"In the House, Solis has continued to champion labor causes, immigrants' rights, women's health and environmental protections," Meyerson writes.

She has a 100% rating from the AFL-CIO, and as Meyerson's fellow Prospect-er Ezra Klein notes, she has successfully defused tensions between immigrant laborers and older union workers who viewed immigrants as a threat.

And then there's her personal story. As the daughter of union worker immigrants from Nicaragua and Mexico, Solis embodies America's most-prized and rarely realized ideal: the promise of opportunity for all citizens that rewards hard work.

The Labor Secretary position can be either enormously powerful or completely irrelevant, as demonstrated by the contrast between the tenures of President Bill Clinton's first Labor Secretary, Robert Reich, and that of current Secretary Elaine Chao. In just four years, Reich secured the passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Pension Protection Act and the School-to-Work Jobs Act, raised the minimum wage and still had time to call out deregulation ideologue, budget hawk and Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin on his reckless lunacy. Chao's only accomplishment after eight years is a 2003 rule that denied overtime pay to 6 million workers. Progressives can trust Solis to ensure that the Department of Labor will finally be going to bat for laborers again.

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