- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 11, 2004


The poorer your origins, the higher your chances of gaining a cherished seat in President Bush’s Cabinet, at least if his picks for his second term are anything to go by.

Jim Nicholson, who was nominated by Mr. Bush to be secretary of veterans affairs, is no exception.

At 66, Mr. Nicholson has been summoned back to the United States from Italy, where he has served since 2001 as the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. However, his social origins are far more humble than those of many senior diplomats.

Born on a Great Depression-era farm in Iowa in 1938, Mr. Nicholson has recalled “growing up poor in a tenant house without plumbing and sometimes without food.”

Other prospective Cabinet members also have graduated from the school of hard knocks.

Alberto Gonzales, 49, Mr. Bush’s nominee for attorney general, also comes from humble stock.

Born in Houston, Mr. Gonzales is the son of poor Mexican immigrants.

As with Mr. Nicholson, service in the Army helped Mr. Gonzales pay his way through college.

Commerce secretary nominee Carlos Gutierrez, 51, is the son of Cuban refugees to Mexico, who sought sanctuary there after the Cuban revolution.

Condoleezza Rice, 50, one of Mr. Bush’s closest confidantes and nominated to be the next secretary of state, was born into a middle-class black family in Birmingham, Ala., and lived through the volatile politics of the civil rights movement. One of her childhood classmates died in an infamous racist bombing of a church.

By her early 20s, however, she had already opted to follow a career in international relations.

Margaret Spellings, 46, picked to be education secretary, followed a more conventional route to Washington’s corridors of power.

A former journalist, she became an education specialist in Texas, where her skills were noted by Mr. Bush when he was governor.

After being elected president, Mr. Bush called her to the White House as a close adviser. Newly divorced, she juggles her life between two sons and their father in Texas and her high-powered career in Washington.

Of the Cabinet secretaries asked to stay on for a second Bush term, Elaine L. Chao, 51, like Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Gutierrez, comes from an immigrant family.

Of Chinese origin, she arrived in the United States at age 8 unable to speak a word of English.

Today she is married to an influential senator, Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

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