Last April, Aurelia Skipwith, the new deputy assistant secretary of the Interior for Fish, Wildlife and Parks arrived at a hotel for a speech. When she asked the desk clerk for directions to the ballroom, she got not only the directions she sought, but the observation that “you must be an Obama holdover.”
The newly minted Trump appointee set the man straight, but wasn’t at all surprised. You see, Aurelia is a thirty-something black female. The new president’s critics had been calling him a racist for a year. The desk clerk, who also happened to be black, couldn’t imagine that someone who looked like Aurelia could possibly be a Trump supporter let alone a fairly senior administration official. In fact, Ms. Skipwith was an early Trump supporter, appointed not because she is a female, a black or a thirty-something. She earned that job because of her qualifications and has performed so well that last week the president announced his intention to submit her name to the Senate for confirmation as the director of the Fish and Wildlife Service of the Interior.
Ms. Skipwith is a Hoosier, but got her undergraduate degree right here in Washington from Howard University, earned a master’s degree in molecular genetics from Purdue and a law degree from the University of Kentucky. She spent six years with Monsanto and has worked at both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Agency for International Development. As a student and professional, she found time to volunteer at the community level in Habitat for Humanity programs and the Big Brother/Big Sister program.
On top of all this, she is a dedicated runner. Some years ago, she was a neighbor and every morning as I sat inside downing enough coffee to get me started, I’d look out the window and see her running by. She is competitive and takes her hobbies as seriously as her work. When Trump administration officials offered her the deputy assistant secretary job at Interior, she replied that she would accept only if her start date was after the Boston Marathon. Anxious to obtain her services for the outdoor community, White House presidential personnel accepted and she completed her race.
Senate Democrats and the media are already attacking Ms. Skipwith because she actually worked in the private sector and because, credentials aside, a Trump appointee cannot possibly be interested in preserving our wildlife or improving our parks. They should talk to those with whom she has worked. Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, has worked with her for two years, and says, “She has brought an incredible corporate background to the workings of the Department and we look forward to her leadership She has a unique understanding of the value of public-private partnerships as we work to resolve complicated environmental and wildlife issues.”
The early attacks on Ms. Skipwith remind one of the successful Democratic effort to derail President George W. Bush’s appointment of Miguel Estrada to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2001. It was widely suspected at the time that Senate opposition to his appointment stemmed from a fear among liberal activists that if confirmed, Mr. Estrada might well end up as the first Hispanic to be named to the U.S. Supreme Court. That would have been unacceptable to a party that believed it owns the Hispanic vote.
They never attacked Mr. Estrada for being Hispanic, but were spurred on by his ethnicity. Instead, Democrats attacked him as inexperienced, too conservative and, well, a Bush appointee. Ms. Skipwith is facing the same sort of attacks, but one suspects that given the president’s rising approval among African-Americans, Democrats aren’t anxious to allow a cadre of Republican black role models to emerge; they might encourage others to abandon a party that believes it owns them.
When she’s confirmed, Ms. Skipwith will be the third woman to serve in the position to which she has been named, and the first African-American. She is articulate, smart, competent and passionate and has excelled at everything she’s ever taken on. In many ways, in fact, Aurelia Skipwith is just what the Democrats fear most: A level-headed, active, educated African-American woman who just happens to be a Republican and, worse yet, a Trump supporter.
• David A. Keene is an editor at large for The Washington Times.