Reagan Nominates 1st Latino for Cabinet Post : Texas Tech President as Education Choice Seen as Help to Bush

Times Staff Writer

In a move that could boost the struggling presidential campaign of Vice President George Bush, President Reagan on Tuesday nominated a prominent Texan as secretary of education and the first Latino to serve in the Cabinet.

Lauro Fred Cavazos, president of Texas Tech University and an anatomy professor, was named to succeed William J. Bennett at the Education Department. Bennett, a colorful, controversial conservative, will step down Sept. 20, leaving Cavazos, if his nomination is approved by the Senate, to run the department during the remaining four months of Reagan’s term.

‘Best-Fitted Man’

Although Reagan insisted at an announcement ceremony that he was merely picking “the best-fitted man” for the job, many political analysts and politicians viewed the action as an attempt to help Bush woo key voters on Texas and California battlegrounds.

“Obviously, this is to try to undercut what otherwise had been a strong appeal to Hispanic voters by (Democratic presidential nominee Michael S.) Dukakis and (vice presidential nominee Lloyd) Bentsen,” Los Angeles Times political analyst William Schneider said. " . . . It’s a purely political act.”

Bush had promised only a month ago, in a speech to a Latino group in Texas, to be the first President to install a Latino in the Cabinet--duplicating a promise made by Dukakis a year earlier to the same group, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).


“This helps us a great deal,” Bush spokesman Mark Goodin said. “Any time you can target Texas and Hispanic voters, it’s a plus.” Goodin said he did not know if Bush had had a hand in tapping Cavazos (pronounced ka-VAH-sos) for the education post.

Dukakis spokesman Dayton Duncan called the nomination “a welcome move, long overdue.” He said Dukakis is “already having a good effect on this Administration,” prompting Bush to propose day-care benefits for women, to oppose offshore oil drilling in California and to promote the advancement of Latinos.

Latino Democrats in the House praised the nomination of what they called an outstanding educator but criticized the move as political and belated.

‘Very Well Respected’

“Lauro Cavazos is very well respected, very well prepared and has a history in education that is second to none, but I think everyone understands that it is a political appointment,” said Rep. Albert G. Bustamante (D-Tex.), chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. “It’s too little, too late.”

In San Antonio, Jose de Lara, president of LULAC, said he was sorry that the move took so long but called it “very smart, shrewd.”

Reagan hailed Cavazos as “a distinguished educator” who holds masters and doctorate degrees in zoology and physiology, has been an anatomy professor at the Medical College of Virginia, Tufts University and Texas Tech and has served as a department chairman and dean of the Tufts School of Medicine. For the last eight years, he has been president of both Texas Tech and its Health Sciences Center while continuing to teach.

“This job has had its thrills during the past 91 months,” Reagan said, “but it’s hard right now to think of a more exciting moment.”

The President commended Cavazos for “commitment to the profession of teaching and to excellence in education, his belief in getting back to basics and things like homework and, above all, his emphasis on education’s special importance to America’s minorities.”

Son of Ranch Foreman

Cavazos, 61, a registered independent, said in response that “I share your views.” A sixth-generation Texan, his father was a foreman on the Santa Gertrudis division of the huge King Ranch. He and his wife, the former Peggy Murdock, have 10 children.

Reagan also paid tribute to Bennett, calling him “the best thing to happen to American education since ‘The McGuffey Reader.’ ” Bennett, who had announced his intention in May to leave the department, has said he plans to give lectures and write a book.

The President ended his announcement with a bit of Spanish, telling Cavazos: “Let me assure you, mi casa es su casa ,” or, “my house is your house.”