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Linda Chavez: 1947—: Civil Rights Advocate, Columnist, Commentator Biography

Difficult Childhood Lead To Early Action, Deemed "not Minority Enough", Experienced Political Transformation, Advanced Conservative Causes

Linda Chavez: 1947—: Civil rights advocate, columnist, commentator.

Bowed but far from broken by the 2001 derailment of her nomination to serve as labor secretary in the administration of George W. Bush, Linda Chavez remains as outspoken as ever in support of the conservative ideals she champions. At one time almost as passionate about liberal causes, Chavez—like thousands of other political converts—today is even more zealous in her advocacy of right-leaning doctrine than many life-long conservatives. Although Chavez is fiercely proud of her Mexican-American roots, her conservative political stance, particularly her opposition to affirmative action and bilingual education, has put her at odds with many in the Hispanic community. So estranged has Chavez become from the majority of her fellow Hispanics that in 1992 Hispanic magazine referred to her as "the most hated Hispanic in America." Never one to be cowed by vocal opposition to the ideals she espouses, Chavez remains steadfast in her beliefs. As she told an interviewer, "I believe fervently that it is important for Hispanics, as other groups have before them, to learn English, improve their education, and climb the economic ladder.… I am proud of my Hispanic roots. But I am even prouder of being an American and to have benefited from the freedom and opportunity that allowed someone of my humble roots to aspire to the highest reaches of government and public life."

For more than three decades, Chavez has worked both behind the scenes and within the government itself to advance the political causes in which she believes. In the early 1970s, shortly after moving to the nation's capital, Chavez went to work for U.S. Representative Don Edwards, a Democratic congressman from San Jose, California. She also spent time working for the Democratic National Committee and the House Judiciary Committee. During the Carter administration, she served as a consultant to the Office of Management and Budget's reorganization project. A strong believer in the need for educational reform, Chavez worked, in turn, with the National Education Association (NEA), the country's largest teachers' union, and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the NEA's biggest rival. Increasingly disillusioned with prevailing liberal attitudes about the position of minorities, particularly within the academic world, she began to form strong views in opposition to the notion that students should be advanced solely on the basis of their race with little regard for their merits. Still a registered Democrat but espousing increasingly conservative views on several key issues, Chavez in 1981 was invited to serve the administration of Ronald Reagan as a consultant. Two years later Reagan named her as director of the nonpartisan U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. In the face of growing liberal and Hispanic opposition to her attitudes on civil rights, Chavez in 1985 officially ended her affiliation with the Democratic Party and signed on as a Republican.

At a Glance . . .

Born Linda Chavez on June 17, 1947, in Albuquerque, NM; married Christopher Gersten, 1967; children: David, Pablo, and Rudy. Education: University of Colorado, BA, 1970; undergraduate studies at University of California, Los Angeles, 1970-72. Religion: Roman Catholic. Politics: Republican Party.

Career: House Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights, staff member, 1972-74; Office of Management and Budget, consultant to civil rights division, 1977; American Educator, editor, 1977-83; U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, director, 1983-85; White House Office of Public Liaison, director, 1985-86; unsuccessful candidate for U.S. Senate from Maryland, 1986; U.S. English, president, 1987-88; WJL-TV, Baltimore, reporter and commentator, 1988–; United Nations Subcommittee on Human Rights, consultant, 1992-96; Center for Equal Opportunity, founder and president, 1995–.

Addresses: Office—c/o Center for Equal Opportunity, 14 Pidgeon Hill Dr., Ste. 500, Sterling, VA 20165.

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