Illinois representative named labor secretary

December 15, 1990|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- President Bush tapped outgoing Representative Lynn Martin of Illinois as his new secretary of labor yesterday, rewarding her for party loyalty in giving up her safe Republican House seat at the urging of the White House to run an unsuccessful campaign last month against Democratic Sen. Paul Simon.

Ms. Martin, 51, who was caught off guard by the timing of the announcement, is a fiscal conservative who voted against the interests of organized labor during most of her 10 years in Congress.

Her nomination received a cool reception from Lane Kirkland, president of the AFL-CIO, who said that "her voting record has not reflected asensitivity to the needs of workers."

If confirmed by the Senate, Ms. Martin would become the administration's principal contact with labor leaders.

She would inherit a difficult-to-manage department whose functions include the supervision of billions of dollars in pension funds and the enforcement of health and safety rules in the workplace.

The sharp-tongued lawmaker, known for her acerbic wit, was at her home in Loves Park, Ill., after being told there would be no action this week on the Labor post. Her office said she had no prepared statement.

Ms. Martin would replace Elizabeth Hanford Dole, who was the only woman in the Bush Cabinet until she resigned in October to head the American Red Cross.

Ms. Martin's closest competitor for the Labor post was believed to be another outgoing Republican congresswoman, Patricia Saiki of Hawaii, who had the strong support of Mrs. Dole's husband, Senate Republican Leader Bob Dole of Kansas. White House sources said that Mr. Dole phoned John H. Sununu, Mr. Bush's chief of staff, immediately after the Martin announcement to push Ms. Saiki for the vacant post of secretary of education.

Lauro F. Cavazos, the only Hispanic member of the Cabinet, resigned the Department of Education post earlier this week after his management skills were sharply criticized by Mr. Sununu. Ms. Saiki, who would give the Cabinet another minority as an Asian-American, tried unsuccessfully last month -- like Ms. Martin -- to defeat an incumbent Democratic senator.

Other top candidates for secretary of education include Lynne Cheney, chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Humanities and wife of Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney; former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean, now president of Drew University; and former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander, president of the University of Tennessee.

Mr. Bush is also seeking to fill the post of Republican national chairman following this week's announcement by former drug policy adviser William J. Bennett, the man he had selected, that he was declining the position because of ethical considerations arising from his commitment to write two books. He also reportedly thought his influence would be limited in the job.

Ms. Martin, who favors abortion rights and supported the rejected Equal Rights Amendment for women, is married to a federal judge in Chicago, Harry Leinenweber. She has two children by her first marriage to a Rockford, Ill., businessman.

The president made the announcement on the White House lawn before departing by helicopter for a weekend at his Camp David retreat.

Referring to Ms. Martin as "an outstanding member of Congress" who had served as "an unofficial adviser to me," Mr. Bush added: "She's a mother who knows the need for child care."

Ms. Martin helped prepare Mr. Bush in 1984 when, as vice president, he debated the Democratic vice-presidential candidate, Geraldine Ferraro.

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