Before becoming president of the University of New Mexico, Louis Caldera had an elaborate career. Caldera has served on the boards or was a member of the following corporations and non-profit organizations: Southwest Airlines in Dallas; Iomega Corporation, a computer company in La Jolla CA; BELO Corporation, a media company in Dallas; Indy Mac Bancorp in Pasadena; Claremont McKenna College in Claremont CA; the Council on Foreign Relations; the Advertising Council; the New Democrat Network; and the Partnership for Public Service. Regent Mel Eaves was quoted as saying Caldera could strengthen corporate support to the university.
The story of Louis Caldera runs like an immigrant success story. Caldera was born in El Paso, Texas, the son of Mexican immigrants. The second oldest of five children, his life was one of poverty and discrimination. He could not speak English when he was young. His family moved to East Los Angeles when he was five, then settled in Whittier, California where he was raised. In an interview, Caldera states he struggled with his sense of identity, and the alienation of being a minority in the United States. In 1978 Caldera graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, which he enrolled in because “I wanted to prove I was an American.” He served five years as a commissioned officer before enrolling in Harvard. He received a law degree and a masters in business administration in 1987. He practiced law from 1987 to 1990 with the firm O’Melveny & Myers, then served as a California state assemblyman and deputy counsel of Los Angeles County.
His time as a member of the California State Assembly for the 46th District, which he was elected to for three terms from 1992 to 1997, was supported by downtown elite of Los Angeles. His most known action was sponsoring a bill requiring those applying for drivers licenses for the first time to prove their U.S. citizenship or legal residency. It was supported by the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a well-known anti-Hispanic organization. Legislation like this is fueled by nativism, and part of the growing anti-immigrant movement that targets Latinos. Despite this Caldera justified it because it was similar to another law on the books in New Jersey. He also said that it would not result in discrimination. Many critics saw he had little understanding of history in supporting this. This is ironic in that the Hispanic Round Table later supported Caldera to bring a voice to Hispanic issues.
While in his second term in the California legislature, Caldera was tapped by President Clinton to become managing director and chief operating officer of the Corporation for National Service. The second highest job in that agency, he held it from 1997 to 1998.
On May 22, 1998 the president nominated Caldera for Secretary of the Army. He served here until January 2001 the end of Clinton’s term. A profile of Caldera by Paul Garza in the St. Petersburg Times reported on Caldera as a more hands on secretary, sensitive to the needs of his soldiers, and with aides stating he runs his office like a chief executive officer. He was seen as a role model for Hispanic youth because of his high profile and his experiences. It also reported that “Caldera envisions a future as university president, governor or even senator. He also thinks about writing and teaching.”
His ambitions did land him a role as university president. His record as Army Secretary during this time is worth noting, as will be looked at here.
American Forces Press Service. “Caldera Nominated New Army Secretary.” http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=41411
Acuna, Rudy. “Who Speaks For the Latino Student?” February 4, 2003. http://latinola.com/story.php?story=723
De La Garza, Paul. “Army Secretary’s Story is Top Rank.” St. Petersburg Times (Florida). October 3, 2000. Pg. 1A.