Locke Called Commerce Pick

President Barack Obama named former Washington Gov. Gary Locke as his nominee for Commerce secretary Wednesday, trying a third time to fill a key Cabinet post for a country in recession. Video by AP
By Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Former Washington governor Gary Locke is likely to be President Obama's choice to head the Commerce Department, according to several administration officials briefed on the decision.

Locke would be the third person put forward by Obama for the job, after withdrawals by New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D), because of an ongoing pay-to-play investigation of his administration, and Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), who backed out after concluding that his ideological differences with the administration could not be resolved.

Locke did not reply to an e-mail seeking comment, and the White House said no announcement would be made about the post today or tomorrow.

The choice of Locke for commerce secretary would continue a pair of themes that have emerged as Obama has assembled his Cabinet: diversity and reaching out to former rivals.

Locke was the first, and remains the only, Chinese American to be elected governor of a state, and he would become the third Asian American in Obama's Cabinet, joining Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki and Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

He was also an early supporter of then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) in the Democratic presidential race, serving as a co-chairman of her effort in his state. Obama crushed Clinton in Washington's Democratic caucuses, and Locke shifted his support to the senator from Illinois after Clinton ended her bid in June.

After several high-profile misfires emerged in the Cabinet selection process, Locke is regarded as a safe choice by senior officials in the Obama administration given his long history in public life, his strait-laced reputation and his bipartisan governing credentials. His steady -- and generally popular -- tenure as governor of Washington was the biggest factor in his selection, according to a source familiar with the administration's thinking.

An Eagle Scout who lived in public housing as a child, Locke began his political career in the Washington House, where he served for a decade starting in 1982. After three years as county executive in Seattle's King County in the mid-1990s , Locke was easily elected governor in 1996. He won reelection in 2000 with 58 percent of the vote, served as chairman of the Democratic Governors Association in 2003 and gave the Democratic response to President George W. Bush's 2003 State of the Union address.

Locke decided against seeking a third term, citing a desire to spend more time with his family and to reclaim a "normal life."

After leaving office in 2004, Locke joined the Seattle office of the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, specializing in China and energy issues. Fred Yang, a Democratic pollster and partner at Garin-Hart-Yang Research, said Locke's heritage and his familiarity with trade issues related to Asia would make him a wise pick for Obama.

"Governor Locke would seem to have a strategic and practical sense of strengthening our 21st-century economy," Yang said.

If confirmed, Locke would be the third resident of Washington state named to a high-ranking position in the Obama administration. Ron Sims, another Clinton supporter and Locke's successor as King County executive, was nominated as deputy secretary of housing and urban development, and Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske reportedly has been tapped to serve as drug czar.

The Commerce Department's stated mission is to promote U.S. economic growth, but Locke would face several other immediate challenges if confirmed, including the 2010 census. The administration's decision to move more oversight of the census into the White House was cited by Gregg as among the key factors in his decision to step aside as Obama's choice for the job.

Staff writer Ed O'Keefe and research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.

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