By Lois Romano
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 4, 2009
The third time was the charm for Gary Locke, a former governor of Washington state who was tapped as commerce secretary after President Obama's first two choices pulled out. Locke now finds himself in the thick of just about every hot issue -- particularly the 2010 census.
He is part of the president's economic team, has been designated to protect the U.S. pork industry in the midst of the swine flu scare, and has the impossible job of trying to keep politics out of the census, even though the outcome of future elections could hinge on the count and subsequent redistricting. The 59-year-old father of three says he will eventually move his family to Washington but admits he is getting some pushback. "Well, my 12-year-old does not want to move," he says.
He spoke to us last week in an empty office at the agency, the day before his ceremonial swearing-in.
Watch the entire interview and see the transcript here.
Romano: What are you doing to protect the $5 billion worth of pork exports in light of the swine flu scare?
Locke: I have written a letter to the Chinese authorities indicating that their ban on U.S. pork products into China is ill-advised, not based on science. In fact, we're also sending a similar letter to the Russian authorities, and I, in fact, don't want to wait for the mail. I'll be calling the Chinese authorities personally.
You cannot get the flu from eating pork. It is transmitted human-to-human.
There's just too much misinformation in the media -- and word of mouth. We've got to get the word out that the flu is not contracted by eating pork. It is not contracted just by travel. You have to come in contact with people who are infected.
Romano: Tell us what models you're developing to ensure that all ethnic groups and minorities are accurately counted in next year's census.
Locke: Well, for the first time, we will be sending our forms in different languages and specifically in Spanish. So populations, communities with a large Hispanic population, will actually receive a census questionnaire.
We're going to be very specific. From past information, we know, for instance, in which parts of Houston there's a large Vietnamese population. We know where in Los Angeles . . . in the Southwest, we have large populations, blocks of Hispanic families, and so we're going to be very strategic and very targeted.
Romano: Will you, in part, rely on [population] sampling, even though the Republicans are dead set against it?
Locke: The United States Supreme Court has actually ruled that we are not allowed to use sampling apportionment. Nor do we have any plans to use sampling for any other purpose connected with the 2010 census.
Romano: Every White House has tried to play a role in the census. What will be this White House's role in the census?
Locke: The census director reports to me, and, of course, I serve at the pleasure of the president. . . . It will not be politicized, and the White House assured me that it has no interest in politicizing it.
Romano: You're on the president's auto team to try to save the industry. What happened with Chrysler?
Locke: The reason they had to go to bankruptcy was that there was a small number of people to whom Chrysler owes money that would not compromise. Everyone else is making major concessions.