By Evangeline Cafe
Former Washington Gov. Gary Locke called his nomination as Secretary of Commerce a “thrill of a lifetime.”
Locke and his wife, Mona, returned to Seattle on Feb. 26, one day after President Barack Obama officially announced the appointment in Washington, D.C., confirming rumors that had been swirling for days.
The 59-year-old became the president’s third pick for the high-profile position, after New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire bowed out of the process.
The Senate must confirm Locke before he can assume the post. His confirmation could happen as soon as the end of March.
“[There are] a lot of questionnaires that have to be filled out,” said Locke. “We’ll be going back several times over the next several weeks to meet with the members of the Congress — the House and the Senate — and also to start learning more about some of the issues facing the agency,” he said.
If confirmed, Locke will face the formidable task of advancing and promoting American industry at a time when its own economy suffers its deepest recession in decades.
He will also be charged with directing the highly debated 2010 census.
Republican leaders have expressed fears that the Obama administration may try to exert too much control over the census. It carries heavy weight because the data collected are used to redraw congressional districts and to allocate federal funding.
Locke tried to appease those concerns by asserting that the process will remain objective.
“There has to be a close coordination and communication with the White House, with the president’s office, about how the census is being conducted. They’ve assured me that they plan no change in operations or procedures from the past,” said Locke.
“They want to be consulted; they want to be informed of how it’s coming along. But otherwise, the director of census will report to me,” he said.
If confirmed, Locke will also oversee agencies including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which monitors climate and geographical data that could influence the nation’s trade and environmental policymaking.
Many analysts expect Locke to win a quick approval from the Senate given his experience governing the nation’s most trade-dependent state. Locke is credited with strengthening foreign ties and doubling Washington’s exports to China during his tenure from 1997 to 2005. Under his leadership, the state also saw the creation of nearly 300,000 jobs and won a national bid for the Boeing 7E7 plant.
After serving two terms in office, Locke joined the Seattle law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, where he co-chaired the firm’s China practice.
Former Seattle City Councilmember David Della believes Locke’s experience will be a valuable asset to the Obama cabinet.
“To have someone in there like Gary Locke will really boost our international trade and hopefully improve business development in our own nation,” said Della. He worked with Locke when Della served as executive director of the Washington State Commission on Asian Pacific Affairs.
Locke is one of three prominent leaders from Washington state who are expected to join the ranks in the Obama administration. Pending Senate confirmation, King County Executive Ron Sims will serve as the Deputy Secretary at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske has reportedly been asked to serve as the nation’s “drug czar” as head the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Della believes these appointments speak volumes about the caliber of leadership in the Pacific Northwest.
“I think the appointments of Gary, Ron, and Gil shows that the Northwest is a breeding ground for leadership that will play an important role in the [nation’s] development.”
Locke credits his Northwest supporters for helping him earn his biggest promotion yet.
“I just want to thank the people from the state of Washington for supporting me and giving us an opportunity to serve them, and do so in a way that was noticed by the other Washington.”
Locke, who served as the nation’s first Chinese American governor, was born and raised in Seattle. He spent his childhood in Yesler public housing, and with the combination of financial aid and scholarships, he attended Yale University and Boston University School of Law. Locke said his realization of the American dream echoes the life story of President Obama.
“That’s what people from all around the world have come to America for: the pursuit of freedom, hope and opportunity, and wanting the American dream of a better life for their children and their grandchildren. And Barack Obama epitomizes that,” he said.
Locke said he is eager and ready to work with the new president.
“We all want him to succeed because I think we’re all concerned about our future and a lot of tough issues facing our country,” said Locke.
“If he succeeds, it means America succeeds, and that means a better future for everyone.” (end)
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