Charles Dharapak/AP
Commerce Secretary nominee Gary Locke

In His Third Attempt, Obama Nominates Gary Locke for Commerce Secretary

February 25, 2009 04:59 PM
by Christopher Coats
After two failed attempts to fill the vacancy at the Department of Commerce, President Barack Obama announced that he would nominate former Washington state Gov. Gary Locke as secretary.

Third Time a Charm?

Acknowledging the difficulty he has had filling the position, Obama told gathered reporters, “I'm sure it's not lost on anyone that we've tried this a couple of times. But I'm a big believer in keeping at something until you get it right. And Gary is the right man for this job."

Obama’s first choice, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, fell through in early January after an investigation into alleged influence peddling became too much of a distraction.

Obama’s second choice, Vermont Sen. Judd Gregg withdrew his nomination after stating that his views on economic policy and the jurisdiction of the U.S. census differed too much from that of the Obama administration.

Following Gregg’s return to the Senate, names such as former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford Jr. had been mentioned, but Obama announced Wednesday that Locke was his choice.

Currently holding a position at Seattle’s Davis Wright Tremaine law firm, dealing with issues involving China, energy and governmental relations, Locke was the nation’s first Chinese-American Governor and the first Asian-American to hold the office in the continental United States.

A popular two-term governor, Locke is unlikely to face much resistance from within his party, but allegations of wrongdoing related to fundraising in the late 1990s are likely to result in questions during his confirmation hearing.

Locke is a lifetime resident of Washington State, except for when he earned his law degree at Boston University in 1975. Elected to the Washington State House of Representatives 1982, Locke held a number of city positions in Seattle before becoming governor.

Age 59, Locke is married and has three children.

Context: A broader role at commerce

Charged with promoting U.S. business both at home and abroad, the Department of Commerce has often been looked upon as a second-tier cabinet position. However, the department, which employed over 38,000 employees and operated a $7 billion budget under its last secretary, could play a more central role as U.S. companies struggle to survive and compete in the current economic crisis.

Further, the department’s role as facilitator of telecommunications and technology policy could help strengthen its presence in the administration, given Obama’s attention to technology and plans to expand funding over the coming years.

Related Topic: Other remaining vacancies

Following the confirmation of Labor Secretary nominee Hilda Solis on Feb. 24, after six weeks of deliberation and delay, only the Department of Commerce and Health and Human Services remains vacant.

Obama's first choice of Tom Daschle for Secretary of HHS was sidetracked after questions about the former senator's taxes came to light. Daschle withdrew his nomination and no further nominees have been announced.

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