Gary Locke, the son of Chinese immigrants who became Washington state’s two-term governor, is apparently President Barack Obama’s third try at filling the spot of secretary of commerce.
Obama is expected to announce Locke’s nomination, the Associated Press said Monday, attributing the information to an anonymous “senior administration official.”
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., acknowledged the nomination will likely be made soon, and praised Locke’s knowledge of several key issues confronting the next commerce secretary, including international trade and the controversy over endangered salmon runs in the Northwest.
“I think former Gov. Locke would make an excellent commerce secretary for our country,” said Cantwell, who sits on the Senate Commerce Committee which will hold confirmation hearings for the post.
Locke, a Democratic former state legislator and King County executive, was elected governor in 1996 and re-elected easily in 2000, but announced in 2003 that he wanted to spend more time with his family and would not seek a third term. After leaving office, he took a job with the Seattle law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine, where he works on issues involving Chinese trade, energy and government relations. In 2008, he was co-chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in Washington state.
Locke couldn’t be reached for comment, and a message left at the law firm was not returned.
He would be Obama’s third nominee for the post. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson was Obama’s first choice, but he had to withdraw after the disclosure that a grand jury was investigating allegations of wrongdoing in the awarding of state contracts. Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., was nominated in early February but withdrew about a week later, citing “irresolvable conflicts” over policy.
Locke’s father emigrated from China, and the family spent some time in a government housing project when Gary Locke was a boy. But he graduated from Yale University and Boston University Law School, and served as a deputy prosecutor before his election to the House of Representatives. While in the House, he became an expert on budget matters and rose to the top of the Appropriations Committee.
As governor, Locke headed up a trade mission to China, which included a stop at his family’s ancestral home – Jilong, a village of about 170 people – and a pitch for the Chinese to buy more planes from Washington’s biggest exporter, the Boeing Co.
His experience in foreign trade would be crucial to the United States in the current economic downturn, Cantwell said. The Commerce Department is also the home of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which has oversight of maritime issues that include salmon recovery. Some runs of Northwest salmon are endangered, and a wide array of private and government agencies have been fighting over the right way to protect the fish for nearly two decades.
“He would come to the slot with a great understanding of those policy considerations,” Cantwell said.
Gov. Chris Gregoire, who served as attorney general during both of Locke’s terms and followed him into the governor’s mansion, declined comment until the nomination was official.
Locke is married to Mona Lee Locke, a former television journalist who is now an executive with a regional affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Foundation. They have three children.