WASHINGTON — Former Washington Gov. Gary Locke told senators considering his nomination for commerce secretary Wednesday that the nation must “rebuild, retool and reinvent” as it seeks new strategies for job creation amid the economic crisis.
“Together we will come up with innovative solutions to create jobs that are made in America and stay in America,” Locke said.
President Barack Obama’s third pick to run the Commerce Department — his first two nominees withdrew — also promised to closely oversee the 2010 census and run the enumeration from the department’s Census Bureau. Some GOP lawmakers have been critical of Obama administration comments indicating that the White House might seek greater control over the census.
If confirmed by the Senate, Locke would lead an agency with a broad portfolio that includes many aspects of international trade, oceans policy, the transition to digital television and expanding rural broadband Internet service.
“My goal is simple: to carry out the president’s plan for economic recovery by putting every part of the Department of Commerce single-mindedly to work on saving American jobs and creating family-wage jobs of the future,” Locke said. “We must rebuild, retool and reinvent our national strategies for sustained economic success.”
Obama turned to the former two-term Democratic governor after New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson withdrew amid questions about the awarding of state contracts and Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire changed his mind about working for the Democratic president.
Locke, 59, told the Senate Commerce Committee he would work with a Census director who would work with Congress, the administration and state leaders “to make sure you and they are involved every step of the way in making this a successful count.”
Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said Locke will face many challenges but told him, “I think you understand Main Street.”
Locke faced mostly friendly questions and praise from the Democratic-led panel, but several Republicans reminded him they were watching the census process closely.
“My hope is that it is transparent and nonpoliticized,” said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, the panel’s ranking Republican.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., recalled that she first met Locke nearly 20 years ago when she was a new state senator and he was chairman of the state’s House Appropriations Committee. Locke grilled her about a school bus safety bill — Murray called it one of the toughest experiences of her career — but then helped her pass it, she said.
“Gov. Locke has brought that level of expertise and dedication to the taxpayers in every position he has held,” she said.
As the two-term governor of the nation’s most trade-dependent state, Locke has vast experience promoting American products from airplanes and apples to operating systems, Murray said.
Locke also understand fisheries, she and other speakers said. If confirmed, he would be one of the first Commerce secretaries to enter the job with experience in fishery management. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees the National Marine Fisheries Service and the National Weather Service, among other duties, accounts for more than half the Commerce Department budget.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., called Locke a “testament to the American dream,” adding that he “has the global outlook, leadership and knowledge” needed to lead the Commerce Department.
Locke, the son of Chinese immigrants, grew up in public housing in Seattle and graduated from Yale University and Boston University School of Law. He served in the state legislature and as chief executive of King County, Wash., before being elected governor in 1996. He was re-elected four years later.
As governor, Locke secured the assembly of the Boeing 787 in Everett, Wash., with a $3.2 billion package of state tax incentives and aggressively pursued business openings in Mexico, Europe and Asia, especially China, where he led eight missions and opened a state trade office.
After stepping down in 2005, Locke joined a large Seattle law firm, where he specialized in China trade and investment. He helped plan and coordinate a 2006 visit to the U.S. by Chinese President Hu Jintao.