Obama Likely to Name Former Washington Governor Locke to Commerce

February 24, 2009 - 7:18 AM
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Washington (AP) - President Barack Obama's likely third pick for Commerce secretary is former Washington Gov. Gary Locke, a senior administration official said Monday.
 
Locke, a Democrat, was the nation's first Chinese-American governor when he served two terms in the Washington statehouse from 1997 to 2005.
 
Obama's expected choice of Locke arose less than two weeks after his most recent pick, Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, backed out. Just over a week after Obama named him and he accepted, Gregg cited "irresolvable conflicts" with the policies of the Democratic president.
 
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the announcement has not yet been made.
 
Obama originally gave the post, which requires Senate confirmation, to New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. He withdrew in January, before Obama took office, after the disclosure that a grand jury is investigating allegations of wrongdoing in the awarding of contracts in his state.
 
The Commerce post is typically not one of the more high-profile jobs in any administration. The head of the department oversees agencies responsible for the once-a-decade census, for oceans policy and for many aspects of international trade, among other things.
 
The administration recently took steps to assert greater White House control over the census. The outcome of the census has deep political implications, since congressional districts are drawn on the basis of population.
 
But in Obama's administration, the delay in getting a Commerce secretary has been top news in large part because it has been accompanied by other Cabinet troubles. He still does not have a Health and Human Services secretary, either. Former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle withdrew his nomination for that post amid a tax controversy.
 
The loss of Gregg for the Commerce job also highlighted the difficulty Obama has had reaching out to Republicans. Gregg would have been one of three Republicans Obama had put in his Cabinet to emphasize his campaign pledge that he would be an agent of bipartisan change. Despite those and other efforts, Obama drew hardly any GOP support for his main legislative priority, the stimulus package.
 
Locke, 59, was born into an immigrant family and lived in a Seattle public housing project until he was 6. He graduated from Yale University, which he attended with a combination of scholarships and financial aid, and Boston University Law School.
 
Locke was briefly linked to the scandal over foreign contributions to President Bill Clinton's 1996 campaign. In July 1998, he gave a deposition to the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight about his relationships with questioned Clinton donors. But the committee subsequently said the deposition produced no evidence that Locke knowingly accepted illegal campaign donations.
 
Locke denied any wrongdoing, and he subsequently returned some checks tied to people implicated in the fundraising scandal, including $750 from John Huang. The former Commerce Department official was the Democratic Party's chief fund raiser for the Asian-American population in the 1996 elections, and he became one of the central figures in the national Democratic Party fundraising scandal.
 
Also, in December 1997, Locke's political committee was fined a maximum $2,500 by state regulators after it admitted breaking campaign finance laws during two out-of-state fundraisers in 1996.
 
And in March 1998, state investigators cleared Locke of wrongdoing following complaints that he unlawfully took $10,000 in campaign contributions from members of a Buddhist church.
 
He lists among his accomplishments as governor a package of tax breaks that persuaded The Boeing Co. to assemble its new 787 jetliner in Everett, north of Seattle, and expanded transportation and construction budgets.
 
Since leaving office he's been working for the Seattle-based law firm Davis Wright Tremaine on issues involving China, energy and governmental relations. He argues that global engagement is a way to improve China's human rights record and deal with piracy of intellectual property.
 
Locke is married to Mona Lee Locke, a former television news reporter who is now executive director of the regional affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Foundation, a breast cancer research and advocacy organization. They have three children.
 
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Associated Press writers Jennifer Loven in Washington, Gene Johnson in Seattle and Curt Woodward in Olympia, Wash., contributed to this story.