Former Gov. Gary Locke likely pick for U.S. commerce secretary
If former Gov. Gary Locke is formally nominated as U.S. commerce secretary, he would bring a clean-cut image and experience with global trade to a job that President Obama has found difficult to fill.
Seattle Times staff reporters
Age: 59, born in Seattle
Experience: King County deputy prosecutor, 1976-1980; Washington state lawmaker, 1982-1993; King County executive, 1994-1997; Washington governor, 1997-2005; partner, Davis Wright Tremaine law firm, 2005-present
Education: bachelor's degree, Yale University, 1972; law degree, Boston University, 1975
Family: wife, Mona; three children
If former Gov. Gary Locke is formally nominated as U.S. commerce secretary, he would bring a squeaky-clean image and experience with global trade to a job that President Obama has found difficult to fill.
"I think he'd be a very good choice," said Bill Stafford, president of the Trade Development Alliance of Greater Seattle.
There were multiple reports Monday that Locke is Obama's likely third pick for the post.
The Associated Press and The Washington Post said a senior administration official confirmed Locke is likely to be nominated. Paul Berendt, former chairman of the Washington State Democratic Party, said he heard from a well-placed source that Locke, 59, received a call Monday and was offered the commerce job.
"I think the Obama administration wanted someone who is squeaky clean, and certainly Gary is a Boy Scout," Berendt said.
In fact, Locke was an Eagle Scout as a teenager. He's carried that clean-cut image through his career.
The former governor is such a straight arrow that "he probably overpaid his taxes" just to avoid questions later, Berendt said.
Locke had no comment Monday, said Roger Nyhus, a former press secretary who was handling media calls for the former governor. Locke wasn't answering his cellphone, either, which alerted callers that his mailbox was full.
Locke would be the third Seattle-area resident tapped for a high-ranking job in the Obama administration. King County Executive Ron Sims has been nominated as deputy secretary of Housing and Urban Development. And Obama is expected to appoint Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske as the next director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Locke's name surfaced earlier this month as a possible candidate for commerce secretary, but he dismissed the rumor.
On Feb. 13, he told The Seattle Times that he spoke with Obama in November about the U.S. trade-representative position, which was filled later. But Locke said he hadn't been in contact with the administration since then.
"I've been focusing on work," he said then. "I mean, who knows what's going on in D.C."
Since leaving office in January 2005, Locke has been working for the Seattle-based law firm Davis Wright Tremaine on issues involving China, energy and governmental relations.
Stafford said Locke's name likely is being floated in advance of an official announcement to make sure no politically damaging facts come to light.
"This is to test the waters to be sure there's nothing out there," Stafford said. "This is their third shot at commerce. They better not make a mistake."
Locke supported then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic presidential race, serving as state co-chairman of her campaign.
The commerce post typically is not one of the more high-profile jobs in any administration. The department includes agencies responsible for the once-a-decade census, for oceans policy and for many aspects of international trade, among other things.
Members of Washington's congressional delegation said Locke has been a contender to lead commerce for weeks.
"He's been somebody the administration has been looking at since they took over," said Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell, who serves on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. "I think he would make a great commerce secretary and is the right man for the job."
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson was Obama's original pick for the job. He withdrew in January, before Obama took office, after a disclosure that a grand jury is investigating allegations of wrongdoing in the awarding of contracts in his state.
Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., came next. But he backed out not long after accepting the job offer, citing "irresolvable conflicts" with the policies of the Democratic president.
Experience with China
Locke's experience working with China likely played an important role in Obama's latest decision, several political leaders said Monday.
"I think that is a big plus, the fact that he's been over there with myriad business groups," said Democratic Rep. Norm Dicks, of Bremerton. "He also has good connections with the business community.
"In our state you've got Boeing, you've got Microsoft ... you've got Starbucks. He's had a good working relationship with the business community, which I think should be a big consideration here."
As a partner at Davis Wright Tremaine, Locke has traveled to China several times a year, helping U.S. companies make connections and develop strategies for the China market, as well as Chinese clients establishing themselves in the U.S.
He ran a leg of the Olympic-torch relay in China last summer before the Beijing Olympics. And the former governor worked to bring Chinese President Hu Jintao to Seattle to meet with state officials and local companies in 2006 to kick off Hu's first state visit to the U.S.
Locke was the nation's first Chinese-American governor, serving two terms from 1997 through 2004.
He lists among his accomplishments as governor a package of tax breaks aimed at persuading Boeing to assemble its new 787 jetliner in Everett, and expanded transportation and construction budgets.
But also during Locke's tenure as governor, Boeing decided to move its corporate headquarters from Seattle to Chicago.
Locke was linked briefly to the scandal over foreign contributions to then-President 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 wrongdoing, and he subsequently returned some checks tied to people implicated in the fundraising scandal.
In December 1997, his 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.
Locke 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.
He is married to Mona Lee Locke, a former TV-news reporter who is now executive director of the regional affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Foundation, a breast-cancer research organization. They have three children.
Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.
Andrew Garber: 360-236-8268 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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