Former governor Locke likely commerce nominee

WASHINGTON Mon Feb 23, 2009 6:37pm EST

1 of 2. Gary Locke, former governor of Washington state, in an undated photo.

Credit: Reuters/File

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Gary Locke, a former governor of Washington state, is the "likely nominee" for U.S. commerce secretary, an administration official said on Monday.

Locke, a Democrat, is the third nominee for the post. The first two, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and Republican Senator Judd Gregg, withdrew their names from contention.

Locke, 59, served two terms as governor of Washington from 1997 to 2005 and was the first Chinese-American governor in U.S. history. He oversaw a state with a diverse economy that includes corporate giants like Boeing and Microsoft, as well as wheat farmers in the less-populated eastern half.

At the Commerce Department, he would be in charge of a huge bureaucracy functions of which range from export promotion to monitoring global climate change.

Locke has a law degree from Boston University and began his career in public service as a deputy prosecutor.

He was elected to the Washington state House of Representatives in 1982 and later served as chief executive of King County, Washington, which includes Seattle.

President Barack Obama has had an usually hard time filling the top job at commerce, typically seen as the chief advocate for business within the cabinet.

His first choice, Richardson, withdrew in the face of a legal probe into a California-based financial company that had done business with the New Mexico state government.

Richardson denied any wrongdoing, but said he feared the inquiry would delay his Senate confirmation at a time when Obama needed his top economic aides quickly in place.

Gregg, a Republican, withdrew two weeks ago in an embarrassing setback to Obama's efforts to bridge party differences on the economy.

The third-term senator said he realized his policy differences with Obama were too great and it would be a "bigger mistake" to stay and serve in the administration.

The vacancy at the Commerce Department highlights other administration jobs that are not filled.

Obama still has not named a replacement for Tom Daschle, who withdrew as nominee for U.S. health secretary because of personal tax issues.

And the Senate Finance Committee has not scheduled a hearing yet on the nomination of former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk to be U.S. trade representative. That hearing is now expected next week at the earliest.

There are also many senior positions at the Treasury, Commerce Department and trade office that remain empty.

(Reporting by Ross Colvin and Doug Palmer; editing by Todd Eastham)

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