Obama commerce pick vows jobs push

WASHINGTON Wed Mar 18, 2009 4:10pm EDT

President Barack Obama nominates Washington Governor Gary Locke (L) to become commerce secretary in Washington February 25, 2009. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

President Barack Obama nominates Washington Governor Gary Locke (L) to become commerce secretary in Washington February 25, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former Washington state Governor Gary Locke said on Wednesday he would insist on tough enforcement of U.S. trade laws and work hard to generate U.S. jobs if confirmed by the Senate to lead the U.S. Commerce Department.

"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 the jobs of the future," Locke told the Senate Commerce Committee at his confirmation hearing.

Locke would be the first Chinese-American to head the U.S. Commerce Department, a sprawling bureaucracy whose diverse responsibilities include enforcement of U.S. trade laws, conducting the 2010 census and managing the nation's fishing stocks.

He was warmly received by both Republicans and Democrats on the panel and Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller said it was important Locke be confirmed soon.

The Commerce Committee will vote Thursday on the nomination, setting the stage for a full Senate vote.

Both Rockefeller, a Democrat, and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, the panel's top Republican, said the committee's review had found none of the tax problems in Locke's financial paperwork that have tripped up some of President Barack Obama's other nominees.

From 1997 to the end of 2004, Locke was governor of Washington, often described as the most export-dependent U.S. state.

"More than free trade, though, I believe in fair trade. That means we must enforce our trade agreements and place a high value on environmental, labor and safety standards," Locke told the panel.

Republicans told Locke they hoped he would be a strong voice against protectionism in the Obama administration and also pressed for assurances the Commerce Department would carry out the 2010 census without political influence from the White House.

Locke said it would take "extraordinary efforts" to finish the census by the April 1, 2010 deadline, but it could be done and he would be a "stickler for accuracy."

"The census only happens once every ten years and we need to get it right - no exceptions, no excuses. That is why it will be run out of the Department of Commerce and by a director who will work with Congress," Locke said.

He also promised to complete the U.S. transition to digital television by the new June deadline set by Congress.

But too many people using analog television still do not know they will soon need a digital converter box to watch TV, Locke said.

Locke was Obama's third choice for U.S. commerce chief after New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg both withdrew their nominations.

Richardson stepped down in the face of a legal probe and Gregg, a Republican, withdrew after realizing his policy differences with Obama were too big.

(Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Vicki Allen)

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