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Obama names Gary Locke to Commerce -- third time's the charm?

February 25, 2009 |  9:38 am

The first choice seemed like a winner. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Hispanic American, was one of Barack Obama's rivals during the presidential campaign. Obama had read Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team of Rivals" about Abraham Lincoln's approach to government and was intent on reaching out to his former opponents. Think Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden. Richardson withdrew because of an ongoing ethics investigation.

Next came New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg, a Republican American, who approached the White House in some sort of bipartisan euphoria before having a partisan meltdown and deciding that his fiscal-conservative, budget-conscious New England views were at odds with the president's stimulus package.

Aleqm5ix3haxmec8xqmjdvggrrzov5kgoa But today came Gary Locke, a Chinese American who was a popular two-term governor of Washington state, carving out new contacts to Chinese trade, and has since been a tireless advocate for American businesses. And as President Obama said:

I'm sure it's not lost on anyone that we've tried this a couple of times, but I'm a big believer in keeping at something until you get it right.  And Gary is the right man for this job.

For his part, Locke, who now has to be confirmed by the Senate, spoke movingly about his own journey.

When I was first sworn in as governor of the great state of Washington, I told the story of how, a hundred years ago, my grandfather came from China as a teenager and worked for a family as a houseboy in exchange for English lessons -- just one mile from the Governor's Mansion.  It took our family 100 years to move that one mile, a journey possible only in America.

In fact, Locke is such a good fit for the job, it makes you kind of wonder why the Obama White House didn't think of him the first time around. As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) put it:

Gary Locke is a bipartisan problem-solver who will bring his record of smart trade policy and fiscal responsibility to President Obama’s Cabinet.  A first-generation American who grew up in public housing and helped solve some of his state’s most daunting economic challenges during his time as governor, Locke will play a central role in helping our nation not only recover, but prosper for future generations of Americans.

Read the full transcript of the Obama/Locke remarks below. Or watch the video here.

-- Johanna Neuman

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Photo: Agence France-Presse


Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release                           February 25, 2009


Indian Treaty Room

11:08 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Good morning, everybody.  Last night, I outlined my vision for our common future -- one in which we accept the responsibility to act boldly and wisely to confront the extraordinary challenges of our times, put people back to work doing the work America needs done, and lay a new foundation for America's growth and prosperity.

Today, I'm pleased to announce that I'm filling out my economic team with a man who shares that vision, and who will play a key role in carrying it out as my Secretary of Commerce:  Governor Gary Locke.

Now, I'm sure it's not lost on anyone that we've tried this a couple of times, but I'm a big believer in keeping at something until you get it right.  And Gary is the right man for this job.

Sometimes the American story can be told in the span of a single mile.  More than 100 years ago, Gary's grandfather left China on a steamship bound for America.  He had no family here.  He spoke no English.  He found work as a servant, and purpose in a dream.  He raised a son -- Gary's father -- who would go on to fight in World War II, return home and open a grocery store, and later raise a family of his own.

Gary didn't learn English until he was five, but he earned the rank of Eagle Scout, worked his way through Yale University with the help of scholarships and student loans, and got a law degree.  He returned to Washington state and served as a prosecutor, a state representative, chief executive of one of the most populous counties in the United States, and finally as governor -- in the State Capitol building not one mile from the home where his grandfather worked as a servant all those years ago.

So Gary knows the American Dream.  He's lived it.  And that's why he shares my commitment to do whatever it takes to keep it alive in our time.

Because somewhere in America, another small-business owner is hard at work on the next big idea and dreaming big dreams for his grandchild.  A scientist is on the cusp of the next breakthrough discovery.  An entrepreneur is sketching designs for the startup that will revolutionize an industry.  Our economic crisis has put these plans at risk, but it has not dimmed the dreams that inspired them.

That's why we've put a recovery plan into action that will save or create 3.5 million jobs over the next two years.  That's why the vast majority of these jobs -- 90 percent -- will be created in the private sector, because we know that business, not government, is the engine of growth in this country.

It is entrepreneurship and industry that are the wellsprings of an economy that has been the greatest force of progress and prosperity in human history.  It is America's workers and businesses that employ them that will determine our economic destiny.  It is the task of the Department of Commerce to help create conditions in which our workers can prosper, our businesses can thrive, and our economy can grow.

That's what Gary did in Washington state, convincing businesses to set up shop and create the jobs of the 21st century -- jobs in science and technology; agriculture and energy -- jobs that pay well and can't be shipped overseas.  That's what he did by establishing favorable markets abroad where Washington state's businesses could sell their products.  That's what he did by unleashing powerful partnerships between state and local governments, between labor and business -- all with an eye toward prosperity and progress for all those in his state who had dreams of their own.

So Gary will be a trusted voice in my Cabinet, a tireless advocate for our economic competitiveness, and an influential ambassador for American industry who will help us do everything we can -- especially now -- to promote our industry around the world.  I'm grateful he's agreed to leave one Washington for another.  I'm looking forward to having him on my team as we continue the work of turning our economy around and bringing about a stronger, more prosperous future for all Americans.

Ladies and gentlemen, I want to introduce to you an outstanding public servant, somebody I'm certain will be a great Secretary of Commerce, Gary Locke.  (Applause.)

GOVERNOR LOCKE:  Thank you very much, Mr. President.  I'm truly humbled and honored to be asked to join your economic team and to serve as Secretary of Commerce.

As I flew across the country yesterday from Seattle, I saw the cities and farmlands of America below me.  And I thought of all those businesses, small and large, that are struggling -- struggling to meet payroll; struggling to provide benefits to their employees; wondering about their future and viability as companies.  Most of all, I thought about all those families in those communities who are hurting and worried about their future.

Mr. President, I know you hear their concerns.  The American people and I fully support you and have confidence in your bold strategies to turn our economy around, to rejuvenate the health of American businesses, to preserve and create good family wage jobs, to restore our country to an era of lasting prosperity.

You eloquently outlined your strategies last night on how America will rebuild, recover and emerge stronger than ever before.  Working with the professionals at the Department of Commerce, I'm committed to making the Department an active and integral partner in advancing your economic policies and restoring the American Dream to all Americans.

Our nation's economic success is tied directly to America continuing to lead in technology and innovation, and in exporting those products, services and ideas to nations around the globe.  The Department of Commerce plays a critical role in nurturing innovation, expanding global markets, protecting and managing our ocean fisheries, and fostering economic growth.  The Department of Commerce can and will help create the jobs and the economic vitality our nation needs.

When I was first sworn in as governor of the great state of Washington, I told the story of how a hundred years ago, my grandfather came from China as a teenager and worked for a family as a houseboy in exchange for English lessons -- just one mile from the Governor's Mansion.  It took our family 100 years to move that one mile, a journey possible only in America.

And during World War II, my father served in the United States Army as a staff sergeant and landed on the shores of Normandy.  As a kid I lived in public housing, and my mom and dad worked very hard in the neighborhood grocery store that they owned.

We grew up on the values of get a good education, work hard, and take care of each other.  It was a struggle, but thanks to their sacrifices, I received the best education America offered.  And here I am today, proud to have the opportunity to serve all the people of our great nation.

My family's story is America's story.  Our story is just one of hundreds of millions since the birth of our nation, of people coming from every part of the world in pursuit of the American Dream of freedom, hope and opportunity.  In hard times, Americans have rallied together, sacrificed and even given their lives for our country, because they believe in the essential goodness and promise of America.

Americans are prepared to do the same today.  They believe in your leadership, Mr. President, and want you to succeed because they want America to succeed.  They want a better future for themselves and their children.

We will harness the resources and the talent of the Department of Commerce to help you fulfill your commitment to the American people to build a stronger and more prosperous nation.  I embrace this opportunity to serve you and the American people.

And finally I want to thank my family -- my parents and brother and sisters and the extended Locke clan, but especially my beautiful and truly gifted and loving wife, Mona, and the joys of our lives, Emily, Dylan and Madeline.  Today would not have been possible without their love, support and sacrifices.  And thank you, Mr. President, for this opportunity.

THE PRESIDENT:  Congratulations.  You'll be great.


THE PRESIDENT:  All right, thank you everybody.

                             END                   11:17 A.M. EST