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Inside the Beltway

Washington politics and government with a New Mexico flavor

Obama Taps UNM Law School Dean for Indian Affairs Secretary Post

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President Barack Obama on Thursday named UNM law school Dean Kevin Washburn to become U.S. Secretary of Indian Affairs, the highest ranking federal position in charge of Native American affairs.

In making the announcement, Obama said Washburn – a member of the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma – has  “demonstrated knowledge and dedication throughout (his) career” and the president said he looks forward to working with him.

The position requires Senate confirmation.

“I’m deeply honored – it’s an exceedingly important responsibility to serve the nation’s Indian tribes and the Indian people,” Washburn told the Journal Thursday. “It’s been very difficult to make the decision to leave New Mexico because I really love the law community here in New Mexico. But it’s such an honor and responsibility I’m looking forward to being considered for it.

Washburn has served as dean of the UNM law school since June 2009. Prior to that, he served as the Rosenstiel Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law from 2008 to 2009 and as an Associate Professor of Law at the University of Minnesota Law School from 2002 to 2008. From 2007 to 2008, Mr. Washburn was the Oneida Indian Nation Visiting Professor at Harvard Law School.

Previously, he served as General Counsel for the National Indian Gaming Commission from 2000 to 2002, and as an Assistant United States Attorney in Albuquerque, New Mexico, from 1997 to 2000.  Washburn earned a B.A. from the University of Oklahomaand a J.D. from Yale Law School.

New Mexico’s U.S. senators praised the president’s pick.

“UNM’s School of Law has flourished under the direction of Kevin Washburn,” said Sen. Tom Udall,  D-N.M, and a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. “Like former Assistant Secretary Larry Echo Hawk, Kevin will bring to the position an in-depth understanding of the issues that are important to tribes inNew Mexico. That, along with his wide range of law experience on the state, tribal and federal levels will greatly benefit Indian Country and the Department of the Interior. While Kevin will surely be missed on the UNM campus, I have every confidence that he is a great fit for this position, and as a member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Iwill push for his swift confirmation.”

“Kevin Washburn has what it takes to be an outstanding Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs,” Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said. “There are many pressing needs in Indian Country so it is my hope that the Senate moves quickly to confirm Kevin to this important position.”

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