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Obama To Name Gov. Today

By Michael Coleman
Journal Washington Bureau
       WASHINGTON — Gov. Bill Richardson will be named secretary of commerce by President-elect Barack Obama this morning in Chicago, Democratic officials in Washington told the Journal.
    Richardson, a former U.N. ambassador and U.S. energy secretary under President Clinton, is expected to resign as governor and take the Obama administration job with roughly two years remaining on his second term. Lt. Gov. Diane Denish would succeed him as governor and choose a new lieutenant governor.
    However, exactly when Richardson will leave the Governor's Office remained unclear Tuesday. The governor declined to answer reporters' questions Tuesday morning after a news conference in Santa Fe on education funding.
    Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, recently nominated by Obama to become homeland security secretary, said she won't resign as governor until her nomination is confirmed by the U.S. Senate. That can't happen before Jan. 20, which is the date of both Obama's inauguration and the opening day of the New Mexico Legislature's 60-day session.
    Senate confirmation for some Cabinet secretaries — including Richardson — could easily slip into February, or possibly even later. That means Richardson probably will remain in Santa Fe for at least the early stages of the Legislature's session, which will be confronted by the worst state budget outlook in years.
    Richardson spokesman Pahl Shipley declined to comment Tuesday on the pending announcement. Denish has said she is ready to move into the Governor's Office but has not disclosed whom she might appoint as her lieutenant governor.
    Richardson, who also was a New Mexico congressman for 14 years, endorsed Obama's presidential bid in March, after ending his own campaign for the White House. He has been an occasional diplomatic troubleshooter, has a degree in international diplomacy and is one of the nation's most prominent Hispanic politicians.
    Richardson met with Obama in Chicago last month to discuss a possible appointment as secretary of state. But on Monday, Obama gave that high-profile job to Sen. Hillary Clinton, Obama's chief rival for the Democratic presidential nomination.
    As commerce secretary, Richardson will take over a sprawling federal agency, with headquarters two blocks from the White House, with nearly 40,000 employees and a widely divergent set of responsibilities. Agencies that report to the commerce secretary include the International Trade Association, Bureau of the Census, the Patent and Trademark Office and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
    Richardson's resume doesn't boast formal economic training, but he has made job creation and economic development a centerpiece of his tenure as New Mexico governor.
    Carlos Gutierrez, former chief executive of the Kellogg Co., is the current U.S. commerce secretary. The Commerce Department has a budget of $8 billion this year, and the secretary generally serves as an advocate for American business and trade interests domestically and overseas.
    As America's chief advocate for private business, Richardson would be at the table when Obama convenes his economic team to deal with the global financial crisis. He also would advise the new president on pending trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea.
    The deals are completed but fragile, and they still need to be ratified by Congress. The Bush administration negotiated the agreements, but the Democratic-controlled Congress has delayed ratifying the, partly because of pressures from organized labor. It's unclear whether Obama will send the agreements to Congress for approval.
    The pending trade agreements could test Richardson's negotiating skills and, if Obama decides to scuttle them, his convictions as an advocate of free trade.
    Jamie Estrada, a New Mexico Republican currently serving as deputy assistant secretary of commerce in the Bush administration, said he believes Richardson would maintain a pro-trade bent as commerce secretary.
    "As Secretary Gutierrez recently said, a big challenge for the next secretary of commerce is to convince everyone — including Congress — that trade is good for the country and that the U.S. cannot afford to stand still as other countries open their markets," Estrada said. "Governor Richardson is an internationalist, and I believe that he'll be up to this challenge."
    The New Mexico governor is the first Hispanic named to a Cabinet-level position in Obama's administration, although Obama announced Tuesday the appointment of Louis Caldera, a Hispanic and former University of New Mexico president, as his White House director of military operations.