Video: Obama picks Locke for Commerce

updated 2/25/2009 12:01:07 PM ET 2009-02-25T17:01:07

Maybe the third time will be the charm. President Barack Obama can only hope.

On Wednesday, he named former Washington Gov. Gary Locke as his commerce secretary on Wednesday after his top two choices for the post fell through.

"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 it around the world,"  the president said in a statement.

A Democrat, Locke was the nation's first Chinese-American governor, serving two terms from 1997 to 2005.

If confirmed by the Senate, he would assume control of a large agency with a broad portfolio that includes overseeing the 2010 national head count, oceans policy and many aspects of international trade.

The president initially tapped New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a fellow Democrat, for the Cabinet post. He withdrew in January, before Obama took office, after the disclosure that a grand jury is investigating allegations of wrongdoing in the awarding of contracts in his state.

A month later, Obama announced that Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire had accepted the job. But a week after that, Gregg stepped down, citing "irresolvable conflicts" with the policies of the Democratic president.

More vacancies
Even after Obama makes Locke's selection official, his Cabinet still won't be complete. He still does not have a health and human services secretary; former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle withdrew his nomination for that post amid a tax controversy. Among those under consideration to replace him is Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

Locke, 59, works for the Seattle-based law firm Davis Wright Tremaine on issues involving China, energy and governmental relations.

He still must get through Senate confirmation hearings to assume the post, and there are a number of issues over which he may face questions.

Locke was briefly linked to the scandal over foreign contributions to President Bill Clinton's 1996 campaign. In July 1998, he gave a deposition to the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight about his relationships with questioned Clinton donors. But the committee later said the deposition produced no evidence that Locke knowingly accepted illegal campaign donations.

Locke denied any wrongdoing, and he subsequently returned some checks tied to people implicated in the fundraising scandal, including $750 from John Huang. The former Commerce Department official was the Democratic Party's chief fundraiser for the Asian-American population in the 1996 elections, and he became one of the central figures in the national Democratic Party fundraising scandal.

In December 1997, Locke's political committee was fined a maximum $2,500 by state regulators after it admitted breaking campaign finance laws during two out-of-state fundraisers in 1996.

And in March 1998, state investigators cleared Locke of wrongdoing following complaints that he unlawfully took $10,000 in campaign contributions from members of a Buddhist church.

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