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Obama names Richardson commerce secretary

President-elect Barack Obama named Bill Richardson as his choice for commerce secretary on Wednesday, after passing over his vanquished Democratic rival for secretary of state.
Image: Barack Obama, Bill Richardson
President-elect Barack Obama announces his choice of New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson as Commerce Secretary-designate on Wednesday, calling him an "economic diplomat for America."Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

President-elect Barack Obama named New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson as commerce secretary on Wednesday, filling a top economic post in troubled times and placing a second former campaign rival in his new Cabinet.

Talking optimistically despite the recession, Obama also said, "We have everything we need to renew our economy, we have the ingenuity and technology, the skill and commitment — we just need to put it to work."

The president-elect called Richardson a leading "economic diplomat for America. During his time in state government and Congress, and in two tours of duty in the Cabinet, Bill has seen from just about every angle what makes our economy work and what keeps it from working better."

Obama seemed in a lighthearted mood as he made the announcement. Asked about Richardson's recent decision to shave his beard, Obama joked that he was "deeply disappointed." He said he guessed Richardson decided to jettison the facial hair after his wife found it scratchy.

Richardson, 61, was United Nations ambassador and energy secretary during the Clinton administration, and he is in his second term as New Mexico's governor. He also served seven terms in the House of Representatives.

If confirmed by the Senate, he would take over a sprawling department that oversees the National Weather Service, the Census Bureau, economic development programs and more.

One of the nation's most prominent Hispanic politicians, Richardson pledged — in English and Spanish — to work to renew the economy.

Primary opponent
He will become the latest former Democratic primary opponent to join Obama's Cabinet. The incoming chief executive has chosen another adversary-turned-ally, Hillary Rodham Clinton, to be his secretary of state. Obama also chose former rival Joe Biden as his vice presidential running mate.

Obama is considering another Hispanic politician, California Democratic Rep. Xavier Becerra, to be U.S. Trade Representative, according to two Democratic officials speaking on a condition of anonymity ahead of an announcement for the position.

New Mexico's Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, a Democrat will become the state's first female governor when Richardson leaves to assume his new post. Denish will take over for the remainder of Richardson's term, which runs through 2010.

In neighboring Arizona, the ascension of a Democratic governor will put the state in the hands of a Republican governor.

Under Arizona state law, the move of Gov. Janet Napolitano to secretary of Homeland Security will mean a Republican, Arizona Secretary of State Jan Brewer, will assume the reins there.

The president-elect has moved quickly to fill out his Cabinet, having named more than half of it in the month since he was elected the country's 44th president.

Worked for Clinton administration
An energy secretary and United Nations ambassador in President Bill Clinton's administration, Richardson was a contender for the State Department job, but Obama offered him the post as commerce secretary after choosing the former first lady as his top diplomat.

Among those Cabinet posts yet to be disclosed if not chosen: the heads of the Interior, Transportation, Labor, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Education, Agriculture and Veterans Affairs departments. Obama also has yet to name his intelligence team, including his director of national intelligence and CIA chief.