President Obama nominated former Washington governor Gary Locke to head the Department of Commerce yesterday. The process has been dominated by the withdrawal of two previous candidates. While Locke, the former governor of Washington, has had fund-raising problems that will undoubtedly be examined during the confirmation process, there don’t appear to be any major obstacles to him getting the job.
As a politician, Locke is a staid character. I covered him when I was starting out as a reporter in a small town in Washington state. When I interviewed him in 2001 he showed both a strong grasp of the varied issues important to the northwest corner of the state (where he wasn’t very popular) and a remarkable ability to say nothing noteworthy. I had to prod and push him to utter anything semi-lively. Joe Biden he’s not.
But what he lacks in flash he makes up in depth, especially when it comes to China. Locke was the first and so far the only Chinese-American governor in U.S. history, and his heritage is a key part of his identity. Since leaving the governor’s seat he’s work for a Seattle law firm and focused on China trade. He’s popular in China, has close ties with the leadership in Beijing including President Hu Jintao, and has been quoted before talking about how important it is that both sides find benefit in the Sino-U.S. economic relationship. During the Bush era stories about former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson often referenced the frequency with which he visited China during his career at Goldman Sachs. I’m not sure what Locke’s trip count is, but given his background it doesn’t really matter. He’s not lacking in China cred, and given the parlous state of international trade he’s going to need all of it.