WASHINGTON — Former Washington Gov. Gary Locke, the nation's first Chinese-American governor, will likely be named secretary of commerce, an administration official and Capitol Hill sources confirmed Monday.
"Absolutely he is under consideration," said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.
A senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because a final decision had not been made as of late Monday, said the 59-year-old Locke was the likely nominee.
On Capitol Hill, sources said they were "fairly confident" President Barack Obama would name the two-term governor to the post in the coming days. They indicated he was being vetted and that he was previously under consideration for the post of U.S. trade representative.
"He would make an outstanding secretary of commerce, said Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., adding Locke has a strong background in international trade, particularly with China, and in fisheries, which is under the jurisdiction of the Commerce Department.
Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire believes Locke's experience as governor and knowledge of international trade would make him a great commerce secretary, said Pearse Edwards, a Gregoire spokesman. Calls left for Locke on his cell phone and at his Seattle law office were not returned.
Locke would be Obamas third choice for the post, which requires Senate conformation.
Obama originally nominated New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, but in January Richardson withdrew amid disclosures a grand jury was investigating the awarding of state contracts in New Mexico.
Obama then turned to a Republican, Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire. But Gregg withdrew less than a week after being selected, citing "irresolvable conflicts" with the new administration.
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 oversight committee about his relationships with questioned Clinton donors. But the committee subsequently 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. That included $750 from John Huang, the former Commerce Department official who was the Democratic Partys chief fund raiser for the Asian-American population in the 1996 elections.
Also, in December 1997, Lockes 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.
Though not one of the high-profile cabinet posts, the commerce secretary oversees an agency with wide responsibilities ranging from international trade to the census and from fisheries to the weather service.
Locke would continue a string of Puget Sound area nominees to the Obama administration that already includes Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske as drug czar, and King County Executive Ron Sims as as second-in-command at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
In addition to his long political career, Locke has a compelling personal story. The son of immigrants from Guandong and Hong Kong, Locke lived in a public housing project in Seattle until he was six years old. He worked in his fathers restaurant and grocery store before attending Yale University and the Boston University Law School.