The new secretary also will be overseer of 500 million acres of public land and a department with 70,000 employees and responsibilities including endangered species, national parks and Native American affairs.
Gregoire, whose term as Washingtons governor ended Wednesday, has long been mentioned as a potential replacement for Salazar. Gregoire is close with Obama and Indian tribes and is a big backer of alternative energy, national parks and tourism.
The tradition is to go to somebody from the West Im not surprised at all that shes in the mix and I think shed be a fine pick, said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond in Virginia who follows presidential appointments closely. Shes been a very successful governor of an important state and has wrestled with issues involving public land in her state. It seems to me she presents a pretty strong profile.
Gregoire said Wednesday shes open to discussions about the post.
You know, Im not done. Retirements not really in my vocabulary. I have not lost my energy or enthusiasm or love for service. So Ill go do something else, she said.
So if the president of the United States calls I would have to really seriously think about serving, she said. But Ill wait, Ill see.
The president has taken some heat in recent days for the fact his three recent Cabinet picks have all been white males. Salazar is the last remaining Latino in the Cabinet. A coalition of 238 conservation, Hispanic, recreation, animal welfare, religious, labor, youth, business and womens groups are pushing for Arizona Rep. Grijalva to replace him.
Another name mentioned as a possible replacement is John Berry, director of the federal Office of Personnel Management. Hes from Maryland, not the West, but was an Interior Department official during the Clinton administration. He also would be the first openly gay member of a presidential Cabinet.
Former Democratic Rep. Norm Dicks of Washington state, who just finished 36 years in the U.S. House, is also cited as potential successor to Salazar. But he ruled himself out when his name first surfaced in November.
Brad Shannon of The Olympian contributed from Olympia, Wash.