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Obama Picks Richardson as Commerce Secretary

Obama Picks Richardson as Commerce SecretaryThe appointment marks the return of the Tufts graduate, who was a member of the initial field of Democratic presidential candidates, to the Cabinet.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [12.08.08] "With his breadth and depth of experience in public life, Governor Richardson is uniquely suited for this role as a leading economic diplomat for America," Obama said in a statement.

Update: On Jan. 4, 2009, Gov. Bill Richardson withdrew as nominee to become Commerce Secretary. 

The Secretary of Commerce is charged with promoting and developing business and trade dealings both at home and abroad. The nomination is subject to confirmation by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. If confirmed, this will not be Richardson's first time in the Cabinet. From 1997 to 1998, he served under Bill Clinton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, followed by a three-year stint as Clinton's Secretary of Energy.

In comments at the press conference announcing his nomination, Richardson spoke in both English and Spanish, acknowledging his wide base of support among Hispanics, and promised to push for a "new future of energy independence and clean energy jobs," according to The Washington Post.

"There's a vital role for the Department of Commerce in our economic recovery," Richardson said, according to a transcript by Congressional Quarterly. "We will create technologies the world is seeking, while creating millions of new jobs that can never be outsourced. We will revitalize our nation's historic strength in manufacturing, while restoring our position of respect in the world."

Obama, according to the transcript, said that Richardson "is going to be outstanding in helping me strategize on how do we rebuild America; how do we get businesses moving; how do we export effectively; how do we open up new markets for American products and services?"

Colleagues and observers praised the nomination.

"I can't think of a better person to be at the helm of our nation's business and industry agenda," Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.), chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, told The Hill. "With his wealth of experience in foreign and domestic issues, Gov. Richardson will help ensure that our nation's business sector is growing and prospering."

"Bill Richardson has been one of the nation's most effective public servants for many years, and he will be an invaluable member of President-elect Obama's administration especially during these tough economic times," Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, chair of the Democratic Governors Association (DGA), said in a statement. "As a former DGA chair and a governor who puts people over politics, Bill is an exemplary leader my fellow governors and I look up to and admire."

Antonio Gonzalez, president of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, told the Los Angeles Times that Richardson's "relationships with leaders abroad, especially in Latin America," will help "initiate a new 'good neighbor' era between the U.S. and Latin America."

Christopher Sabatini, senior policy director at the business group the Americas Society/Council of the Americas, agreed. "When you have a future commerce secretary say in Spanish he's committed to the region, almost as a pledge, that's a powerful message," he told McClatchy Newspapers.

Richardson graduated from Tufts with an undergraduate degree in 1970 and a MALD from The Fletcher School in 1971. He has served on the Board of Trustees since 2003.

Richardson has had an extensive career in both national and state government. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1982 until 1997. After his Cabinet stints, Richardson was elected in 2002 as governor of New Mexico, an office to which he won re-election in 2006.

In these diverse roles, Richardson has enjoyed success. On the international stage, he has negotiated hostage releases with nations including North Korea and Iraq, while domestically he has proven a popular governor, winning re-election with 69 percent of the vote.

In January 2007, Richardson joined the field of presidential hopefuls, and he was the first Democrat in the group to run television ads in the hotly contested state of New Hampshire. A year later, after falling short in the first two primary contests, he withdrew from the race and threw his support behind Obama.

"There are some who speak of a team of rivals. But I've never seen it that way," Richardson said, according to the transcript. "Past competitors, yes. But rivals implies something harder edged and less forgiving. And in the worlds of diplomacy and commerce, you open markets and mines not with rivalry but instead with partnership and innovation and hard work."

Is this post the coda to Richardson's distinguished career? At least one colleague says no.

"This isn't the final stop for Bill Richardson," Brian S. Colón, New Mexico Democratic chairman, told The New York Times. "I'd bet money on it."

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