A Moderate Bush Cabinet... So Far

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Don Evans, nominated for commerce secretary, speaks at an announcement ceremony

President-elect George W. Bush is saving the tough work for later in the week — Wednesday, he nominated an array of moderate Republicans to a series of relatively noncontroversial Cabinet posts. This trend of soft-sells, however, is unlikely to hold — more-controversial nominees are expected Thursday and Friday.

The Bush-Cheney transition team has moved at lightning speed identifying and nominating candidates to top government posts. Wednesday, Bush called upon two Republican officials and two private citizens to join his team. Paul O'Neill got the first call, nominated for treasury secretary. Though seen as something of a Washington outsider, O'Neill, most recently chairman of the Alcoa Corporation, served for a decade in the Office of Management and Budget in the '60s and '70s. His work under Gerald Ford introduced him to then–White House chief of staff Dick Cheney.

At four in the afternoon, Bush named three further nominees in quick succession. First, Ann Veneman, the former secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, was brought forward for the top job at the USDA. Veneman earned strong praise from California farmers' groups during her tenure in state office.

Just a few raised eyebrows

Mel Martinez, a Florida county official who fled Cuba as a young man, is Bush's choice for secretary of housing and urban development. Martinez, the former head of Orlando's Housing Agency, is a close associate of Florida governor Jeb Bush — and his appointment will undoubtedly raise a few eyebrows among Sunshine State Democrats.

Finally, Bush pal Don Evans took his turn at the podium to accept his nomination as commerce secretary. A friend of the President-elect for nearly a quarter century, Evans is credited with reinvigorating Bush's religious faith during a difficult period in both men's lives. The oil executive has also been Bush's chief fund-raiser since 1978, and is a staunch advocate of "free markets and free enterprise." He is expected to focus primarily on domestic economic policy issues.

So far, the nominations do not send out any major political signals — these are moderate people, with generally moderate reputations. There is still room for controversy by the end of the week, though, as more names trickle out for increasingly visible positions. Reported to be in the running for top spots:

Former U.S. senator Dan Coats (secretary of defense), who's a bit more solidly to the right than anyone announced today.

The withdrawal late Wednesday of Montana governor Marc Racicot for the attorney general post puts Oklahoma governor Frank Keating at the top of the list for the job. Racicot, who first came to the nation's attention during the post-election Florida recount, is far less conservative than Keating, having supported legislation in favor of gay and lesbian employment rights.

Bush could be in for a battle over Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson — a pioneer of welfare reform and dedicated pro-lifer — who could take over the Department of Health and Human Services. In fact, some observers say the President-elect may be trying to smooth the path for his more contentious nominees by floating the name of New Jersey governor Christie Todd Whitman, a liberal, pro-choice Republican, who is expected to take the helm of the Environmental Protection Agency.