Against the backdrop of the carnage in Mumbai, India, on Dec. 1 U.S. President-elect Barack Obama unveiled the National Security team charged with keeping America safe from similar atrocities. Among these critical figures is Arizona governor Janet Napolitano, whom Obama tapped to become America's third secretary of Homeland Security. Napolitano, a former attorney who has earned plaudits from both sides of the aisle for her nuanced approach to the hot-button issue of immigration, "insists on competence and accountability," Obama said in a statement. "She knows firsthand the need to have a partner in Washington that works well with state and local governments. She understands as well as anyone the danger of an unsecure border. And she will be a leader who can reform a sprawling Department while safeguarding our homeland." Napolitano who gave Obama a key boost when she endorsed him last January in the run-up to the Arizona primary will need to marshal all of these skills in order to successfully repair a department still smarting from criticism over its handling of domestic terror cases and its response to Hurricane Katrina.
In 2005, TIME named Napolitano one of the nation's Top Five Governors
Napolitano, 51, is unmarried
Born in New York City; raised in Albuquerque, N.M.
A graduate of Santa Clara (Calif.) University and the University of Virginia Law School
Formerly an avid mountaineer, she's climbed in the Himalayas and summited Mount Kilimanjaro
A self-professed fan of Monty Python
After being appointed by President Bill Clinton, Napolitano served as U.S. Attorney for Arizona and was the first woman to hold the state's Attorney General post
In 1991, represented Anita Hill in Hill's sexual harrassment lawsuit against then-Supreme Court nominee (and now Justice) Clarence Thomas
A breast cancer survivor, she underwent a mastectomy in 2000
The first governor to call for the National Guard to protect the U.S.-Mexico border at federal expense
"I don't think ambition is a bad thing." (to TIME, 2005)
"If you build a 50-foot-high wall, somebody will find a 51-foot ladder."
(Dismissing the practicality of a border fence separating the U.S. and Mexico to prevent illegal immigration)
"It wasn't about gender, nor was it about race. I chose Senator Obama
because to me this election is fundamentally about change."
(Announcing her endorsement of Obama in January 2008 during a conference call with reporters)
"Arizonans look around, and their emergency rooms are packed, and their
class sizes are huge, and they see a federal government that has not seemed
committed to protecting the border. They don't see an immigration law that
really is enforced firmly and fairly, and they act accordingly."
(Explaining to The American Prospect in its July-August 2008 issue why most Arizona residents support anti-immigration measures that she opposes)
"I'm not entirely kidding when I say you shouldn't be able to get a driver's
license until you've passed algebra."
(To an Arizona Chamber of Commerce group, 2007)
"If someone likes people as much as she does and yet is able to get down to
the nitty-gritty and crawl around in boxes of figures, she's an
(Judge Mary Schroeder of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for whom Napolitano clerked in 1983, in her first job out of law school to The American Prospect, July-August, 2008)
"Janet Napolitano is probably the smartest governor, if not person, in the
(Political columnist Margaret Carlson, speaking on MSNBC on Nov. 20)
"On [immigration] she has long been one of the cooler voices in the state.
She says she likes to begin speeches before tough audiences with a
rhetorical question: 'Who here favors illegal immigration? Nobody? OK, we've
got a consensus that nobody is supposed to agree on. Let's go from
(New York Times editorial, Dec. 1, 2008)
"She's kind of a female Hubert Humphrey, a real happy warrior."
(Arizona Democratic fundraiser Fred DuVal, to TIME in 2007)
"A neutered Republican."
(The Phoenix New Times, August 29, 2002; the alt-weekly also dubbed Napolitano a "poster blob for milquetoast party apparatchiks.")