Forget the third time's a charm thing. Barack Obama is probably just hoping there won't be a fourth. After New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg both withdrew their nominations as Commerce Secretary (Richardson for a homegrown corruption investigation and Gregg because of disagreements with Obama's fiscal strategy), Obama apparently decided to go with someone as straitlaced as they come. Gary Locke, former two-term governor of Washington and the nation's first Chinese American to head a state, was formally announced today as the Administration's next pick for Commerce. His many dealings with China are expected to come in handy should he receive Senate confirmation.
Born to Chinese immigrants, Locke, 59, spent his early childhood in Seattle public housing for families of World War II vets and did not learn English until entering kindergarten. He went on to earn a scholarship to Yale and received a law degree from Boston University.
After working as a Seattle prosecutor, Locke was elected to the State house, where he began his 22 years in public office. Elected Governor in 1996 (he was the first, and remains the only, Chinese American governor to date), Locke served two terms before declining to run again.
Since leaving office in 2004, Locke has worked for a Seattle law-firm, specializing in China. As the nation's one-time top Chinese American politician, Locke has kept in close contact with his parent's homeland. He arranged for Chinese President Hu Jintao to start off his first state visit in 2006 to America in Seattle, and has met privately with Chinese Premier Wen Jibao a rare event for any U.S. politician. He also ran a leg of the Olympic torch relay before 2008's Beijing Olympics.
Enjoys working on cars and is an amateur horticulturalist. According to the Seattle Times, he spends his time, "grafting fruit trees, ministering a friend's ailing gardenias, growing orchids in his office."
Entered office with high ratings that slowly dipped over his two terms. Near the end of his second term, when the state suffered from a $2.5 billion deficit and one of the highest unemployment rates in the land, Locke declined to raise taxes, angering fellow Democrats. He also turned his back on promises to reform education, eliminating teacher raises and angering their union, who effectively "un-endorsed" him. Thousands of teachers later marched on the state capitol.
Was briefly involved in the 1996 Clinton campaign fundraising scandal that involved donors suspected of being Chinese government operatives. A congressional committee eventually cleared him of any involvement, and he returned several checks from people linked to the scandal.
Federal agents once arrested the leader of an extremist anti-government group in Washington suspected of planning to assassinate Locke.
In 1997, Locke and his family had to get rabies shots after coming across several bats including one above his baby's crib in the Governor's Mansion.
Married twice, currently to wife Mona, a former reporter for a Seattle NBC affiliate. The couple have three children.
"I believe it's in the interests of the United States politically and
economically to forge a strong partnership with China...If the Chinese can't
buy U.S. products, they'll buy them from European countries and then develop
stronger economic ties with France and Germany and perhaps side more with
those countries when international issues flare up."
on how free trade can help strengthen global relationships, The Seattle Times, Sept. 8, 2006
"One hundred years to travel one mile."
on getting sworn in at the state Capitol near where his grandfather had worked as an immigrant servant, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Jan. 16, 1997
"I think that people always just assumed that I was a liberal because
I came from Southeast Seattle"
on his occasional ideological drifts, Seattle Times, Jan. 11, 2005
when asked how he felt about delivering the Democratic response to George W. Bush's 2003 State of the Union, New York Times, Jan. 27, 2003
"I'm not sure I've ever met anybody more straight-laced...When I tried
to fix him up with dates, I'd tell them, 'He's a really nice guy, but very
serious. At the end of the night, though, if you ask him in for a cup of
tea, that's all he's going to ask for.'"
Seattle teacher Carol Austin, on longtime friend Locke, The Seattle Times, Jan. 14, 1997
"Some were really racist, saying things like, 'Why don't you and your
family get on a boat and go back to China.'"
Washington State Senator Ken Jacobsen, on the threatening emails Locke received after giving the 2003 Democratic response to President George W. Bush's State of the Union, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 25, 2003
"He's more of a manager than a bold leader or a visionary."
Don McDonough, former Locke pollster, on his old boss' workman-like demeanor, Washington Post, Jan. 04, 1997
"I think the Obama administration wanted someone who is squeaky clean,
and certainly Gary is a Boy Scout."
Paul Berendt, former Washington State Democratic Chairman, on Locke's fairly boring past (he actually was a Boy Scout), Seattle Times, Feb. 24, 2009