Locke a lock for Commerce? Update: Tip of the scandal iceberg

posted at 8:43 am on February 24, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

Barack Obama has found his third pick for Commerce Secretary, a post that has resembled the Spinal Tap drummer more than a Cabinet position in the Obama transition.  Gary Locke, the former governor of Washington, will soon join the Obama administration in the position vacated by once and present Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) and Governor Bill Richardson (D-NM):

President Obama is probably going to pick former Washington Gov. Gary Locke for commerce secretary, several senior administration officials told FOX News Monday.

The expected decision comes after the president’s two previous picks bowed out of the running. Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., backed out less than two weeks ago, citing “irresolvable conflicts” with the president’s economic policies. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson bowed out in January amid an ethics investigation in his state. …

Since leaving office he’s been working for the Seattle-based law firm Davis Wright Tremaine on issues involving China, energy and governmental relations. He argues that global engagement is a way to improve China’s human rights record and deal with piracy of intellectual property.

He’ll fit right in with Hillary Clinton on China, then.  In fact, he’ll fit in better with the Obama administration than Gregg, who mostly opposed Obama’s economic policies. One big question is whether the White House will still pull the Census from Commerce, or whether a Democrat in the Commerce Secretary position will satisfy the Congressional Black Caucus and the Latino caucus.  Locke would certainly serve to eliminate that controversy.

He might stoke another, however.  Fox News notes that Obama wanted a quiet, scandal-free appointment after Richardson’s pay-for-play investigation and the tax problems of several high-profile nominees.  Locke, though, brings a little baggage that may get a new look in a confirmation hearing:

LET’S SAY YOU’RE Gov. Gary Locke’s brother-in-law. You bunk at the governor’s mansion. You commute to your nearby job as an executive of a private technology firm.

During your two years with the firm, the governor signs a bill giving your company a tax break, personally intervenes in a dispute involving your company, shows up for a party there, and signs a federal loan application for your company, whose founders—your bosses—pay at least two visits to the mansion.

At the same time, your company rakes in millions in state aid, lands a fat state technology contract, and is allowed to use government credit authority to float new loans (an authority illegally granted, as a state auditor’s report will reveal this week).

Are you getting gubernatorial favors that average citizens don’t get?

Naaaw, says the governor.

The scandal involved SafeHarbor, an online-services firm that racked up an impressive amount of state contracts and tax breaks during the two years that Judd Lee, the brother of Locke’s wife, bunked at the governor’s mansion.  Locke and Lee claimed that they never discussed SafeHarbor business while living in the same house, but as Seattle Weekly notes, SafeHarbor got a lot of attention from Locke, coincidentally or not.  It got over $12 million in government aid and saved over $600,000 from legislation pushed by Locke, while gaining almost $500,000 in state contracts.  The state aid actually comprised federal funds for redevelopment, channeled through a state agency called PDA, which allowed Locke to claim that SafeHarbor never got state aid money.

Will we hear more about SafeHarbor and how they ended up with $12 million in taxpayer money while its executive bunked with Locke?  It certainly seems like a good topic to pick for an administration that promised it would clean up Washington and end the politics of influence.

Update: While I was writing this, I recalled that the boss covered the Seattle waterfront for years and wondered what she might have in the archives.  Michelle has, as it turns out, a cornucopia of questionable donations and potential influence peddling:

Now, former Democrat Gov. Gary Locke — a lawyer for international firm Davis, Wright, and Tremaine who specializes in China — is rumored to be the next nominee for the post. The MSM is pulling for him. WaPo writes: “Locke is regarded as a safe choice by senior officials in the Obama administration given his long history in public life, his strait-laced reputation and his bipartisan governing credentials.” Wishful thinking? Willful cluelessness? Probably a bit of both.

I covered Gary Locke when I worked at the Seattle Times. I dealt with his campaign and gubernatorial staffs. “Strait-laced” is not the adjective I’d use for my dealings with him and his people.

In response to my columns pressing Locke on his close ties to campaign finance crook John Huang, the governor’s office first stonewalled. His standard Democrat smokescreen? Play the race card and play the victim.

Be sure to read the whole thing.  At first, I was tempted to agree with Moe Lane that Locke looked like Rahm Emanuel in terms of scandals and brothers-in-law.  Now it looks like Locke has a lot more problems than Obama’s chief of staff, who was lucky not to have to face a confirmation hearing.

Can’t anyone in this administration vet potential nominees?  Did they really believe that tying themselves to the Clinton China-gate scandal was a smokin’ hot idea?


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