Richardson to serve as secretary of commerce

President-elect Barack Obama has named New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson to be secretary of commerce, saying he would serve as the country's "leading economic diplomat" on negotiating a way out of the financial crisis.


AFP - President-elect Barack Obama Wednesday nominated New Mexico Governor and diplomat Bill Richardson as commerce secretary, adding a seasoned Hispanic political veteran to his cabinet lineup.

Obama made the announcement at a press conference here, saying Richardson would become a "leading economic diplomat" for the United States as his administration plots a course out of the financial crisis.

"It's time to not just address the immediate economic threats, but to start laying the groundwork for long-term prosperity to help American businesses grow and thrive at home and expand our efforts to promote American enterprise around the world," Obama said.

"This work is the core mission of the secretary of commerce and 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."

Richardson, 61, the highest-profile Hispanic politician in the United States, had been seen as a possible choice for secretary of state, had Obama not decided to hand the job to his former political foe Hillary Clinton.

"There's a vital role for the Department of Commerce in our economic recovery," Richardson said, thanking Obama for the great "honor" of his appointment, which requires Senate confirmation.

The New Mexico governor mounted an unsuccessful challenge for the Democratic nomination, and switched allegiances to back Obama over Clinton, despite his loyalty to former president Bill Clinton, whom he served as energy secretary.

Richardson's new post is the latest in a long string of official and ad hoc assignments, which included a spell in the House of Representatives, Clinton administration energy secretary and US envoy to the United Nations..

Once dubbed the "Indiana Jones" of US diplomacy, Richardson is famed for daring head-to-head encounters with strongmen leaders on the US pariah list, including Iraq's executed president Saddam Hussein and Cuba's Fidel Castro.

Hispanic groups angled for high-profile Latino cabinet appointments, pointing out that the community, a key Democratic voting bloc, helped Obama win four vital battleground states, Florida, New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada.

Richardson also pointedly delivered comments in Spanish during his nominating press conference, and at the same time thanked his state of New Mexico.

Janet Murguia, president of National Council La Raza, the largest US Latino organization said she was disappointed that Richardson had been passed over for chief US diplomat -- but was glad he secured a cabinet spot.

She also expressed hopes that other Hispanic leaders would be included in Obama's cabinet, as the president-elect has yet to name posts such as Labor secretary, education secretary and US Trade Representative.

"We're still optimistic we will see a cabinet that reflects a coalition of communities that helped to elect President Obama," she said.

"I've been told by the transition leaders that we'll see at least two if not three members who are Hispanics and they're working hard to make choices for the various positions that remain."

The Commerce department in recent years has played second fiddle to Treasury in terms of domestic economic policy and international trade matters, but it is a cabinet level position and the nominee can play a role in both.

The department manages a host of statistical operations including the population census, and also the International Trade Administration which can enforce actions on dumping and unfair trade.

Commerce also manages telecommunications and copyright (intellectual property) issues through its agencies as well as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather service.

Hispanics are the largest and fastest-growing US minority group, according to the US Census.


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