Obama Fills Key Jobs With Elected Pols

Posted May 16, 2009 at 11:27am

When President Barack Obama apologized to “the good people of Utah— for spiriting away their governor for a high-profile job in his administration, it was a mea culpa that became familiar as the new president filled Cabinet-level positions earlier this year.

Obama on Saturday tapped Utah’s Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman to serve as ambassador to China. But Obama’s preference for experienced, campaign-tested politicians was most pronounced as he stocked his Cabinet. All told, 10 of the 21 positions with Cabinet rank were filled by politicians who had served as Senators, House Members, governors, and in one case as a big-city mayor. Six of the 10 were either recently re-elected or in the middle of their terms.

Obama’s predecessor, President George W. Bush, also tended toward fellow politicians when he moved into the Oval Office. Bush’s first Cabinet included eight members with experience in elected office — which would expand to nine when former House Member and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge (R) became the first secretary of Homeland Security. Bush had only four Cabinet-level officers with such experience at the end of his second term.

In filling out his Cabinet, Obama picked serving Senators from New York (Hillary Rodham Clinton for State) and Colorado (Ken Salazar for Interior), a sitting House Member from California (Hilda Solis for Labor) and sitting governors from Kansas (Kathleen Sebelius for Health and Human Services) and Arizona (Janet Napolitano for Homeland Security).

For his chief of staff, Obama selected Rahm Emanuel (D), who was elected to his fourth term representing the 5th District of Illinois last November.

Obama’s Transportation secretary, Ray LaHood (R), represented Illinois’ 18th District for 14 years; he announced in 2007 that he would retire at the end of the 110th Congress.Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack — also, briefly, a rival of Obama’s for the Democratic nomination — is secretary of Agriculture and former Washington Gov. Gary Locke (D) is secretary of Commerce. Former Dallas Mayor and Senatorial candidate Ron Kirk (D) is U.S. trade representative.

Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden — who was Delaware’s senior Senator when Obama picked him for the ticket — also initiated a wholesale transfer of staffers from suites on Capitol Hill to the White House complex.