President Obama hinted at his news conference this week that he would soon name some high-profile women to top jobs in his administration. Christine Gregoire, the former governor of Washington state, will almost certainly be one of them.
Gregoire, who has made energy issues a cornerstone of her gubernatorial tenure, is likely headed for one of three Cabinet-level jobs that are vacant now or will soon become vacant: Energy secretary, Interior secretary, or head of the Environmental Protection Agency. As a former head of Washington state's Department of Ecology, Gregoire is steeped in experience in energy and environmental issues. Her enthusiastic support for renewable energy has won plaudits from environmentalists, but she’s also known for her ability to speak effectively about the realities of the fossil-fuel economy.
After Obama nominated John Kerry as secretary of State, Chuck Hagel as Defense secretary, and Jacob Lew as Treasury secretary, he was hit with a barrage of criticism about the lack of diversity in his selections for plum jobs. In a column in The Washington Post, Ruth Marcus suggested that Obama ask to borrow Mitt Romney’s “binders full of women” to balance out a Cabinet that includes so many white men.
Gregoire would check that box but would also fill other crucial needs. Obama lacks an effective spokesperson within his administration for energy and environmental issues. Gregoire would fit that bill, bringing a comfort level on the national stage and an ability to tailor her message to a broad audience.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu has often quipped that he is a scientist and not a politician. He’s right. The Nobel Prize-winning physicist, who never relished the limelight, is expected to move on from his job early this year, though his departure has not yet been announced. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, who has already announced she is leaving, was considered a political lightning rod, limiting her ability to serve as a national spokesperson for Obama’s environmental agenda. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, a former U.S. senator from Colorado who is leaving his post in March, does have an ease on the public stage, but he provoked controversy in 2010 with his vow to keep the administration’s “boot on the neck” of British Petroleum in the aftermath of the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. More recently, Salazar was forced to apologize for another verbal gaffe when he was heard on tape threatening to punch out a reporter.
If Obama chooses Gregoire for Interior, it would be in keeping with a tradition of naming Western governors or politicians to the job, though she has an equal shot at the Energy or EPA positions. People close to the administration say she has been on the White House's radar for one of the senior energy and environment slots since before the election.
The timing could work out well for Gregoire, too. She finished her tenure as governor this week and there is buzz that she is interested in heading to the nation’s capital.