Obama's lists for Interior, Energy are starting to narrow

Western House lawmakers lead the pack for Interior post, while two Midwestern governors are on Energy's short list.

President-elect Barack Obama's choice for Interior secretary might come down to two Western House Democrats: a three-term Hispanic lawmaker and a five-term Blue Dog backed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva appears to be the leading contender, but California Rep. Mike Thompson has Pelosi in his corner.

While Pelosi might have pushed for her fellow Californian before speculation accelerated about Grijalva, Thompson has also been endorsed by two of Pelosi's closest allies -- Reps. Anna Eshoo and George Miller, both of California. Thompson has the backing of hunting and fishing groups, while Grijalva is favored by environmental groups. Former two-term Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber -- another finalist to head Interior -- told the Associated Press this week he would bet on Grijalva. Several other sources following the Obama transition team's deliberations also cite Grijalva -- who chairs the House Natural Resources National Parks Subcommittee -- as the likely favorite.

But the importance that the Interior Department holds for Western governors, as well as his executive experience, makes Kitzhaber a sleeper pick.

A fourth finalist -- Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash. -- has also been mentioned in a long list of potential nominees to be Energy secretary.

Grijalva was widely praised by environmentalists in October when he issued a 23-page indictment of Bush administration policies on national parks, forests and public lands. This showed "the breadth and depth of his passion about conservation and public lands" and also shows off his experience as head of the subcommittee, according to a Dec. 1 letter to Obama from 56 conservation scientists.

Obama's nomination of New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson to be Commerce secretary has not diluted the call from Hispanic leaders for more representation in the Cabinet. Besides Grijalva, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus is pushing Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., for Agriculture secretary. Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., who was just elected Democratic Caucus vice chairman, has been mentioned as a potential U.S. trade representative.

Meanwhile, the short list for Energy secretary is down to two Democratic governors -- Jennifer Granholm of Michigan and Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas. Sebelius has also been mentioned as a potential Agriculture secretary. Obama might be holding off naming his pick for Energy until he decides whether to create a White House coordinator for energy and climate change policies. Such a position might be modeled after the existing National Economic Council and Obama might be holding off so as to make the announcement for both positions at the same time.

Former EPA Administrator Carol Browner is often mentioned as a possible White House energy and climate change czar. Other names floated as potential Energy nominees include Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.; Dan Reicher, Google's director of climate change and energy initiatives and an assistant Energy secretary under former President Bill Clinton; former Rep. Philip Sharp, D-Ind., president of the Resources for the Future think tank, and Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell have said they are not interested.