Seattle Courant Archive

Who from here might serve in Obama administration?

Who from here might serve in Obama administration?

By Joel Connelly
November 24, 2008

Across town, a political writer at Seattle's duller daily adoringly profiled Rep. Jennifer Dunn as Cabinet material and Sen. Slade Gorton as tops on the George W. Bush talent pool.

The Wall Street Journal even ran sketches of Dunn (Labor) and Gorton (Energy). Bush went on to pick defeated Michigan Sen. E. Spencer Abraham to head the Department of Energy. Gorton has forgotten more about such topics as fuel efficiency than E. would ever learn.

Any mention in this space threatens to put a curse on a prospect's chances: Still, the urge to speculate is irresistible.

Who is "in" with the incoming Obama administration?

Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., delivered an early endorsement, at what some warned was risk to his political career. Former Seattle Mayor Norm Rice was there almost from the start.

Gov. Chris Gregoire came through with a timely pre-caucus endorsement, as did Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels.

Ex-Sonics coaches Lenny Wilkens and Bill Russell hosted a fundraiser that featured actress-singer Debbie Allen.

Senior business bigwigs Bill Ruckelshaus (Republican) and Gerry Grinstein (Democrat) put on an event featuring White House-bound Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett.

The Clinton camp came aboard Obama's bandwagon -- except a couple of die-hards who enjoyed 15 seconds of fame in alternative newspapers.

Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., touted Obama as an advocate of energy policy reform. Ex-Gov. Gary Locke spouted superlatives as master of ceremonies at the Michelle Obama lunch in July.

Now, to job prospects:

As a success in business, outdoor activist and national player -- with the Initiative for Global Development -- Sally Jewell, Recreational Equipment Inc. chief executive, is an unpublicized but highly qualified prospect for secretary of the Interior.

A second Northwesterner, ex-Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, is a candidate for Interior. A former Roseburg, Ore., physician, Kitzhaber walked away from politics in 2002. He's contrarian, spurning entrees to run for the U.S. Senate, and endorsing Bill Bradley over Al Gore in 2000.

King County Executive Ron Sims has become a perplexing player of late. The longtime champion of light rail, and onetime Sound Transit board chairman, opposed Prop. 1. Sims has lost statewide races for Senate and governor, and faces a challenge from perpetually ambitious King County Councilman Larry Phillips.

Where to put Sims? Gregoire suggested in Denver that Sims could take charge of housing policy. He might be a morale-boosting boss at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Former Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles is another two-time loser at the ballot box, but an early Obama man. Obama swept Alaska's precinct caucuses.

But Knowles supports oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He greeted ex-President Jimmy Carter with a nasty statement when Carter came to celebrate the anniversary of the Alaska Lands Act.

Having dealt with fisheries conflicts and border issues, Knowles is highly qualified to be U.S. ambassador to Canada.

Inslee is no great shakes as an administrator, and committed a malaprop for the ages when he called Gore "our generation's Indira Gandhi." But Inslee is widely versed in energy and the West's resource conflicts.

He has co-authored a book ("Apollo's Fire") mapping out an energy transformation. Back in the 1990s, he represented a Central Washington district that included a huge nuclear cleanup site (Hanford) and conflicts over water use.

Several other wrinkles are worth noting.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., has exposed underfunding of veterans programs, and tenaciously battled plans by the Department of Veterans Affairs to close hospitals.

Murray is sure to have a big voice in selection of a new secretary of Veterans Affairs.

As well, Bullitt Foundation President Denis Hayes will have a voice in energy policy. Hayes has been an architect of Seattle's "green" policies, and adviser on Nickels' mayors' initiative on climate change.

The Bush administration was a happy home for Washington, D.C., lobbyists.

A former coal company executive, Stephen Griles, virtually ran the U.S. Interior Department and did favors for his friend Jack Abramoff. A lobbyist with the American Petroleum Institute, Philip Cooney, became chief of staff at the Council on Environmental Quality.

Obama is lobbyist-averse. Where, then, to seek expertise in staffing federal agencies?

Expect Obama to tap Capitol Hill staff. Our eight Democratic lawmakers are veterans of at least eight years' service, creating a talent pool of seasoned aides.

One more expectation is more Elvis sightings.

With the missus as secretary of state, and curbs on his global rainmaking, Bill Clinton needs wholesome rich pals, and safe places to give speeches.

He has both in Seattle and Vancouver.
P-I columnist Joel Connelly can be reached at 206-448-8160 or Follow politics on the P-I's blog at