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Memo to Obama: good local talent out here


Congressman Jay Inslee.

Are there any local politicians who could possibly be tapped by President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team for a role in the next administration? Maybe it says something about our local talent, or our remoteness from the other Washington, but the likelihood of anyone local being selected for a cabinet level position doesn’t look good.

But that hasn’t stopped the speculation. Among the names are these top four: U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, Seattle-area Congressman Jay Inslee, former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, and Recreational Equipment Inc. CEO and UW Regent Sally Jewell.

Jewell, an avid outdoorswoman being touted for Secretary of Interior, seems unlikely. The idea was floated to reporters by prominent local Democrat and former Delta Airlines CEO Gerald Grinstein, but her name hasn’t appeared on any national lists for the job, perhaps because of the Obama team’s preference for deep political experience. Mike Allen at Politico had listed Inslee as another possible candidate for Secretary of the Interior, but local Democratic operatives say Inslee has little chance of moving up from his role in the House. Torie Brazitis, a spokesman for Inslee, could not elaborate further on the matter but did note the congressman had been “taking a lot of phone calls” recently. No word if Inslee had been contacted by Obama’s team.

Kitzhaber is the more likely Northwest resident for the Interior position. He told reporters earlier this month that he had met with the transition team, and would “seriously consider” a top administration job, if asked.

There has also been some speculation about Murray moving up in the transition reshuffle, most of which has been put to rest. If party leaders had chosen to strip Sen. Joe Lieberman of his chairmanship of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Murray, a three-term Democratic senator, might have moved to chair the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. But Democrats voted to allow Lieberman to keep the seat, and Murray was re-elected as the Democratic conference secretary. She will remain the fourth most powerful Democrat in the Senate, behind Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, Majority Whip Richard Durbin of Illinois, and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer of New York.

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels or King County Executive Ron Sims are long shots at best for an appointment in the Obama administration. Both are “green” Democrats, but Nickels is far too entrenched in Seattle politics to leave the city (and he hates a lot of travel on airlines). Sims is probably more interested in a new job, but he faces a problem with Sen. Murray, whom he annoyed by opposing Sound Transit and who would exercise approval rights for important Washington state appointments.

Perhaps the most likely elected official from Washington state who could land a job in the Obama administration is 9th District Democratic Congressman Adam Smith., who was the state chairman for Obama’s presidential campaign in Washington, which was highly successful in its fundraising efforts. He is also a close friend of Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s pick for White House chief of staff. The two became close while serving together in the New Democrat Coalition, the largest coalition of moderate Democrats in the House, of which Smith is a vice-chair. Smith, whose South Sound district is rich with military bases, also serves on the Committee on Armed Services and the Committee on Foreign Affairs, which some speculate could help him land a job in the State Department, possibly as an under secretary.

When I asked Mike Amato, a spokesman for Smith, about the transition rumors, he said the congressman has “not been formally contacted by the transition team yet.” Note the word: yet.

The apparently small crop of Northwest figures joining the Obama team is surprising in one other regard: This area had become a kind of Clinton government-in-exile during the last eight years. Microsoft and the Gates Foundation are particular repositories of such talent. A leading example is Sylvia Mathews Burwell, who held high positions in the Clinton White House and now is president of the Global Development Program at the Gates Foundation. She is helping Obama folks on the transition, but seems unlikely to want to move back to D.C. Eight years of exile in Seattle often lands such people in very interesting jobs at very interesting companies.

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