Gary Locke has officially been confirmed as Commerce secretary — not that he or anyone else seems particularly excited by this development.
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Surprisingly, for an administration that views American society through the neo-Marxist prism of race, sex, and class, the White House has not played up Locke’s Chinese ancestry in any significant or patronizing way as liberals often do. In fact, President Obama has emphasized the role that Locke, a free trader, played in promoting trade with Asia, Mexico, and Europe. The administration said that Locke’s trade missions abroad as Washington governor helped to more than double the state’s exports to China to more than $5 billion annually.
The White House also credits Locke with personally negotiating a Washington State-Canada treaty after negotiations between the U.S. State Department and Canada on protecting wild salmon runs collapsed.
Still awake? Let’s keep going then.
He’s somewhat liberal, but not in an in-your-face way, and has a mixed record on taxes. He has supported some tax increases but showed some cojones by defying the left and not backing tax hikes during the economic slowdown in 2001 and daring to cut spending on some programs.
As governor, some observers credit him with increasing the efficiency of state agencies, reducing welfare rolls, and boosting public education. While he was governor, Governing magazine ranked Washington among the four best-managed states in the nation.
I witnessed Locke in action in 1999 and 2000 while he served on the Advisory Commission on Electronic Commerce (ACEC) chaired by then-Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, and somehow managed to stay awake.
I saw in person that when it really matters, Locke can be counted on to toe the liberal line. Even after the compelling anti-tax presentation by Competitive Enterprise Institute founder Fred L. Smith Jr., Locke was not swayed.
Locke voted for higher taxes. He voted against a recommendation to Congress, approved 10 to 8, to repeal the 3% federal excise tax on telecommunications services, to permanently prohibit states and localities from taxing Internet access fees, and to extend the Internet taxation moratorium.
But unlike then-Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk (now U.S. Trade Representative), who as an ACEC member shamelessly pushed the Big Government agenda, the soporific Locke wasn’t obnoxious about it. People barely knew he was there.
Now that the Obama White House has backed away from its ill-considered threat to seize control of the Census, a cynic might say it’s not like it really matters who runs Commerce.
Except perhaps for its economic statistics-gathering agency and the fact that it oversees the Census Bureau and some foreign exports, it’s not like the Department of Commerce, with its cavernous headquarters at 14th Street and Constitution, actually does anything useful.
Here’s a simple illustration of just how unimportant the department is in the federal scheme of things.
Commerce would get $13.8 billion in the Obama administration’s proposed 2010 budget. That’s a rounding error in the $3.6 trillion-plus federal budget – which is, of course, over and above all the trillions of dollars already committed to bailouts. The Commerce appropriation is less than 0.4% of the U.S. government’s total proposed budget. In case you missed that, that’s four-tenths of 1%.
Another measure of the job’s importance in the eyes of the Obama administration: as of early this morning, the White House website’s scoreboard of nominations didn’t even list Locke as the Commerce nominee.
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