New thread on Obama cabinet appointments and speculation (updated)

UPDATE: Barack Obama announced the key appointments in his energy and environmental team today. Meteor Blades has a good piece up on the “Green Team” of Energy Secretary Steven Chu, “energy czar” Carol Browner, Environmental Protection Agency chief Lisa Jackson and head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Nancy Sutley.

On Saturday Obama devoted his weekly address to the housing crisis (click the link to watch the video) and announced that New York City Commissioner of Housing Preservation and Development Shaun Donovan will serve as Housing and Urban Development Secretary in his cabinet. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York commented,

Shaun Donovan has been one of the most effective housing commissioners in New York City’s history. At this time, with the housing crisis raging, he is exactly the kind of person we need as HUD secretary.

Sam Dillon of the New York Times discussed some possibilities for Secretary of Education and noted,

As President-elect Barack Obama prepares to announce his choice for education secretary, there is mystery not only about the person he will choose, but also about the approach to overhauling the nation’s schools that his selection will reflect.

Despite an 18-month campaign for president and many debates, there remains uncertainty about what Mr. Obama believes is the best way to improve education.

Will he side with those who want to abolish teacher tenure and otherwise curb the power of teachers’ unions? Or with those who want to rewrite the main federal law on elementary and secondary education, the No Child Left Behind Act, and who say the best strategy is to help teachers become more qualified?

UPDATE: Obama reportedly plans to nominate Arne Duncan, the head of Chicago’s public school system, as Secretary of Education. Duncan is also a longtime friend of Obama’s.

Meanwhile, nearly 45,000 people have signed this online petition at Food Democracy Now. Excerpt:

As our nation’s future president, we hope that you will take our concerns under advisement when nominating our next Secretary of Agriculture because of the crucial role this Secretary will play in revitalizing our rural economies, protecting our nation’s food supply and our environment, improving human health and well-being, rescuing the independent family farmer, and creating a sustainable renewable energy future.

We believe that our nation is at a critical juncture in regard to agriculture and its impact on the environment and that our next Secretary of Agriculture must have a broad vision for our collective future that is greater than what past appointments have called for.

Presently, farmers face serious challenges in terms of the high costs of energy, inputs and land, as well as continually having to fight an economic system and legislative policies that undermine their ability to compete in the open market. The current system unnaturally favors economies of scale, consolidation and market concentration and the allocation of massive subsidies for commodities, all of which benefit the interests of corporate agribusiness over the livelihoods of farm families.

Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, has set a goal of 100,000 signatures for this petition.

Steph Larsen discussed some names on the short list for Secretary of Agriculture here. Sustainable agriculture advocates would love to see the job offered to Chuck Hassebrook, executive director of the Center for Rural Affairs. Hassebrook wrote this guest opinion for the Des Moines Register a few weeks ago, saying

Nothing better illustrates the broken politics of Washington than farm and rural policy. The federal government spends billions subsidizing mega farms to drive smaller farms off the land and often penalizes the best environmental stewards with lower payments. It largely fails to invest in the future of America’s rural communities.

For example, in 2005 the Department of Agriculture spent nearly twice as much to subsidize the 260 biggest farms across 13 leading farm states than on rural development initiatives to create economic opportunity for the 3 million people living in those states’ 260 most struggling rural counties. That does not help family farms or small-town Americans. It does not serve the common good.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof is among those who want to see Obama nominate a “secretary of food” with a broad vision for agriculture. He named Hassebrook as a good candidate for the job.

The Center for Rural Affairs has launched its own online petition asking Obama’s future Secretary of Agriculture, whoever that may be, to promote a new vision for rural America. It’s a long petition, advocating priorities such as:

policies to support grassroots entrepreneurship in rural America, such as the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program, the Value Added Producer Grant Program, and the Farmers Market Promotion Program;

a plan to get affordable high-speed internet service to every rural business and home;

policies to support local ownership of wind turbines by farmers and ranchers, communities, and the rural workers who maintain wind turbines;

a plan to find the right approach to biofuels;

federal policies that work for family-size farms, including caps on payments;

better land and water stewardship using the Conservation Stewardship Program and other programs.

According to the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, Obama’s two finalists for Secretary of Transportation are former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk and Steve Heminger, executive director of the San Francisco Bay area’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission. Kirk was an early Obama supporter and the first African-American mayor of Dallas. Heminger has the strong backing of California’s large Democratic Congressional delegation. I don’t know enough about either man’s views on transportation to have an opinion about who would be better for this job.

New names continue to emerge in the speculation surrounding Obama’s Secretary of the Interior. Among the names previously floated, environmentalists have advocated for Raul Grijalva and against Mike Thompson. Now the Denver Post says Senator Ken Salazar of Colorado is a finalist for the job. Traditionally, someone from the west is named to head the Interior Department. Salazar is up for re-election in 2010, and Swing State Project already has a thread up to discuss possible Democratic candidates to replace him if he leaves the Senate for a cabinet position.

UPDATE: CBS news in Denver says Salazar has accepted Obama’s offer to become Secretary of the Interior. Not a great choice, and it leaves Democrats an open Senate seat to defend in Colorado in 2010.

Post any relevant thoughts or opinions in the comments.

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New thread on vacancies to be filled in the Senate and cabinet

The big news of the day is that the FBI arrested Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich on federal corruption charges. Apparently he has been under investigation for some time, and he was caught on tape talking about trying to get something of value in exchange for appointing someone to fill Barack Obama’s Senate seat. Click the link for more details.

If the allegations are true, Blagojevich needs not just to resign, but to go to jail. Also, way to hand the Republicans another great talking point against “corrupt” Illinois Democrats and the Chicago machine. That is sure to be used against Obama and whoever succeeds him in the Senate.

The possibility that New York Governor David Paterson will appoint Caroline Kennedy to replace Hillary Clinton in the Senate has divided the blogosphere, with more and more heavyweights speaking out against the move. Jane Hamsher of FireDogLake explains why this would be a “truly terrible idea”:

Her leadership could have been really helpful when the rest of us were trying to keep the progressive lights on and getting the stuffing beaten out of us by a very well-financed right wing for the past eight years.  But when things were tough, she was nowhere to be found.

Now that the Democrats are in power, she’d like to come in at the top.  We have absolutely no idea if she’s qualified, or whether she can take the heat of being a Kennedy in public life.  She’s certainly shown no appetite for it in the past.  She’ll have a target on her back and if she can’t take it, if she crumbles, she will become a rallying point that the right will easily organize around.

The woman has never run for office in her life.  We have no idea how she’d fare on the campaign trail, or how well she could stand up to the electoral process.  She simply picks up the phone and lets it be known that she just might be up for having one of the highest offices in the land handed to her because — well, because why?  Because her uncle once held the seat?  Because she’s a Kennedy?  Because she took part as a child in the public’s romantic dreams of Camelot?  I’m not quite sure.

And the guy with the biggest megaphone, Markos, piles on:

I hate political dynasties. Hate them. But Jane is right, in this case, the idea is particularly egregious — Caroline has done nothing to help beat back the right-wing machine. But now, she’s supposed to be handed by fiat what others fight their whole lives to attain?

I would like to see Paterson appoint one of New York’s 26 Democratic members of Congress. It would benefit the state to have someone with legislative experience replace Hillary. Daily Kos diarist Laura Stein made a strong case for Representative Carolyn Maloney.

Moving on to the cabinet, on Sunday Obama named retired General Eric Shinseki to run the Department of Veterans Affairs. Everyone seems to think this is a great idea. From the Boston Globe:

In the Bush administration, General Eric K. Shinseki committed the crime of truth-telling: He told the Senate in early 2003 that maintaining order in Iraq would take far more US troops than Donald Rumsfeld planned for. It cost him his job as Army chief of staff. That same virtue, honesty, should stand him in good stead now that President-elect Barack Obama has nominated him to be secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The choice is a stinging rebuke not just of Rumsfeld and President Bush for failing to take Shinseki’s advice on the Iraq war, but also of the administration’s weak effort to solve the medical, educational, emotional, and employment problems that veterans are having in returning to civilian life. Just as the Bush administration thought it could oust Saddam Hussein and create a peaceful, democratic Iraq with a bare-bones force, it has tried to skimp on veterans services.

Daily Kos user Homer J wrote this interesting reflection on an afternoon he spent with Shinseki.

Al Gore is going to Chicago today to meet with Obama, leading to speculation that he may be asked to head the Environmental Protection Agency or the Department of Energy. I think it’s more likely Obama is seeking Gore’s input on other possible choice. I’d be surprised if Gore would consider a cabinet position now. Some people have suggested Obama might create an environment/climate “czar” position, which could go to someone with stature like Gore.

Interior is emerging as a major battleground, with  more than 130 environmental groups signing a letter backing Congressman Raul Grijalva of Arizona for the position, even though he is rumored to have fallen off Obama’s short list.

Meanwhile, environmentalists are upset that Blue Dog Congressman Mike Thompson of California appears to be the leading candidate for Scretary of the Interior. The environmental blog Grist has some highlights of Thompson’s voting record:

In 2003, he voted for Bush’s controversial Healthy Forests Restoration Act, which enviros saw as a massive gift to the timber industry.

In 2004, he voted against an amendment to an Interior appropriations bill intended to protect wildlife and old growth trees in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest by stopping taxpayer-subsidized logging road construction. The measure passed by a vote of 222-205, and he was the only California Democrat to vote against it. He also opposed an amendment to ban the act of bear-baiting in national forests and Bureau of Land Management lands.

He was also one of only 30 Democrats in 2006 to vote against an amendment to the Forest Emergency Recovery and Research Act that would maintain areas of the national forests protected under the Roadless Rule. He also voted against another amendment that would have required the Forest Service to comply with environmental protection, endangered species, and historic preservation laws when conducting “salvage logging” operations in national forests. The amendment failed.

Anyone who supported Bush’s policies on “healthy forests” and road-building is by definition not “change we can believe in.” I sincerely hope Obama will do better than this. Another top-tier candidate for Interior is said to be Kevin Gover, who would be the first Native-American cabinet secretary if appointed.

Here’s a list of people rumored to be in the running for secretary of education.

Over the weekend, Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius took herself out of the running for any cabinet position, saying she needs to finish her term and deal with budget and economic challenges in Kansas. She had been mentioned for several possible cabinet positions. Some believe she withdrew her name to save face, having gotten the word that she was being passed over. It seems just as likely to me that she has decided to run for Senate in 2010. Scout Finch has more on that possibility.

UPDATE: Maine Senator Olympia Snowe wants Obama to elevate the head of the Small Business Administration to a cabinet-level position. I fully agree with Jonathan Singer that the best move for Obama here would be to elevate the SBA and appoint Snowe to head that cabinet department. She’s a moderate Republican, and it would free up a Senate seat in a blue state.

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