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Obama Names Richardson as Next US Commerce Secretary


President-elect Barack Obama has chosen yet another former political rival to join his incoming cabinet. Mr. Obama has announced that New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson will be his Secretary of Commerce and that Richardson will be a key member of his economic team. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

President-elect Obama announced the Richardson appointment at a news conference in Chicago.

Mr. Obama said Governor Richardson's experience in Congress and in the cabinet of former President Bill Clinton makes him uniquely qualified to be the top U.S. "economic diplomat" as head of the Commerce Department.

"It is time to not just address our immediate economic threats, but to start laying the groundwork for long-term economic prosperity to help American businesses grow and thrive at home, and expand our efforts to promote American enterprise around the world," he said.

Earlier this year, the 61-year-old Richardson was one of Mr. Obama's political rivals when he sought the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. Richardson dropped out of the race after poor finishes in the early contests and later endorsed Mr. Obama.

Richardson joins two other former Obama rivals in the incoming administration, Vice President-elect Joe Biden and Secretary of State-designee Hillary Clinton.

Richardson said he was pleased to join a strong team in the incoming Obama cabinet.

"There are some who speak of a team of rivals, but I've never seen it that way," he said. "Past competitors? Yes. But rivals implies something harder edged and less forgiving, and in the worlds of diplomacy and commerce, you open markets and minds not with rivalry, but instead with partnership and innovation and hard work."

Richardson served in Congress for 15 years before joining the Clinton administration as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and later as Energy Secretary. He was elected New Mexico's governor in 2002 and was re-elected two years ago.

Richardson has also served as an envoy on several international missions over the years to countries such as Iraq, North Korea, Cuba and Sudan.

Richardson is the first Hispanic-American named to the Obama cabinet. Mr. Obama won roughly two-thirds of the Hispanic vote in last month's election.

Some Richardson supporters had hoped he would be named secretary of state, but Mr. Obama said Richardson will play a key role on his economic team as Secretary of Commerce.

"His mixture of diplomatic experience, hands-on experience as a governor, experience in the cabinet and experience in Congress means that he is going to be a key strategist on all of the issues that we work on," he said.

Since his election on November 4, Mr. Obama has chosen more than half of his cabinet as well as several key White House positions in advance of his inauguration on January 20.

George Mason University government expert James Pfiffner says Mr. Obama is wise to put his new team in place as soon as possible.

"The best chance for a president to get things through Congress is in his first several months in office," he said. "And so hitting the ground running is crucial with respect to the policy agenda."

A number of cabinet posts remain to be filled, including the heads of the Departments of Interior, Transportation, Labor, Energy and Education, as well as a Director of National Intelligence and a new chief for the Central Intelligence Agency, the CIA.

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