Callaghan: Loyalty to Obama fails to earn Gregoire a cabinet post




Former Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire may still get asked to serve in President Obama’s administration. But if the call doesn’t come, she has no one to blame but herself.

Seriously. If she were really interested in playing a role in Obama’s second-term, Gregoire should have had the good sense to oppose his candidacy in the first place. It can’t be a coincidence that those big-name Washington politicians who endorsed the first-term senator from Illinois back in 2008 over party establishment favorite Hillary Clinton have not fared as well as those who opposed him.

Some background here might be helpful. Leading up to Washington’s presidential primary in February 2008, Clinton was pushing hard for endorsements from the state’s leading politicians. Winning these big-name endorsements had more than nominal effect. Most were also superdelegates to the Democratic National Convention, and each got Clinton closer to securing the nomination. Supporting her was considered the safe political bet as Barack Obama, though leading, was still the underdog for the Democratic nomination. At the time, it was considered pretty brave and/or risky to stand with Obama.

So it was big news, at least in the political arena, when Gov. Gregoire did just that at a Feb. 8, 2008, rally in a packed Key Arena. Also on the stage were Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, then of Tacoma. But it was Gregoire who came under special criticism for not joining Washington’s U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray in support of the first female candidate with a real chance of winning the nomination. Clinton did capture most of the big names. The previous day at her own campaign rally in Seattle, three other major politicians were on stage with her — former Gov. Gary Locke, King County Executive Ron Sims and U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee.

Clinton backers rewarded

As everyone knows, Obama won not only the Democratic nomination but the presidency as well. So, the spoils go to those who backed the victor? And those politicians who bet wrong are less likely to win favor from the new president? Right? But that’s not how it has worked. Clinton endorsers Sims and Locke won key appointments — Sims as deputy secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Locke as Secretary of Commerce and then as ambassador to China.

And the Obama supporters? Smith was rumored to be in line for a senior Defense Department post that either was never offered or he rejected to remain in Congress. Nickels? The defeated Seattle mayor was eventually given a one-year term in 2010 as the alternate representative, public delegate, to the United Nations. In the scheme of things, that’s not much.

While Gregoire was first rumored to be considered for solicitor general after Elena Kagen was named to the Supreme Court, she said she wanted to finish out her second term as governor. After she left office in January, she has been in the rumored running for three different posts — Interior, Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency. Again, Gregoire said she wasn’t angling for the jobs but would serve if her president called. He didn’t. And while he still might, the big vacancies have been filled.

Some wondered whether Gregoire fell victim to a strange quota system. After REI head Sally Jewell was named Interior Secretary, the slot labeled “Women from Western states” had been filled, they said. Silly as that sounds, the lack of a Gregoire appointment cries out for an explanation, even a bad one.

Not that Washington has done poorly under Obama. Before he took office, only three Washingtonians had served in a presidential Cabinet, ever: Brock Adams, transportation secretary under President Carter; Lewis Schwellenbach, labor secretary under President Truman; and Richard Ballinger, interior secretary under President Taft. With Locke and Jewell, there are now five. Still, those who think highly of Gregoire’s competence, and I’m one of them, must think Obama fell one short.