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Arizona’s Loss Good For the Nation

Well, it appears I was wrong. Several media outlets reported late Wednesday that unnamed Democratic officials said President-elect Barack Obama will likely tap Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano for secretary of homeland security.

In recent days, i’ve argued that it may be in the best interests of Obama and the Democratic Party to leave Napolitano in place at her current job, ahead of a 2010 matchup to unseat Sen. John McCain. However, given Obama’s apparent desire to surround himself with a brain trust that includes the nation’s best and brightest, the move comes as no surprise.

Napolitano would bring to the the job a reputation as a moderate, effective, and most importantly, competent bureaucrat. Considering she would be heading the department that fumbled the response to Hurricane Katrina, Napolitano’s appointment would signal a welcome break with the Bush era.

As the governor of a border state, Napolitano understands the security issues related to illegal immigration — which in Arizona, are more related to the flow of people, drugs and guns, rather than terrorism. She has long been a critic of the Bush administration’s failure to take the lead on immigration reform. In the cabinet, she could be a powerful voice in pushing for a comprehensive federal policy.

She would also bring years of law enforcement experience from her days as a federal prosecutor, and then as Arizona attorney general.

The losers in all this would be the people of Arizona, particularly moderates and Democrats. Arizona was one of very few states in which Republicans had a relatively good election, at least at the state level, increasing their control of both houses of the state legislature. If Napolitano leaves, Secretary of State Jan Brewer, a Republican, will take over as governor for the remainder of Napolitano’s term, which ends in 2010.

Napolitano’s veto pen has served as an insurance policy against the especially wacky strain of conservatism practiced by many in the Arizona statehouse.

Republicans in The Grand Canyon State made national headlines when they pushed for a law allowing firearms in bars (seriously), and another banning race-based student organizations (such as Arizona State University’s Black Business Students Association) and “anti-Western” teaching, as defined by the legislature, at the state’s public schools and universities. With a Republican as governor, there may be little to stop such laws from taking effect.

But Arizona’s loss would almost certainly be the nation’s gain.

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