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Obama Promises Prominent Role For Richardson at Commerce

Many in the punditocracy wondered aloud why New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson — a former congressman, energy secretary, and ambassador to the United Nations and presidential candidate — would be willing to take the historically low-profile position of secretary of commerce. (Quick, name either of the men who held the job in the current administration.)

Well, during a press conference today in Chicago, in which President-elect Barack Obama officially named Richardson as his choice to fill the slot, Obama made the case that commerce secretary would play a key role on the new administration’s economic team.

While it is traditionally considered a plum position for big-time campaign fundraisers, Obama said Richardson will be “central to everything we do” and will deal with “the most significant issue America faces right now, and that is how do we put people back to work and rejuvenate the economy.”

Obama emphasized that Richardson’s experience as energy secretary will place him front and center in creating “a new, clean-energy industry and create the green jobs of the twenty-first century. Jobs that pay well and won’t be shipped overseas — jobs that will help us end our dependence on foreign oil.”

Indeed, if Richardson was disappointed with the position — as one reporter said, he was rumored to be in the running for the more glamorous job of secretary of state — he did not let on, but rather embraced Obama’s economic vision:

There’s a vital role for the Department of Commerce in our economic recovery. The official role of the department is job creation, economic growth, sustainable development, and improving living standards – the same goals of [Obama's] economic plan.

The unique strengths of the department and its talented public servants make it the natural agency to serve as the programmatic nerve center in America’s struggle to rejuvenate our economy.

The catch-phrases of [Obama's] economic plan: investment, public-private partnerships, green jobs, technology, climate change and research – that is the department of commerce [...]

With your leadership, Mr. President-elect, America will once again be the forefront of innovation, especially in the new frontier of energy independence and clean energy jobs. We will create new technologies the world is seeking, while creating millions of new jobs that can never be outsourced.

Richardson, who is of Latino descent, also made a short statement in Spanish, which he did not translate.

Obama joked that he was “deeply disappointed with the loss” of the clean-shaven Richardson’s beard, which he sported during the Democratic primaries.

Even if Richardson, like other commerce secretaries, does his work mostly behind the scenes, he almost certainly continues to harbor presidential ambitions, and adding a second cabinet post to his already very extensive resume can’t hurt.

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