Tags: states | obama | cabinet

States Scrambling to Replace Obama Cabinet Selections

Friday, 26 Dec 2008 01:42 PM

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WASHINGTON – President-elect Barack Obama's Cabinet choices have sent a ripple through state politics, fostering behind-the-scenes jockeying to fill key vacancies in the shadow of the Chicago scandal over filling Obama's Senate seat.

The shift started with the election of Obama and his vice president-elect, Joe Biden, senators from Illinois and Delaware respectively. His Cabinet and White House staff selections created two more Senate openings, as well as two in the House and two in gubernatorial seats, arousing interest from some of the nation's most famous political families while creating opportunities for less prominent rising stars.

But it hasn't all been optimism and upward movement.

Illinois Gov Rod Blagojevich has been accused of trying to sell the Senate seat Obama vacated after his election in November. The scandal has tainted the selection process for that seat and touched the search for replacements for other offices — including the House seat held by Obama's incoming White House chief of staff, Rep. Rahm Emanuel.

Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter is three states and a thousand miles from the scandal roiling Blagojevich. But that wasn't far enough to keep the unpleasantness in Illinois from creeping into a news conference about Ritter's choice to replace another of Obama Cabinet picks: Sen. Ken Salazar.

Given the Blagojevich scandal, what would the governor do to ensure that the process of choosing Salazar's replacement is not tainted, Ritter was asked.

"We'll have a process in place when the process is final," he replied.

Political observers suggested that transparency would be key. University of Colorado political scientist Ken Bickers said Ritter "will want something so he's not susceptible to any kind of allegation that it's a political payoff."

In Illinois, the legislature earlier this month shelved plans to call a special election to fill Obama's Senate seat, leaving Blagojevich with the appointment authority for now. But lawmakers also initiated impeachment proceedings against the governor, leaving the status of that seat up in the air.

If Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn took over as governor, he could appoint someone, or the legislature could try again to force a special election. A host of prominent politicians are known to be interested, including Democratic Reps. Jesse Jackson Jr., Jan Schakowsky and Danny Davis.

As for Emanuel's seat, state law requires a special election. Ditto for the House seat California Rep. Hilda Solis will give up if she's confirmed as labor secretary.

Obama's designees are causing another drama in New York. Senate confirmation of his choice of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton to be secretary of state would give Gov. David Paterson the power to appoint her successor.

Caroline Kennedy, the scion of a political dynasty who has been very private, indicated she's interested and Paterson has said he's considering her. But if she doesn't work out, he might call on another legacy, state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, son of former governor Mario Cuomo.

A key question is who can raise the most money to keep the seat in Democratic Party hands in the special election that would follow in 2010.

The scenario is a bit more complicated in Arizona. Obama has tapped Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano to be secretary of homeland security. State law says the secretary of state — in this case Republican Jan Brewer — would be Napolitano's successor.

But Napolitano has said she won't step down until the Senate confirms her, which could happen no earlier than Obama's inauguration on Jan. 20. That means Napolitano will be governor Jan. 12, when the Republican-led legislature starts its 2009 session. Within a week, Napolitano plans to present a proposed budget for the year that begins July 1 — months after she takes office in Washington.

It's not clear what Brewer's involvement will be in the legislature's early budget work. Arizona faces big shortfalls in the current and next fiscal years.

Obama's Cabinet pick for commerce secretary opens another governorship in New Mexico. There's little drama surrounding who will replace Gov. Bill Richardson when he rises to the head of that agency. Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, a Democrat, will succeed him.

But Richardson himself is facing possible legal issues. A federal grand jury is investigating how a California firm that contributed to Richardson's political activities won a lucrative government contract. Richardson has declined to comment on the matter.

The panel is looking into possible "pay-to-play" dealings between CDR Financial Products and someone in a position to push the contract through with the state of New Mexico, according to a person familiar with the proceedings who asked not to be named because grand juries operate in secret.

Back in Colorado, Ritter faces a tough choice for Salazar's successor. The state has grown increasingly Democratic in recent elections, but there are more registered independents than either Democrats or Republicans.

Democrats want someone who can raise enough money to keep Salazar's seat, which comes up for election in 2010. Potential successors include Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper and Salazar's brother, Rep. John Salazar. Rep. Diana DeGette and Rep. Ed Perlmutter also are in the mix.

In Delaware, Gov. Ruth Ann Minner announced earlier this month that Edward "Ted" Kaufman, a former aide to Biden, would succeed him in the Senate until a new senator is elected in 2010. By then, Biden's son, Attorney General Beau Biden, will have returned from a tour in Iraq with the National Guard — just in time to run for his father's seat.

© 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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