On March 7, 2011, I had the privilege of conducting an interview with the United States Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke. Later in the day word began to leak that President Barack Obama was planning on announcing that he would appoint Locke to be the next United States Ambassador to China. ABC News first broke the story that President Obama would nominate Secretary Locke to become Ambassador to China after the close of business on March 7, 2011, and President Obama followed suit and later that week did announce that Locke would become the next Ambassador to China. Little has been said since that time about Locke moving on to become Ambassador to China, and less even still has been said about who will replace Secretary Locke once he leaves the Department of Commerce.
Those who live inside the beltway know that rumors swirl left and right, and it is sometimes extremely difficult to cut through the rumor-mill, which sometimes seems more like a “wishful thinking mill” than a true rumor-mill. Notwithstanding, there is one name that I have heard from multiple sources as likely to become the next Secretary of Commerce — Ambassador Ron Kirk.
Ambassador Kirk is currently the United States Trade Representative, and a member of the Obama Cabinet. In fact, Kirk is the first African American to hold the post of U.S. Trade Representative. As the U.S. Trade Representative he serves as the President’s principal trade advisor, negotiator, and spokesperson for the United States government on trade issues. Kirk is originally from Austin, Texas, and is a graduate of Austin College. Kirk is also lawyer, earning his law degree at the University of Texas School of Law.
Prior to being appointed U.S. Trade Representative, Ambassador Kirk served two terms as the first African-American mayor of Dallas. Prior to becoming mayor, he served as Texas Secretary of State. Ambassador Kirk has also practiced law as a partner in the international law firm Vinson & Elkins, LLP, and he was named one of “The 50 Most Influential Minority Lawyers in America” by The National Law Journal in 2008.
Since Ambassador Kirk was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in March 2009, he has engaged in negotiations and dialogue with trading partners around the world. These initiatives include working to conclude and advance bilateral free trade agreements with Korea, Colombia, and Panama, as well as engagement in the Doha round of multilateral negotiations at the World Trade Organization. Ambassador Kirk has also been responsible for enforcement of America’s trade rights in support of U.S. businesses and workers.
Time will tell whether Ambassador Kirk get a promotion to become the United States Secretary of Commerce, but he does seem to be a logical choice, or at the very least a logical choice to make the short-list. As the U.S. Trade Representative he has been in charge of an Office tasked with promoting and protecting U.S. intellectual property and innovation around the world. More particularly, the U.S. Trade Representative is intimately involved with Free Trade Agreements, Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, WTO agreements, the “Special 301” process that is used to encourage specific trading partners to address key IP problems, and with the coordination of U.S. IPR and Innovation Trade Policy.
I personally think Ambassador Kirk would be a good, safe selection for the President. After attempts to appoint high profile politicians such as Bill Richardson and Judd Gregg failed early in the Obama Administration, President Obama turned to Gary Locke, the former Governor of the State of Washington who has done an outstanding job. Not only did Locke assemble a solid team at the United States Patent and Trademark Office, but he oversaw the politically thorny Census without any real troubles. Thus, whoever is next appointed the Secretary of Commerce will have big shoes to fill when Secretary Locke moves on.