Locke had no comment on leaks of his prospective nomination on Monday by a senior official in President Barack Obama's administration.
But many others did, all praising the man who would be Obama's third pick for the job. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, the first choice, withdrew amid a probe of contracts issued by his administration, and Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., backed out because of political differences.
"It took a third swing but (President Obama) hit this one over the fences," said Denny Heck, a Democrat strategist and a former lawmaker who served with Locke in the state Legislature.
"(Locke's) international trade expertise is unparalleled," he said. "With the players on our stage as important as Boeing and Microsoft, having someone in the Cabinet is a big, big plus."
If selected and confirmed, Locke, 59, would be the first Washington resident named to a Cabinet position since U.S. Rep. Brock Adams served as secretary of transportation under President Jimmy Carter. (William Ruckelshaus moved to Washington after a career in federal government that included a stint as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under President Richard Nixon.)
Locke, who served from 1997 to 2005, was the nation's first Chinese-American governor. He would be the second Asian-American in Obama's Cabinet, joining Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu.
"His skills and experience in government, business, international trade and law make him the most qualified person for this post at this critical time," said Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon, who was a state lawmaker during Locke's second term.
With Washington so heavily dependent on revenue from foreign trade, having his voice in the Cabinet can only be a positive for the state, said Republican Dino Rossi, a former state senator and two-time candidate for governor.
"He understands the Pacific Rim relationships with this state better than most. This will help Washington state businesses," he said.
Locke's 1997 trade mission to China won him foreign celebrity.
He was there again in 2005 as part of a trade mission organized by Gov. Chris Gregoire. Locke laid the groundwork then for China's President Hu Jintao visit to Washington in August 2006. That trip included a speech at the Future of Flight Aviation Center at Paine Field.
Scott Hamilton, an aerospace analyst with Issaquah-based Leeham Co., sees Locke's appointment as a bonus for Boeing, not only for its commercial aircraft division, but also in the company's efforts to win a multibillion-dollar military refueling tanker contract.
Chinese airlines are among Boeing's most important customers, he said. China is second only to the U.S. in Boeing's backlog of unfilled jet orders. And Locke's ties to that nation could only help Boeing's relationship with the country, Hamilton said.
Both the Boeing Co. and tanker contract rival Northrop Grumman previously relied on the Commerce Department's method in determining the number of jobs their tankers would create for American workers, he noted.
"I think this is bad news for Northrop," Hamilton said.
If the job works out for Locke, it would mark his re-entry into the cauldron of politics he left behind in 2004 when he chose not to seek a third term as governor.
His decision surprised some because much of his political legacy was written in 2003.
That year he teamed with Rossi to craft a budget that erased a $2.7 billion shortfall without major tax increases. Also in 2003, Locke's administration, in concert with the Legislature, pushed through a $3.2 billion package of tax breaks and incentives for Boeing that convinced the aerospace giant to build its 787 aircraft in Everett.
In 2004, he walked away from a winnable election in order to spend time with his family. He works for the Seattle law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP on matters involving China, energy and governmental relations.
"I'm surprised in a way. I wasn't sure he wanted back into government," said Rep. Bruce Chandler, R-Granger, who worked closely with Locke on unemployment insurance and worker compensations reforms in 2003.
"I'm not surprised he's being considered," he said, noting Locke's natural tendencies toward commerce issues.
Locke served as a co-chairman of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign team in Washington. King County Executive Ron Sims, Obama's nominee for deputy secretary of Housing and Urban Development, was the other chairman.
State Sen. Paull Shin, D-Edmonds, was also part of that team.
"I was excited and surprised to hear the news," he said. "I hope and pray he gets it, and because he's from Washington he can help us create new opportunities."
Reporter Michelle Dunlop contributed to this report.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Experience: King County deputy prosecutor, 1976-1980; Washington state lawmaker, 1982-1993; King County executive, 1994-1997; Washington governor, 1997-2005; partner, Davis Wright Tremaine law firm, 2005-present.
Education: bachelor's degree, Yale University, 1972; law degree, Boston University, 1975.
Family: wife, Mona; three children.
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