by Jeremy Young | 11/20/2008 03:59:00 PM
Surprisingly, President-Elect Obama has selected a second person for his cabinet whom I've met; this one I actually spoke with briefly. It's Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, Obama's new selection for director of the Department of Homeland Security. It's a surprising pick not so much because of Napolitano's lack of qualifications (the previous occupant, Michael Chertoff, was selected primarily because he had bashed the department in several judicial opinions) but because of the political fallout it will create in Arizona -- elevating a Republican to the governor's office and removing Democrats' only serious chance of defeating John McCain for Senate.

I met Napolitano, ironically, in the same year I met Gregory Craig, which was about ten years ago. At the time, she had just been elected to the position of state attorney general. I was captain of a local LifeSmarts team which was competing in the state championship for the first time that year. At the time, the tradition -- inherited from Napolitano's predecessor, Grant Woods -- was that the state AG would read questions for the final two rounds of the competition. Unfortunately, the competition was delayed over an hour while organizers waited for Napolitano to arrive.

Despite her efforts to portray herself as an authentic Westerner, Napolitano still sports a hint of a New York accent, something that cost me a question in the contest. Napolitano asked me whether fair-skinned, olive-skinned, or dark-skinned people were more likely to sustain serious sunburn. However, she pronounced "olive-skinned" as "aulive-skinned," which I heard as "all of skinned people" (obviously, I was a bit addled at the time from the stress), and I picked that answer. DING!

After we won the competition (despite my silly miss on that question), Napolitano engaged me in conversation (I don't remember who started it, her or me). She told me I'd like New York City, where the national contest was being held, and that she'd grown up there.

Napolitano was a good governor, shielding the state from the excesses of a violently anti-immigrant state legislature. She was also very attentive to the small northern city of Flagstaff, where I grew up -- she rode in the local Fourth of July parade every year from 1998 until last year, when she sent current Attorney General Terry Goddard in her stead. She also held several state cabinet meetings in Flagstaff. I attended one of them in 2004. I went up to her after the meeting to thank her for bestowing some recognition on the northern part of the state, and she took me for a campaign worker on the Paul Babbitt for Congress campaign, probably because I was wearing a Babbitt t-shirt (I was actually only a volunteer). In both brief conversations, she struck me as both down-to-earth and a tough operator who knew what she wanted and how to get it.

Finally, while many will no doubt remark that Napolitano is not a movement progressive -- and she's not -- it's worth remembering that she was a member of Anita Hill's legal team during the Clarence Thomas Senate confirmation hearings. In fact, it was that position that earned her the notice of former President Bill Clinton, who appointed her to her first political job, U.S. Attorney for Arizona.



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Blogger idiosynchronic on 11/22/2008 10:54 AM:

I wondered how a Napolitano became the Governor of Arizona . .

So what do you think this means for DHS, Jeremy? I think no one except maybe a couple dozen of the leftiest of the left, believe we'll shut down the Department of Homeland Security. I'd like it, but it ain't going to happen. I'd like the department to change it's name to something less fascistic or Orwellian and reform its mindset at the same time . . Would Napolitano be that type of administrator?


Blogger Jeremy Young on 11/22/2008 11:12 PM:

I want to shut it down, but as you say, Obama is not going to be that kind of President. I have no idea about the name change, but I don't think Napolitano would have anything to do with that.

Reforming the DHS, on the other hand -- that's something I think Napolitano will be great at. She's done an excellent job of imposing her will on a wide variety of caviling imbeciles (and some smart operators) in Arizona. She manages her forty-person Cabinet, which includes several prominent Republicans, extremely ably. Everything that happens in DHS will have her stamp on it from now on. She's an excellent manager, and you cross her at your peril.


Blogger Ahistoricality on 11/24/2008 1:20 PM:

Since DHS is also responsible for customs and immigration, she's not that oddball of a pick, I think. Her US Attorney experience will be good, too: counter-terrorism isn't law enforcement, but a little of that attitude might do them a world of good.

I'm quite struck by the way this administration is stripping the top ranks of elected democrats right out of their seats: if things don't work out, the Republican resurgence could come faster than we think!


Blogger Jeremy Young on 11/24/2008 6:05 PM:

Actually, Napolitano's the only one I've seen so far (is there another you're thinking of?). I'm pretty sure Richardson, Grijalva, and Clinton will be easily replaced with other Democrats. As for Napolitano, the bad consequences are 1) two years with no buffer between Arizonans and the insane state legislature; and 2) McCain gets to keep his Senate seat. The third one, the Governor's race, I'd give AG Terry Goddard better than even odds even against an incumbent Governor.

BTW, if you recall, Bush did this much more in 2000 when he took all the Republican governors of swing states (Tommy Thompson, Christie Whitman, and later Tom Ridge). Republicans lost all of those seats. Meanwhile, Obama costs us two years of one governorship plus a by-no-means-slam-dunk shot at a Senate seat, and we have a fighting chance at the governorship in two years. Not bad by my book, even though my folks in AZ are going to have to suffer through deep redness for a little while.