President-elect Obama named New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson as commerce secretary on Wednesday, filling a top economic post in troubled times and choosing a second former campaign rival for his new Cabinet.
Talking optimistically despite the recession, Obama said, "We have everything we need to renew our economy. We have the ingenuity and technology, the skill and commitment — we just need to put it to work."
Obama called Richardson a leading "economic diplomat for America.''
''During his time in state government and Congress, and in two tours of duty in the Cabinet, Bill has seen from just about every angle what makes our economy work and what keeps it from working better," Obama said.
Richardson, 61, was United Nations ambassador and energy secretary during the Clinton administration, and he is in his second term as New Mexico's governor. He served seven terms in the House of Representatives.
If confirmed by the Senate, he would take over a sprawling department that oversees the National Weather Service, the Census Bureau, economic development programs and more.
One of the nation's most prominent Hispanic politicians, Richardson pledged, in English and Spanish, to work to renew the economy.
The nomination thrilled advocates of closer trade ties with Latin America, who see the Hispanic-American as a natural ally to the hemisphere.
Richardson, whose mother was Mexican and who grew up in Mexico, has long been known as a free trade supporter and is a familiar face throughout Latin America. He stoked expectations Wednesday by pledging in Spanish to bolster U.S. relations with Latin American and Caribbean countries. "We have to strengthen our ties and remember the importance of a united hemisphere," Richardson said.
Analysts said that statement sent a striking message to a region that has felt neglected by the Bush administration, especially after the Sept. 11 attacks. The Bush administration has given up on negotiating a long anticipated hemisphere-wide free trade agreement, focusing instead on striking bilateral accords with select countries such as Peru and Chile.
Richardson's statement also raised expectations that the Obama administration would push the Democrat-controlled Congress to pass a long-pending free trade agreement with Colombia, despite legislators' concerns over violence waged against union activists there.
A free trade agreement signed by the United States and Panama also awaits approval from Congress.
While the current commerce secretary, Cuban-American Carlos Gutierrez, is also Hispanic, Richardson won't have to wrestle with the bad will felt around the region toward President Bush, especially among leftist governments, said Marisa Ferreira, a Washington-based lawyer specializing in trade.
If Washington rumors prove correct, Richardson may not be Obama's only top Hispanic trade official. Democratic leaders expect Obama to name Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., as U.S. trade representative.
Obama's Cabinet shaping up
Treasury secretary: Timothy Geithner, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Secretary of state: Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y.
Attorney general: Eric Holder, former deputy attorney general.
Defense secretary: Robert Gates, a holdover from Bush administration.
Homeland Security secretary: Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano.
National security adviser: Retired Marine Gen. James Jones.
Commerce secretary: New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.
National Economic Council director: Lawrence Summers, former treasury secretary.
Office of Management and Budget director: Peter Orszag, director of Congressional Budget Office.
Yet to be decided
Health and Human Services secretary; CIA director; national intelligence director; energy secretary; interior secretary; EPA administrator; Housing and Urban Development secretary; labor secretary; education secretary; transportation secretary; agriculture secretary; Veterans Affairs chief.