(After some background on this position and those who have held it, we opened the discussion to friends and colleagues from all over the US to express their new ideas for Secretary Richardson. We similarly open this discussion to our readers to send us their insights for our next issue; as long as Governor Richardson is in New Mexico, we know he will be most attentive to these new ideas, which may become the lifeblood of his tenure as Secretary of Commerce. We know he will do a superb job, and are happy to share in the wealth of good ideas!)
Only one former US Commerce Secretary has ever been later elected to the Presidency: Herbert Hoover, who served under both Coolidge and Harding. Most Commerce Secretaries have been obscure to begin with, served, then have sadly been consigned to the Dust Bin of History, despite their hard work and personal integrity, going back to the first one in 1913, William Cox Redfield, appointed by Woodrow Wilson, who served 6 years. [Noteworthy that these 6 U.S. Secretaries of State moved up to become the President: Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Van Buren, and Buchanan].
Roosevelt's close personal advisor Harry Hopkins became FDR's Commerce Secretary, after serving as one of the architects of the New Deal and the relief programs of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which he built into the largest employer in the country. During World War II he was Roosevelt's chief diplomatic advisor and troubleshooter, a key policy maker in the $50 billion Lend Lease program. Coming a few years later was Henry Agard Wallace, the thirty-third Vice President of the United States (1941""45), the eleventh Secretary of Agriculture (1933""40), and the tenth Secretary of Commerce (1945""46). In the 1948 presidential election, Wallace was the nominee of the Progressive Party.
Truman's second Commerce Secretary was perhaps the most well connected of Commerce Secretaries: William Averell Harriman, an American Democratic Party politician, businessman and diplomat and the son of railroad baron E. H. Harriman. He served as Secretary of Commerce under President Harry S. Truman and later as Governor of New York. He was a candidate for the Democratic Presidential Nomination in 1952, and again in 1956 when he was endorsed by
President Truman but lost to Adlai Stevenson. Harriman served FDR as special envoy to Europe and as the U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union and U.S. Ambassador to Britain, and he later served in the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations. Among his wives were Marie Norton Whitney, who left her husband Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney to marry him, and Pamela Harriman, former wife of Winston Churchill's son Randolph.
[One historical note linking Harriman as well as Prescott Bush, W's Grandfather, to German National Socialist financiers: while Averell Harriman served as Senior Partner of Brown Brothers Harriman & Co., Harriman Bank was the main Wall Street connection for German companies and the varied U.S. financial interests of Fritz Thyssen, an early financial backer of Hitler's bloody regime until 1938, but who in 1939 had fled Germany and was denouncing Hitler. Business for profit with Germany was not illegal when Hitler declared war on the US. Six days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt signed the Trading With the Enemy Act after it had been made public that U.S. companies were commercing with the declared enemy of the United States. On October 20, 1942, the U.S. government ordered the seizure of German banking operations in New York.]
Elliot Lee Richardson was an American lawyer and politician and a member of the cabinet of Presidents Richard Nixon, and later in the cabinet of Gerald Ford as Secretary of Commerce. During the Watergate Scandal, he refused an order from Nixon to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox. He is the only person in American history to have served in four Cabinet-level positions within the government: Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare from 1970 to 1973, Secretary of Defense from January to May 1973, Attorney General from May 24 to October 1973, and Secretary of Commerce from 1976 to 1977.
Malcolm Baldridge, Reagan's Commerce Secretary, worked during his boyhood as a ranch hand and earned awards as a roper on the rodeo circuit. He was a Professional Rodeo Man of the Year in 1980 and was installed in the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City in 1999. He once appeared on the television game show To Tell the Truth pretending to be rodeo tie-down roping champion Dean Oliver. Malcolm Baldrige died July 25, 1987 in a rodeo accident in California at the age of 64. His service as Secretary of Commerce was one of the longest in history, and he was probably the most colorful Secretary of Commerce.
When Gov. Bill Richardson becomes America's next Secretary of Commerce, he will direct 40,000 employees and a group of fascinating sub organizations. The most important of these functions, because of the deteriorating US Economy is that he will be integrally involved as Obama works towards solutions with his economic team. Both Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Larry Summers as Director of the National Economic Council, will also be integral. Richardson will excel in promoting American business and international trade; he will supervise the International Trade Administration, ensuring that American businesses have access to international markets and that counterfeit foreign goods don't corrupt U.S. markets.
The new commerce secretary will counsel on trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. Although Bush negotiated the agreements, the Democratic Congress has delayed ratifying them because of pressures from labor. Obama opposes the Colombia pact because he wants Columbia to crack down and prevent unionists being murdered. Obama wants the South Korea agreement renegotiated to benefit U.S. automakers; both situations will challenge Richardson's negotiating abilities skills and his history as a free trade advocate. Richardson was one of the original NAFTA proponents.
Commerce has an $8 billion annual budget; it gathers economic and demographic data as in the Census, develops telecommunications and technology policy, conducts ocean research, issues patents and trademarks, forecasts the weather, and manages fisheries and wildlife sanctuaries. Census determines how many House seats for each state, and is used for redistricting school boards to congressional districts, so it is a sensitive position, often subject to the demands and wrath of Congressmen.
Michele Kraus at Huffington Post has written the most insightful assessment of Richardson at Commerce:
"All the media pundits seem to be missing the boat on the brilliance of the selection of Governor Bill Richardson as the next Secretary of Commerce. Many have been just too eager to pigeonhole him in the role of foreign affairs and stir the controversy missing the real beef of this Governor's legacy in the State of New Mexico. This man is innovative. We need someone willing to think out the box and attract the best talent to implement and manage. That is Big Bill from the far off land of New Mexico. More than $2 Billion in revenues and jobs are now coming into New Mexico from Hollywood; the chip giant Intel in a partnership with the State built one of the world's fastest super computers outside of Albuquerque; venture capital firms have been created to invest in start-up ventures; and partnerships have been formed with titans of private industry. He's got a team of the best and brightest, and even raided Princeton for his young Energy advisor who is spearheading innovations for the Western states on climate crisis. If that were not enough, last spring Richardson sealed one of the largest private and public partnerships with Sir Richard Branson and the State of New Mexico to build the next generation space station. The net is that there are more jobs, and more money and more programs for advanced education - all benefiting the people and the economy of New Mexico for the long term as we all weather the blight of this financial roller coaster. So next time you wonder what Obama was thinking, muse over the facts and applaud him for his shrewd insight in appointing Richardson to help reinvent commerce for the US."
Note: The US Commerce Secretary: the Department states its mission to be "to foster, promote, and develop the foreign and domestic commerce."- Until 1913 there was one Secretary of Commerce and Labor, uniting this department with the Department of Labor, which is now headed by a separate Secretary of Labor.
Ideas for the new Secretary of Commerce:
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