Now that President-elect Barack Obama has put together his administration’s economic, foreign-policy and national-security teams, the transition process comes to the interesting part.
Obama was, necessarily, constrained by practical and political circumstances when it came to many of his highest-profile picks. Even those of us who have objected to some of the president-elect’s selections recognize that Obama has faced powerful pressures from economic and political players who are disinclined to give him the space or the flexibility that might allow a new president to satisfy his most progressive supporters.
But as he selects the members of his Cabinet who will be charged with revitalizing essential agencies that suffered from bad leadership and top-level indifference during the Bush-Cheney interregnum — and, in some cases, during Bill Clinton’s presidency — Obama can and should nominate bolder, more progressive leaders.
Where to begin?
How about Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva as Secretary of the Interior?
Grijalva is reportedly under serious consideration for the post that far more important than the attention usually accorded it by a neglectful media would suggest. The Department of the Interior does not merely have responsibility for the management and conservation of federally owned lands, it also administers programs of concern to indigenous populations of the United States and its territories. As such, the secretary plays a definitional — and at times delicate — role in shaping environmental, energy, economic and social policy.
Grijalva is uniquely well qualified to renew the department’s role.
As a westerner, he fits what would appear to be the first requirement: 15 of the past 16 Interior secretaries have come from the region where the federal government is a major land owner.
But there is a lot more to Grijalva than his region.
The five-term congressman currently chairs the House Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands. And he has been a genuine activist in that position, challenging giveaways to agribusiness and big ranchers who have taking advantage of ridiculously cheap grazing permits on federal lands in the west and exploring the role that oil and gas development on federal property has played in the decline of hunting habitats in the west.
And when it comes to voting in the House, the congressman from the Tuscon area has been a steady defender of environmental interests — his lifetime rating from the League of Conservation Voters is 95 percent positive.
Grijalva, the son of migrant laborers from Mexico who became a college administrator, has also shown the sort of interest in the affairs of indigenous peoples that is needed at Interior.
Beyond his specific qualifications for the post, the recently elected co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus would add a smart, strong progressive voice to Cabinet discussions.
Grijalva’s got great convictions and a record of taking courageous stands. Yet, he has, as well, displayed an ability to work across lines of party and ideology.
As such, Grijalva looks like an ideal fit for a Cabinet where Barack Obama says he wants to encourage honest debate, the exploration of big ideas and a commitment to renewing the sense of purpose that is required to realize the full potential of agencies like the Department of Interior.