Locke now the highest ranked Asian American in U.S. Executive Branch
By Assunta Ng
Northwest Asian Weekly
When Gary Locke’s grandfather came to the United States in the late 19th century to work as a houseboy, he would never have imagined that his grandson would rise to become such a powerful and visible politician in both Washington state and Washington, D.C.
On May 1, President Obama introduced Commerce Secretary Locke and Social and Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. After introductions, they were sworn in by Vice President Joe Biden at the White House. Locke is 10th in line to succeed as president of the United States, the first Chinese American to obtain such a status in U.S. government.
Locke was actually sworn in 30 days before the White House ceremony so that he could start working right after the senate confirmation.
Among the three Asian American appointees in the Obama administration, Locke is higher in rank than Energy Secretary Stephen Chu and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki. This is why Locke was assigned to sit in key positions during cabinet meetings and the president’s press conferences.
Today, Locke holds the distinction of being the only Chinese American governor in United States and the only Asian American governor on the mainland. He won 59 and 58 percent, respectively, in the two gubernatorial elections. Though he ended his governorship in 2004, polls indicated that he would have likely won the third term had he run.
In 2006, he was credited with bringing Chinese President Jintao Hu to Seattle, the only U.S. city other than Washington, D.C., Hu picked to land for his first official visit.
A special occasion
Not all cabinet members have the opportunity to be sworn in with President Obama, due to his tight schedule. Only a few had the opportunity to hold their ceremony at the White House. For instance, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was sworn in at the State Department, and the president was absent.
“The ceremony gave me goose bumps on my arms,” said Fred Kiga, one of 60 guests invited to witness the ceremony.
Several of the guests echoed similar sentiments. Locke’s sister, Marian Monhei, was speechless. “Overwhelmed,” was the only word she uttered when asked how she felt.
Longtime friends including Martha Choe and Mimi Gan choked up during the ceremony.
“Seeing President Obama, Gary Locke, and Kathleen Sebelius together was such a historic moment,” said Gan. “Imagine — an African American president, an Asian American, and a woman in two of the highest offices of government. I know it will have a lasting impact on my daughters.”
It did touch Gan’s 11-year-old daughter Chloe Billingslea. What inspired the girl at the ceremony was “Everything and everybody (including the president, vice president, and Locke).”
The image of Obama and Locke together on stage signified diversity, said teary-eyed Mai Nguyen, one of the attendees. “It’s so comfortable to see them together [at the ceremony]. It’s so real.”
Obama acknowledged that Locke was an Eagle Scout in the introduction.
Former scout and entrepreneur Scott Oki, another attendee, noted that “[being boy scouts] helps lay the foundations for life.”
Locke’s guests were also surprised that Biden stayed to greet all the guests. He signed autographs, shook hands, and posed for photos.
“It’s so great seeing everybody, so many friends here,” said Locke. “See the president and vice president spent so much time with the family. … My success has to do with all the support I got from many people and from people all around the country. Thousands of people have supported me [in this nomination].”
“Hopefully, this is not a capstone for Gary but a milestone,” said Kiga. “He will continue to be a policy maker not just in our state but [in] the whole country.”
Currently on Locke’s plate is the digital TV switch on June 12, his trip with President Obama to China in early autumn, and the 2010 census. He is also part of Obama’s economy recovery team.
Despite Locke’s challenges and his family’s recent move to Washington, D.C., his wife Mona said, “I am so proud and thrilled that he has the opportunity to serve his country.” ♦
Watch Secretary Gary Locke’s swearing in ceremony on YouTube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=787Mc75eaY.
Northwest Asian Weekly will present a community celebration and nine-course banquet for Locke on June 20 at the House of Hong Restaurant at 409 Eighth Ave. S., Seattle. Tickets are $45 before June 5 and $50 after. For reservations, call 206-223-0623 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Assunta Ng can be reached at email@example.com.
Who’s in line to inherit the Oval Office?
According to the Constitution, the United States’ presidential line of succession defines who may become or act as president upon the incapacity, death, resignation, or removal from office (by impeachment and subsequent conviction) of a sitting president or a president-elect.