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Obama's new Commerce pick has strong ties to tech, China

President Obama is expected to name as his new choice for commerce secretary former Washington Gov. Gary Locke, who has experience working with the tech industry and China.

President Obama may soon announce former Washington Gov. Gary Locke as his third choice for secretary of commerce.

A White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity told CNET News it is likely that the president will nominate Locke to run the department. Locke would bring to the position a strong expertise in business relations with China, knowledge of the clean energy sector, and a familiarity with the high tech industry.

"I think Governor Locke would be a great commerce secretary," Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said in a telephone interview. "We've had a strong technology sector in Washington which will be helpful to him."

As governor of Washington from 1997 to 2005, Locke was generally popular and fostered a relationship with Washington's technology sector. He convinced Boeing to locate its 787 jetliner plant in Everett, Wash., with a package of tax breaks.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates donated to Locke's gubernatorial campaign in 1996, and in 1999, he endorsed Locke at a campaign fundraiser, just one week after a federal court declared Microsoft a monopoly.

"In Bill's case the judge's ruling will be overturned, and Microsoft will ultimately prevail," Locke said at the fundraiser. "No company and no individual has done more to empower people, to level the information-playing field, to serve the consumers than Microsoft and Bill Gates."

As governor, Locke in 2000 enacted a package of laws to encourage rural broadband development in Washington. That same year, however, he supported keeping the Internet tax moratorium temporary.

At a time when the president is emphasizing the energy sector's role in revitalizing the economy, Locke would bring experience to the Commerce Department in cultivating a climate for green jobs. In 2002, Locke announced the formation of the Northwest Energy Technology Collaborative, with the aim of positioning the Washington region as a center for research and product development in energy technology markets.

"He has been a firm supporter of technology and clearly understands the issues of climate change and the environment," said Graham Evans, the executive director for the Washington Clean Technology Alliance. "He comes from a state where we have a deep tradition of sustainability in the culture and the way we operate."

Locke will also be able to help facilitate the United States' efforts to collaborate on clean energy technology with China. He has been a partner since 2005 with the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, where his specialties are China, energy, government relations, and corporate diversity counseling. Locke could help the United States encourage China to lower tariffs on U.S. products, Cantwell said.

"He's done a lot of negotiating on behalf on U.S. businesses in China, and I think he'd be a great advocate for U.S. businesses there," she said.

Leaders from the technology industry reiterated the importance of trade.

"Locke is someone with an outstanding background and a good sense of the value of the high tech industry to the economy and good appreciation for the role that open markets can play in creating new opportunities for everyone," said Dean Garfield, president of the Information Technology Industry Council.

Experience in technology policy will also be important for the next commerce secretary, Cantwell said, since he will have to appoint the next director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, oversee the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and provide leadership on issues like cybersecurity.

Locke was the first Chinese American to serve as a governor in the United States. Before supporting Obama, he served as the Washington co-chairman for Hillary Clinton's presidential bid.