That Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano would take another job is not really a surprise to many, as over the past few years she's been mentioned as a possibility for everything from vice president to U.S. attorney general to head of her homeowners' association.
Now, President-elect Barack Obama is considering her for head of the Homeland Security Department, which houses the Coast Guard, Secret Service, Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Transportation Security Administration and other entities.
For David Heyman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the choice is a good one because, he says, Napolitano has the qualities of both her predecessors — Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge and current DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff.
"She's a sitting governor with deep experience in the homeland security arena," Heyman says. "And she's also a law enforcement official."
Napolitano's first national exposure came in 1991 as Anita Hill's lawyer in her sexual harassment case against Clarence Thomas. President Clinton appointed her U.S. attorney for Arizona. Five years after that, she was elected the state's attorney general. Then in 2002, she was elected governor of Arizona.
As governor of the border state that's seen more illegal crossers than any other, Napolitano's strongest suit is immigration and border protection. She was the first governor to call for National Guard troops on the border, and she has consistently called for Congress to deal with comprehensive immigration reform, not just enforcement.
"They're going to have to deal with immigration as a labor issue as well as a criminal law issue," Napolitano said. "And they're going to have to deal with visa reform and streamline visas."
If Napolitano has a weakness, it's antiterrorism experience, although as U.S. attorney she was involved in investigating the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. What's needed at DHS is someone who can manage those who do have expertise — especially the heads of the department's diverse agencies.
James Carafano of the Heritage Foundation says his greatest concern is that the new secretary stand up to Congress — which has more than 100 committees overseeing the DHS.
"If you have a secretary who is just kind of go-along, get-along with a Democratic Congress, what they're gonna find is their department just becomes a piggy bank to fund what they want," Carafano says.
She may be up to the challenge. As a Democratic governor, Napolitano managed to work well with a Republican Legislature and remain popular with voters. In 2005, Time magazine named her one of the nation's top five governors.