Copyright ©2008 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Now, to one of the latest names we're hearing for an Obama cabinet position. Sources tell NPR that the president-elect will pick Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano to head the Department of Homeland Security. Napolitano was an early supporter of Barack Obama, and she's on his transition team. As NPR's Ted Robbins reports, her name has come up a lot recently.

TED ROBBINS: That Governor Napolitano would take another job is not really a surprise. Over the last few years, she's been mentioned as a possibility for everything from vice president to attorney general to head of her homeowners' association. Here she is on NPR's Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me.

(Soundbite of show Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me)

PETER SAGAL: Have you run your condos board?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Governor JANET NAPOLITANO (Democrat, Arizona): No. You know, there are really hard jobs in government like being a governor, but the hardest job is being on your HOA. That one I can't manage, so...

(Soundbite of laughter)

ROBBINS: How about managing the Coast Guard, Secret Service, Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, FEMA, TSA, and nine more DHS components?

Mr. DAVID HEYMAN (Director and Senior Fellow, Homeland Security Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies): Well, I think it's a very strong choice.

ROBBINS: That's David Heyman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Heyman says Napolitano has the qualities of both her predecessors, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge...

Mr. HEYMAN: She is a sitting governor with deep experience in the Homeland Security arena, border security, critical infrastructure protection.

ROBBINS: And current DHS head, former prosecutor Michael Chertoff.

Mr. HEYMAN: And she's also a law enforcement official.

ROBBINS: Janet 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.

As governor of the border state that's seen more illegal crossers than any other, Napolitano's strongest suit is clearly immigration and border protection. She was the first governor to call for National Guard troops on the border. She has consistently called for Congress to deal with comprehensive immigration reform, not just enforcement.

Governor NAPOLITANO: They're going to have to deal with immigration as a labor issue as well as a criminal law issue. And they're going to have to deal with visa reform and streamline visas.

ROBBINS: 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.

As a Democratic governor, Napolitano managed to work well with a Republican legislature and remain popular with the voters. Time magazine named her one of the nation's top five governors. James Carafano is with the Heritage Foundation. His greatest concern is that the new secretary stand up to Congress, which has more than 100 committees overseeing the DHS.

Dr. JAMES CARAFANO (Senior Fellow, Heritage Foundation): If you have a secretary who is just kind of go-along, get-along with a Democratic Congress, what they're going to find is their department just becomes a big piggy bank for everybody to fund what they want.

ROBBINS: Napolitano seems up for the challenge of running a recently formed, huge federal bureaucracy. At least, she did a year ago on Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me.

(Soundbite of show "Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me")

SAGAL: I mean, obviously, you have the ambition and the ability to manage a great state. Do you think that you're the kind of the person who'll need to continue to be in charge or can you imagine...?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Governor NAPOLITANO: Can I imagine not being in charge?

SAGAL: Can you imagine not being in charge?

Governor NAPOLITANO: No.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SAGAL: There you are.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ROBBINS: Ted Robbins, NPR News, Tucson.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: