President Obama turned more than a few heads when he tapped Sally Jewell, CEO of the outdoor equipment company REI, to be his Secretary of the Interior. Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski echoed what a lot of people were likely thinking when she said, "I look forward to hearing about the qualifications Ms. Jewell has that make her a suitable candidate to run such an important agency, and how she plans to restore balance to the Interior Department." So, what was Obama thinking?
1. He had to pick a woman. Democrats have a huge advantage with women (they went for Obama over Romney 55-44) and Obama, who has put two women on the Supreme Court and made the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act the first bill he signed as president, has done quite well with women. After a lot of the women and minorities in his cabinet left after his first term, however, he was suddenly getting snark and concern that the administration was now mostly white men. So, whoever he picked almost had to come from Obama's binder full of women.
2. Republicans won't say no. A united Republican opposition to a candidate would sink a nomination, and Obama will have a tough fight getting any E.P.A. administer through the senate, because, for starters, he's going to pick someone who believes in man-made climate change. Before Jewell joined REI in 2000, she worked in commercial banking and as an engineer for Mobil Oil Corp., according to AP. Democrats might grumble at putting a former big oil employee at the head of the Department of the Interior, but Republicans will be pleased.
3. People like REI. How many of you, when hearing that Obama picked REI's CEO for Secretary of the Interior, thought about your experiences shopping at REI? I did. Is that a good way to judge Sally Jewell? Well, it's not a useless way to judge her. That is, we get more than zero information from knowing that REI is a successful business that understands the needs of the outdoorsy community, has a knowledgable staff and is generally pleasant to shop in. But when people think, REI? I like REI, Sally Jewell gets more benefit from this association than she might strictly deserve.
4. Conservation advocates like her. Sally Jewell drew immediate praise from environmental groups, who have been largely disappointed with Obama's presidency. "Sally Jewell has the mind of an engineer, the heart of an environmentalist and the know-how of a businesswoman," said a statement from Natural Resources Defense Council President Frances Beinecke, a major figure in the environmental movement.
5. She has a unique set of qualifications. Ken Salazar, the man Sally Jewell will replace, if confirmed, was a senator. He had political clout. Sally Jewell is an executive, she has been an engineer, and her company, REI, has lobbied the federal government for increasing environmentally protected lands. If Republicans want to criticize her, they would have a hard time finding a good path, because they are not a party to decry someone's lack of executive experience.
It's a weird pick, or at least unexpected, but I'm happy to give Sally Jewell a chance, and I think at least 60 senators will too.