Friday, December 15, 2000

Bush cabinet may include Ky.'s Chao


McConnell's wife on short list for transportation post

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        President-elect George W. Bush's cabinet could contain the first Kentucky resident in nearly 50 years.

        Elaine Chao, wife of Kentucky U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, is on the short list for Secretary of Transportation, according to reports in the national press.

Chao
Chao
        Also on the list is former Michigan Sen. Spencer Abraham. But state and national Republican Party activists have mentioned Ms. Chao as a possible cabinet secretary since last year, when she and Mr. McConnell became involved in the Bush campaign.

        Ms. Chao, 47, also helped campaign and raise money for Mr. Bush in Kentucky during the presidential race, and she does have federal government experience.

        A Taiwan native, Ms. Chao came to America at age 8 in 1962. She won a White House fellowship in 1983 and eventually went to work in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George Bush, serving as deputy secretary of transportation under President Bush.

        In 1992 she became president and CEO of the United Way of America and then went on to head the Peace Corps.

        Mr. McConnell said Wednesday he does not have any information on whether his wife will be offered a position, and he refused to comment when asked whether her name had been formally submitted for consideration.

        “I don't have any idea at this point on what might happen,” Mr. McConnell said during a conference call with reporters. “Obviously we would love to have a Kentuckian in the cabinet.

        "It's been a long dry spell.”

        The last Kentucky resident to serve in the cabinet was Fred Vinson, an eastern Kentucky lawyer appointed Treasury Secretary in 1945 by President Harry Truman. He also went on to serve as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in the late 1940s.

        But unlike Mr. Vinson, Ms. Chao does not have deep Bluegrass roots. Her only real connection to Kentucky is through Mr. McConnell. While the couple owns a condominium in Louisville, much of their time is spent in Washington.

        Still, Kentucky Republicans are excited at the prospect of Ms. Chao joining the Bush administration.

        “Elaine is very qualified and would do an excellent job,” said Ellen Williams, chairwoman of the Kentucky Republican Party. She knew Ms. Chao when they both worked in Washington during the 1980s.

        The appointment could also be a boost for Kentucky, which could conceivably receive more federal money for road construction and repair if Ms. Chao heads Transportation, Mrs. Williams said.

        Ms. Chao married Mr. McConnell in 1993 and currently is a distinguished fellow at the Heritage Foundation, where her areas of expertise include civil society, the nonprofit sector and philanthropy.

        Other Kentucky Republicans may also be offered jobs in the Bush administration.

        • Eastern Kentucky banker Mike Duncan, a Republican National Committee member who coordinated Mr. Bush's campaign in five states including Kentucky;

        • Kyle Simmons of Lexington, who took a leave of absence as Mr. McConnell's chief of staff to work much of this year on the Bush campaign.

        Two weeks ago The Wall Street Journal speculated that U.S. Rep. Ken Lucas of Boone County, the only Democrat in Kentucky's Congressional delegation, could be among a group of Democratic members of Congress offered positions in a Bush administration, possibly in an agriculture-related post.

        Mr. Lucas said he has not been approached about a job and would not take one if offered.

        “I'm very happy being a member of Congress,” he said.

       



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