Muckraker: Grist on Politics

Buzz in Washington right now is that the Obama transition team is considering two new candidates for Secretary of the Interior: Kevin Gover and Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.).

Most speculation last week focused on Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), but these new names appear to be high on the list as well. The transition team is expected to make a decision as early as this week.

Gover currently serves as the director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian. He previously served as a professor at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, where he was co-executive director of the American Indian Policy Institute and an affiliate professor in the American Indian Studies Program. He is a member of the Pawnee Tribe of Oklahoma and a judge for the Tonto Apache Tribal Court of Appeals and the San Carlos Apache Tribal Court of Appeals.

Gover served as the Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs from 1997-2001, under then-Secretary Bruce Babbitt, working on law enforcement on Indian lands, rebuilding schools, and reforming the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

He also served as counsel and partner for the law firm Steptoe & Johnson LLP from 2001-2003, and in 2006 authored the piece “Environmental Regulation in Indian County” for the Proceedings of the Rocky Mountain Mineral Law.

Mike Thompson, who has represented the first district of California since 1999, is a member of the moderate “Blue Dog” Democrats. He has an 88 percent lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters and earned a 91 percent for the 110th Congress.

Despite a high overall mark, he’s had some run-ins with enviros in the past, often on issues that he’d influence as DOI secretary. In 2003, he voted for Bush’s controversial Healthy Forests Restoration Act, which enviros saw as a massive gift to the timber industry.

In 2004, he voted against an amendment to an Interior appropriations bill intended to protect wildlife and old growth trees in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest by stopping taxpayer-subsidized logging road construction. The measure passed by a vote of 222-205, and he was the only California Democrat to vote against it. He also opposed an amendment to ban the act of bear-baiting in national forests and Bureau of Land Management lands.

He was also one of only 30 Democrats in 2006 to vote against an amendment to the Forest Emergency Recovery and Research Act that would maintain areas of the national forests protected under the Roadless Rule. He also voted against another amendment that would have required the Forest Service to comply with environmental protection, endangered species, and historic preservation laws when conducting “salvage logging” operations in national forests. The amendment failed.

In the 110th Congress, he voted against an amendment to an Interior appropriations bill that would have closed a loophole in the Marine Mammal Protection Act allowing American hunters to import polar bear trophies from Canada. The amendment failed by a vote of 188-242.

The area Thompson represents includes wine country, and he and his wife own a small vineyard in Lake County, Calif. He also co-founded and co-chairs the Congressional Wine Caucus, so it’s probably not surprising that his biggest donors have been the alcoholic beverage industry.

Many expect that Obama will reach a decision on Interior Secretary and several other important environmental posts like EPA and the Department of Energy this week.