Tennessee: Obama Cabinet lacks Southern flavor

Tennessee: Obama Cabinet lacks Southern flavor

January 17th, 2009 by Herman Wang in Local Regional News

WASHINGTON - President-elect Barack Obama's Cabinet has a very low quotient of Southerners - one, in fact - prompting some worries from U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp that the region and its more conservative bent may be ignored.

"The Democratic Party, under the president-elect, is overlooking the South," said Rep. Wamp, a Republican. "I am concerned, but I don't have much of a say in the process. I know a lot of Southern, conservative Democrats, and they're being taken for granted."

In Mr. Obama's Cabinet, only Texan Ron Kirk, the nominee for U.S. trade representative, is from the South.

Southerners have many concerns that need to be addressed, Rep. Wamp said, including the Tennessee Valley Authority's recent coal ash spill.

"The ash spill is an expensive cleanup situation that's going to saddle the ratepayers of TVA," he said. "We have a lot of priorities on land and water issues, (such as) the Chickamauga Lock and keeping the Tennessee River open to commerce. Those are issues that require some bipartisan cooperation at some point."

But Rep. Lincoln Davis, D-Tenn., said his new assignment on the House Appropriations Committee can help address some of those issues. He has been assigned to Appropriations subcommittees on agriculture and energy and water development, he said.

"I will be working to make sure that Tennessee has a seat at the table and will not be left out of the process," he said. "It is my hope that this new administration puts forward an agenda that addresses the immediate economic needs of all Americans and begins to tackle our growing infrastructure deficit."

Rep. Wamp also serves on the Appropriations Committee and said he welcomes Rep. Davis's addition to the panel.

Bruce Oppenheimer, a professor of political science at Vanderbilt University, said it's not a surprise that the South is underrepresented in President-elect Obama's Cabinet. It's a heavily Republican region, and the only Southern states that went for Obama in the elections were Virginia, North Carolina and Florida.

"The question is, who would you appoint from the region?" Dr. Oppenheimer asked. "The pickings might be fairly slim and, just like in the Bush administration, certain areas are overrepresented."

Many of President-elect Obama's Cabinet picks are from the Midwest.

Members of Mr. Obama's transition team could not be reached for comment.

Dr. Oppenheimer said he expects battles over energy policy to affect Southerners, given the Obama administration's expected push on renewable fuels. Several Southern Republicans have protested Democratic efforts to implement renewable energy requirements on utilities, saying the South lacks sufficient wind and solar capabilities for renewable energy.

Other Tennessee and Georgia lawmakers said they are satisfied with President-elect Obama's Cabinet choices, so far.

"There are certainly many talented Southerners who would be good selections for Cabinet positions," said Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga. "However, my perspective in the process is that we need the best American for the job."

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said he particularly is pleased with the choice of Arne Duncan as education secretary, praising the chief executive officer of Chicago Public Schools for his leadership. Sen. Alexander was U.S. education secretary under President George H.W. Bush.

"The president-elect has named several very-well-qualified individuals who have unique American stories to his Cabinet," Sen. Alexander said. "I look forward to working hard on the big issues with these individuals and making sure the viewpoints of Tennesseans are brought to the attention of the president-elect and his Cabinet."