DHS nominee departs Arizona stage to mixed reviews

 - December 31, 2008, 6:59 AM

Janet Napolitano, the two-term Democrat governor of Arizona who has been nominated to become the third Secretary of Homeland Security, heads to Washington with mixed reviews, according to in-state news articles.

The Associated Press said Napolitano has won praise from immigrant advocates for her real-world border experience and firm grasp on the complexities of immigration, while hard-liners question the sincerity of her efforts and qualifications to run a large bureaucracy.

With more than 200,000 employees, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is the third largest Cabinet department in the federal government after the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Under its umbrella is the Transportation Security Administration, which has responsibility for aviation security.

“Napolitano is probably the least bad person that the Obama Administration could have picked for the job,” Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, told the AP. “She has cultivated a hawkish pose on illegal immigration, which was mostly for show but not entirely without foundation.” The center is an advocate for strict immigration laws.

Ali Noorani, executive director of the pro-immigrant National Immigration Forum, told the AP that Napolitano understands the country’s dependence on immigration and would be a powerful advocate for overhauling border policies. He called her “a measured, pragmatic, principled leader” around immigration issues.

Napolitano, a former prosecutor, won the governorship six years ago when voters were growing frustrated with Arizona’s status as the busiest illegal entry point on the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Arizona Republic said she consistently controlled events in the state legislature even though Republicans were nominally in charge, and ruled the Democratic Party “as no politician in modern memory has.” The newspaper added that Napolitano remains highly popular, even though a budget deficit has developed on her watch.
“In 2002, Napolitano ran on a blistering critique of Arizona’s status quo,” the newspaper said in an article titled “Napolitano leaving with little to show.” Arizona ranked near the bottom on educational funding and achievement, and the state’s low-wage economy left the state in the cellar on per-capita income.
“After six years of her governorship, none of these measures has materially moved,” the paper wrote. “Napolitano’s 2002 critique is still heard today. Yet six years of her ministrations didn’t materially change the measures upon which it is based.”
In a DHS press release, incumbent Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff, who has known his successor since their days as prosecutors, said that Napolitano “has a tremendous intellect and possesses the leadership and sound judgment needed to make the difficult decisions that this job presents.”

Chertoff told reporters in Washington last month that her biggest challenge would be confronting “very deeply embedded special interests” from industry, labor and elsewhere. “Every time you put a security measure in place, you’re goring somebody’s ox.”