Napolitano for Homeland Security?

CNN reports -- and Arizona political observers gossip -- that Gov. Janet Napolitano is Barack Obama's pick for DHS.

Published November 20, 2008 4:51AM (EST)

CNN is reporting late Wednesday night that President-elect Barack Obama wants Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano to head the Department of Homeland Security.

In Arizona political circles, talk has been building since before the election about what Napolitano might do in an Obama administration -- she endorsed Obama early, though she wasn't able to deliver Arizona in the state's Feb. 5 primary. Some people in Phoenix had speculated that Napolitano might be up for consideration as attorney general, but now that seems to be going to Eric Holder.

A big part of the DHS job would be dealing with illegal immigration; the department includes all the federal border security and immigration agencies. Napolitano has already made that a major focus back home. More undocumented immigrants cross the border in Arizona than in any other state, thanks to years of federal policy that has funneled migrants into the state's harsh desert (where they're more easily tracked by Border Patrol agents before they reach urban areas, though the crossing is far more dangerous). Napolitano surprised some immigration advocates when she endorsed a state law last year that calls for Arizona to strip business licenses from companies that knowingly employ undocumented workers, and she was calling for the federal government to send National Guard troops to the border well before President Bush finally did so in 2006.

Obama transition sources didn't answer e-mailed questions about Napolitano late Tuesday night, but Arizona political observers believe it's all but a done deal. Napolitano, apparently, is not talking about an appointment back home -- which, given the secrecy the transition team has said it's aiming for, could mean she is up for a job. If she leaves the statehouse in Phoenix, Republican Secretary of State Jan Brewer would replace her.

What this rumor does to the other big rumor in Arizona politics -- that Napolitano wants to run for John McCain's Senate seat in 2010, whether McCain retires or not -- is a little uncertain for now.

By Mike Madden

Mike Madden is Salon's Washington correspondent. A complete listing of his articles is here. Follow him on Twitter here.

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