UPDATE Kitzhaber is quoted as saying he wouldn't be interested in a cabinet-level job, though he might be willing to serve as a health policy advisor in some other capacity.
Among the many names circulating to replace Tom Daschle in the key Health & Human Services/health care reform position, many are well-known (from Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney to Howard Dean and Kathleen Sebelius). One of the lesser-known to the national audience, but mentioned repeatedly as a prospect, is former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber.
Every candidate mentioned so far has a set of assets and liabilities. Does Kitzhaber make sense for HHS?
He might make excellent sense, if a number of conditions - some applying to him, some to the situation in D.C. - hold true. So, the case for Kitzhaber:
First, on the D.C. side. Part of the appeal (for Barack Obama at least) of Daschle is that the South Dakotan has been tight with the new president: They could work closely together. Another asset is Daschle's experience in Washington, as a majority leader in the Senate: He knows how Washington works from deep inside, and presumably would be a power player in moving health policy. If those points are requirements for the position, then Kitzhaber isn't a fit.
But Obama could look at it another way. His administration already has plenty of D.C. insiders. His party has solid control of the Congress - legislation could be rammed through, if need be, if it has broad support. Building that support would be at least as important, and probably more important, outside Capitol Hill than it would be on. And while having a close friend in this key spot would be a nice thing, it shouldn't be necessary. Being president means developing a lot of relationships with a lot of people. And one other thing: Obama seems much more intent on the broad goals of health policy - such as getting everyone or nearly everyone insured - than on the details, which seem to be more negotiable. He might find it helpful to have in place someone who has worked through the implications of what's happening, and can make effective judgements on policy from a solid knowledge base.
And: There are members of Congress who have health care ideas of their own, and probably no one is more centrally based to push them than Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who already actually has bipartisan support for a large bill that actually would do quite a lot on health care.
Looked at that way, how might Kitzhaber fit? (more…)