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Ron Kirk Nominated to be USTR

President-elect Barack Obama has nominated former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk to be America's top trade official.  The United States Trade Representative carries an Ambassador's rank and is a cabinet-level post. 

Born the son of a postal worker and a schoolteacher in Austin, Ron Kirk has risen to be one of the most successful and popular Democratic politicians in Texas.  As Barak Obama's pick for the next US Trade Representative, his leadership skills and knack for building bridges between political opponents will be sorely needed.  The USTR post is subject to Senate confirmation. 

Kirk is the former mayor of Dallas and currently a lawyer and lobbyist for Vinson & Elkins, the leading corporate law firm in Houston and one of the leading firms globally in energy, utility, and petroleum-law practice.  He is generally regarded as pro-trade, having supported President Clinton on NAFTA and permanent normal trade relations with China.  Kirk opposed giving President George W. Bush "fast track" trade promotion authority in 2002.  In recent interviews, he has called for a new approach to trade policy that will change the climate in Washington.

Unlike many of his predecessors as trade representative, Kirk has no experience as a trade negotiator and no significant reputation as an international trade lawyer or as a trade policy intellectual.  What he brings to the job is:

  • a large, winning personality;
  • popularity among his fellow Texans that crosses partisan, racial, and ideological lines;
  • political acumen; 
  • a reputation as one of the most successful lobbyists in the State of Texas; and
  • an expectation that he will one day win statewide office, reviving the fortunes of the Democratic Party in Texas.
As a relatively young man, Kirk achieved recognition for his effectiveness as a lobbyist for the City of Dallas.  He was a protégé of both the conservative Democrat Lloyd Bentsen-serving on his Senate staff in Washington-and the progressive Anne Richards, who appointed him as the Secretary of State of Texas. 

Kirk was the first African-American Mayor of Dallas, twice winning sweeping majorities reflecting support from all ethnic groups, both parties, and the business community.   He was a successful, popular, and effective mayor.

At Vinson & Elkins, his lobbying skills are credited with defusing regulatory and legislative concerns about the $45 billion private buyout of energy and public utility giant TXU by Goldman Sachs and several private equity firms including Kohlberg, Kravis, & Roberts.

In 2002, Ron Kirk was the Democratic candidate for the open seat in the U.S. Senate that had been held by Phil Gramm.  He ran a strong race, but lost to John Cornyn.  In the future, as demographics and public opinion shift in the Lone Star State, Ron Kirk is seen as a potential leader of a Democratic Party revival, with his message of unity, optimism, and getting the job done for both for business and working families of all backgrounds. 

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