On Thursday, January 7, President-elect Biden announced his nomination of Gina Raimondo to be Secretary of Commerce, Marty Walsh to be Secretary of Labor, Isabel Guzman to be Administrator of the Small Business Administration, and Don Graves to be Deputy Secretary of Commerce.
Governor Gina Raimondo, Secretary of Commerce
Raimondo is the Democratic Governor of Rhode Island, a position she has held since 2015. Raimondo is the first female governor in the state’s history. As Governor, Raimondo has a reputation of a being a business-friendly Democrat. She overhauled Commerce Rhode Island, the state’s economic development arm, to include more financial incentives for new and existing businesses to the state. She also created a new scholarship program – Rhode Island Promise. A strong climate change advocate, Raimondo committed to make Rhode Island powered 100% by renewable electricity by 2030, and the state has been at the forefront in promoting renewable energies like wind and solar. Raimondo received national praise for her handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in the summer, working closely with major corporations like CVS to implement a wide-ranging testing policy, and Infosys and Salesforce on tracking and tracing apps. Raimondo was first elected in 2014 with 41% of the vote in a three-way race, and again with 52% of the vote in 2018.
Prior to her election to Governor, Raimondo was the General Treasurer of Rhode Island, first elected in 2010. As General Treasurer of Rhode Island, Raimondo led a controversial effort to improve the solvency of the public employee pension fund, using benefit cuts to current workers that were strongly opposed by unions and other advocates. A former venture capitalist, Raimondo also received some criticism for shifting pension fund investments to alternative investments run by lower risk hedge funds. Raimondo created the Ocean State Investment Pool, which enabled the Rhode Island Treasury to help municipalities improve and manage their liquid assets’ investment performance. Raimondo also advocated for reforms to payday lending, arguing excessively high interest rates trap Rhode Islanders in cycles of debt.
Before running for office, Raimondo co-founded Rhode Island’s first venture capital firm in 2000, called Point Judith Capital, now rebranded as PJC.
Raimondo was named as a national co-chair of Mike Bloomberg’s 2020 presidential campaign after she endorsed his candidacy – however, within a month Bloomberg had withdrawn and Raimondo endorsed Biden.
Raimondo was one of several individuals vetted by the Biden campaign as a potential Vice President pick. More recently, she was rumored to be under consideration for the Secretary of Health and Human Services.
In 2018, Oaktree Capital Management paid a $100,000 fine to the Securities and Exchange Commission related to illegal donations made to Raimondo’s campaign in 2014. Raimondo’s State Investment Commission had invested $20 million in the firm. Raimondo’s campaign returned the donation to Oaktree.
Marty Walsh, Secretary of Labor
Walsh is the Mayor of Boston, Massachusetts, a position he has held since 2014. Walsh finished first of twelve candidates in the primary with 18.4% of the vote and won a close general election against Boston City Councilor John Connolly 51.5% to 48.1%. As Mayor, Walsh gained notoriety for affirming the City’s status as a sanctuary city and supported an unsuccessful effort by the city to host the 2024 Olympics. While Walsh holds some progressive views, he was facing multiple challengers from the left in his next reelection. Walsh has also been a vocal critic of the Trump administration.
Walsh is well-known for his connection to the union community. Walsh joined the Laborers’ Union Local 223 when he was young and served as the union’s President before his successful mayoral campaign. He previously was Secretary-Treasurer and General Agent of the union umbrella group Boston Metropolitan District Building Trades Council.
Those labor connections came into play in his consideration for the Secretary of Labor post. Walsh was supported by a number of national unions for the role.
Prior to running for Mayor, Walsh was a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, representing parts of the City of Boston. While in the Massachusetts House, Walsh was Chairman of the Ethics Committee and served as Co-Chair of the Massachusetts Democratic Party Labor Caucus.
Walsh earned his bachelor’s from the Woods College of Advancing Studies at Boston College.
Isabel Guzman, Administrator of the Small Business Administration
Guzman is the Director of the Office of the Small Business Advocate in the California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development. Guzman served in the Obama-Biden administration as Deputy Chief of Staff and Senior Advisor to the Administrator of the Small Business Administration. As Director of the Office of the Small Business Advocate, Guzman has helped implement the Shop Safe Shop Local initiative to provide resources and information to small businesses in California to operate online during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Guzman is the Co-Founder of GocContractPros, a firm that helps government contractors navigate the federal marketplace. She has previously been a Consultant and Advisor for the Larta Institute, and was an Advisor to the Founder and Director of Strategic Initiatives at ProAmérica Bank. Guzman earned her bachelor’s from the University of Pennsylvania.
Don Graves, Deputy Secretary of Commerce
Graves is a veteran of the Obama administration who spent the last several years as an executive at KeyBank in Cleveland. During the Obama administration, Graves served as Deputy Assistant to President Obama, Counselor to then-Vice President Biden, Executive Director of the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Small Business, Community Development and Housing Policy for the Department of Treasury. During his time at the White House, Graves led the federal government’s efforts to recover the city of Detroit. Through the Department of Treasury, Graves oversaw the CDFI Fund, the $4 billion Small Business Lending Fund, the $1.5 billion State Small Business Credit Initiative, and served as the government’s G7 Task Force on Social Impact Investment Representative.
Graves has long held strong connections to Biden’s political sphere. Graves is currently leading the Biden-Harris Transition’s Treasury Agency Review Team.
He was previously the Head of Corporate Responsibility & Community Relations at KeyBank where he oversaw the bank’s sustainability work. While in Cleveland, Graves was also involved in community development initiatives, including the “Cleveland Rising” summit, which sought to create a new path for the region’s economic future.
He received his bachelor’s in political science from Williams College and his law degree from Georgetown University Law Center.
No major waves made today. Biden has selected a series of cabinet nominees with relevant experience to their positions, none of whom carry red flags that might jeopardize a cabinet nomination. While Raimondo and Walsh have both been elected to represent Democratic-leaning locales, both have reputations as pragmatic leaders who have taken fire from progressives in the past.
Walsh’s nomination makes clear the Biden administration is interested in improving its standing with labor households. While national unions have continually supported Democrats in recent years, recent election outcomes suggest that Democrats are losing ground in union blue collar households, particularly in rust belt states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan. Walsh will likely be expected to reinvigorate those ties, particularly after receiving the backing of the national unions.