Obama nominates former Miss. gov as Navy secretary

Published 12:37 am Sunday, March 29, 2009

President Barack Obama on Friday nominated former Mississippi Gov. Ray Mabus to be secretary of the Navy, choosing a political supporter with a two-year career in the service.

Mabus, 60, is a Democrat and campaigned extensively for Obama last year. He had been previously talked about as a candidate for a place in Obama’s cabinet as secretary of education.

If confirmed, Mabus would succeed Navy Secretary Donald C. Winter. The secretary is the civilian leader of the service and is responsible for a wide range of duties, from recruiting and mobilizing to overseeing the construction and repair of ships, equipment and facilities.

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“At this critical moment in our nation’s history, I am grateful that these exceptional public servants have chosen to help my administration bring the change our country needs today,” Obama said in a statement announcing Mabus’ selection and other administration posts.

Mabus served in the Navy from 1970-72 as a surface warfare officer on the Newport, R.I.-based USS Little Rock. Before then, he was in the Naval ROTC while he was an undergraduate student at the University of Mississippi.

He was governor of Mississippi from January 1988 to January 1992. He also served as U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 1994-96 under President Bill Clinton. Mabus’ name surfaced as a possible Navy secretary soon after Clinton was elected president, but he was not nominated for the post. Mabus’ term as governor overlapped part of Clinton’s tenure as governor of neighboring Arkansas.

Mabus would not discuss the nomination, saying he was told to refer all calls to the White House. His nomination still must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said Friday that as a member of the Armed Services Committee, he will “fully support” Mabus’ nomination.

“I look forward to assisting in his confirmation process and to working with him to strengthen and improve our Navy,” Wicker said.

Mabus was an early supporter of Obama’s presidential campaign, endorsing the Illinois senator in 2007 and surprising some political observers who had expected Mabus to support Hillary Clinton because of Mabus’ past political ties to Bill Clinton.

Mabus has a master’s degree in political science from Johns Hopkins University and a law degree from Harvard University.

From June 2006 to April 2007, Mabus was chairman and CEO of Foamex International Inc., and helped move the manufacturer of polyurethane foam products out of bankruptcy. He has served on the boards of several corporations and charities.