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Originally published November 20, 2009 at 2:59 PM | Page modified November 20, 2009 at 5:01 PM

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Joni Balter / Seattle Times editorial columnist

Our team in D.C. — Locke, Sims and Kerlikowske

Three of Washington's veteran politicians now work in high-profile jobs in the Obama administration, while newer pols try on their training wheels in preparation for top local jobs.

Seattle Times editorial columnist

WASHINGTON — There's Gary Locke, former governor of Washington state, accompanying President Obama to Singapore and China for meetings with world economic leaders. And there's Ron Sims, former King County executive, doling out cash for federal housing projects as deputy secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

The nation's new drug czar, former Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske, is busy talking about bringing more science to irrational national drug policy. He makes sense when he says he wants to treat drug abuse as a public-health matter.

As our novice Seattle mayor-elect Mike McGinn tries on his training wheels for his new job, some of our top veteran politicians are in Washington, D.C., making their mark on the Obama administration. The other Washington has our A-team, and we've got, well, neophytes going through teething.

Locke presides, and that is the appropriate word, over the massive stone edifice of the Department of Commerce, within a shout of the White House. Locke was Obama's third choice for commerce secretary but he seems to be wonking his way into favor in his new job.

Commerce is the Cabinet equivalent of the attic, one expert said, because it includes a hodgepodge of several agencies that do things like track the economy, promote exports and find out the actual number of Americans.

The 2010 Census is one of Locke's first tasks. Census workers had been planning to use handheld computers — gadgets similar to ones waiters use — especially when visiting folks who did not mail in census forms. Because of constant setbacks, handhelds will not be used, but would have been most helpful counting people reluctant to be counted.

Locke seems more enthused about the prospect of boosting trade with other nations.

The secretary was part of Obama's inner circle the past week and a half in Asia as the administration traveled to win friends and open up markets for U.S. companies.

In an earlier interview in his office, Locke rattled off statistic after statistic about how much more the U.S. should be doing to promote trade. Did you know 59 percent of American companies that export do so only to one country? Did you realize 95 percent of the world's consumers live outside our borders? And — hello — green jobs are the future.

Locke was eager to show off a gathering room with Northwest art to a visitor from Seattle. Removing any pretense, he said he had to rush back to his Maryland home to relieve the baby-sitter for his three children ages, 12, 10 and 5.

Kerlikowske's recent claim to fame was appearing in a George Will column, where he talked about the need to stop "regurgitating perps through the system."

The chief later told me people should be just as concerned about middle-schoolers partying with parents' prescription drugs as they are about better-known illicit drugs. The bottom line is, people who use drugs have an addiction problem and should be treated as such.

The war on drugs sounds too much like a war on your own people, Kerlikowske said. The better approach is prevention for people ages 12 to 21 and treatment for those who are already addicted.

Kerlikowske's main focus is to develop the president's drug strategy, due out next year. Clearly, policy will stress prevention and treatment and focus on things like drug courts, which have been proved to work.

Sims travels the country, offering assistance to housing projects that sorely need it — and his trademark hugs. He is turning "ugly ducks into swans," he said.

In his D.C. office, he explained that the Department of Housing and Urban Development has been largely a housing agency but the new secretary, Shaun Donovan, is putting the "UD" — urban development — back into HUD with emphasis on smart growth.

Of the three veteran Seattle pols gone East, Sims had the most useful advice for the inexperienced new Seattle mayor. Jobs at the helm of local governments are not for the weak or meek. They are really, really hard.

With so many of our veteran pols working at the next level, Sims gives McGinn some measure of the mountain he must climb. Crampons recommended.

Joni Balter's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Her e-mail address is jbalter@seattletimes.com

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