Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat who is an ardent advocate for education—and its link to the broader economy and jobs—is headed to a Cabinet post as secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The move takes Gov. Napolitano, an early supporter of President-elect Barack Obama and a top contender for several Cabinet jobs, out of the running for secretary of education. That was still a post waiting for its nominee as of last week.
Ms. Napolitano’s selection, announced Dec. 1, will leave Arizona firmly in the GOP’s hands, because the state’s Republican secretary of state, Jan Brewer, is next in line for the governor’s office. Republicans control the legislature.
During her six years in office, Gov. Napolitano, 51, has been best known on the education front for successfully implementing free, full-day kindergarten for all children.
“That was huge, and it was very, very politically difficult,” said Janice Palmer, the director of governmental relations for the Arizona School Boards Association.
First elected in 2002, the governor also wielded her veto pen several times to protect education funding, actions that also didn’t go unnoticed by education advocates.
She championed literacy, and from her first year in office raised public money to give free books to the state’s 1st and 4th graders.
One of Gov. Napolitano’s last tasks will be delivering a balanced-budget proposal for fiscal 2010. Arizona’s deficit for fiscal year 2010 is already more than $2 billion, out of a $9.9 billion budget.
The governor acknowledged leaving office in “difficult times,” according to the statement her office put out on her new job.
Ms. Napolitano made innovation in education a cornerstone of her tenure as the chairwoman of the National Governors Association in 2006-07. She was helping to marshal the governors behind an effort to benchmark academic standards to international ones, and was announced as a co-chair of an advisory group on the issue in September. An NGA spokesman said last week that she’ll stay on board with that project until her move to Washington becomes official.
A version of this article appeared in the December 10, 2008 edition of Education Week