Bush fills key posts in signal to minorities and women


US President-elect George Bush last night named a long-time personal friend and business associate, Mr Don Evans (54), as his Commerce Secretary. Earlier, Mr Bush named the head of the aluminium giant, Alcoa, Mr Paul O'Neill (65), as Treasury Secretary.

The nominations are yet another signal to women and minorities that the Bush Presidency is determined to reach out to constituencies in which it has traditionally done poorly.

Mr O'Neill, who served in the Nixon and Ford administrations, has extensive experience of both public and private sectors, currently heading a company employing 140,000 workers in 36 countries.

He is a long-standing friend of the Vice-President, Mr Dick Cheney, and of the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, Mr Alan Greenspan.

His nomination may cause some concern to the political right as he has in the past supported the taxation of limited energy resources.

Mr Evans, Mr Bush's campaign chairman who raised $100 million for the election, is a Texas oil industry executive with little experience of public service but a man who goes back a long way with his new boss. He is said to have been instrumental in Mr Bush's return to religious faith and regular Bible reading and is described by Ms Karen Hughes, Mr Bush's new counsel, as "like a big brother" to Mr Bush.

He will take over a sprawling empire employing 31,000 staff and responsible for promoting US exports, registering patents and counting the number of Americans

For Housing and Urban Development, Mr Bush has nominated a former refugee from Cuba, Mr Mel Martinez (54), a Florida lawyer.

Mr Martinez was airlifted to the US in 1962 with a group of children and brought up in a foster home before his family was able to join him four years later.

He worked his way through college and has been chairman of Orange County, the equivalent of mayor.

Mr Martinez's relative lack of administrative experience makes him vulnerable to Democratic criticism, but Republicans insist his life experience has given him all he needs.

Mr Bush's appointment of a woman for Agriculture Secretary is a first. Ms Ann Veneman (51) was also the highest-ranking woman in the Agriculture Department as under-secretary for international affairs and commodities programmes from 1986-93, an experience that will be important in the forthcoming millennium world trade round, whenever it eventually gets started.

She then moved to head California's Agriculture Department.

Although not a farmer, Ms Veneman is politically very well connected as co-chairwoman of the California Bush campaign and the daughter of a local assemblyman who also served in the Nixon administration.

Mr Bush is also expected to name a former senator, Mr Daniel Coats, as Defence Secretary, a prospect that has been greeted with alarm by gay and women's rights organisations who say that he has one of the most conservative voting records on the issues of gays in the military and the abortion rights of serving women.

He is also expected to name the New Jersey Governor, Ms Christine Todd Whitman, as head of the Environment Protection Agency.