From Arizona Governor to Homeland Security Chief

Gov. Janet Napolitano prepares to join Obama's team.

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Interactive: Obama Transition 2009

In her last major speech as Arizona governor, Janet Napolitano described her impending departure to become President-elect Barack Obama's secretary of homeland security as "bittersweet."

"I have been called by our president-elect to serve in a new way during extraordinary times," Napolitano said in what was likely her final state of the state address. "This is a day of mixed emotions. On the one hand, I am very sad that this is very likely the final time I will address Arizonans in this manner. On the other hand, I am confident about the future of this state and proud of the work we have done together."

Later this week, Napolitano will be traveling to Washington for her confirmation hearing. If confirmed as expected, she will head a department that includes responsibilities for border security and immigration policy.

Napolitano, 51, has become one of the nation's pre-eminent voices on both issues during her two terms as a border-state governor. While she has been hailed locally for her efforts to balance Arizona's budget and improve teacher pay, she also won national attention for her decisive action during the recent battles over immigration reform. In 2005, she declared a state of emergency along the Arizona-Mexico border, and a few months later, became the first governor to call up National Guard troops to help the state secure the border, chiding the federal government for not doing more to help.

Napolitano, a onetime U.S. attorney and Arizona attorney general, has been a vocal opponent of the "fence" now being constructed along the border, saying, "You show me a 50-foot wall, and I'll show you a 51-foot ladder."

But she has not shied away from other enforcement measures. Two years ago, Napolitano signed a trend-setting bill that strips companies that knowingly hire illegal immigrants of their licenses. She has expressed frustration with Congress for failing to pass comprehensive national immigration legislation, and experts are eager to see how a governor widely considered to be a pragmatic centrist will shape immigration policy in the Obama administration.

If Napolitano is confirmed, which she seemed to expect during her address today, she will be replaced as governor by Arizona's secretary of state, Jan Brewer, a Republican. Both houses of the Arizona state legislature are also controlled by Republicans, with whom Napolitano has butted heads on everything from abortion to gun control. She has issued more vetoes—nearly 200 during her six years in office—than any governor in Arizona history.

Though some Republicans in the state called for her to recuse herself from legislative business after her nomination, Napolitano has said she will stay in office until she is confirmed.

U.S. News spoke with Napolitano this fall about immigration reform and the fiscal crisis sweeping the states.