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Name: Tenenbaum, Inez Moore
Current Position: Former Chairman

One of Barack Obama’s most important victories during his run for the Democratic nomination in 2008 came in South Carolina, where he easily defeated rival Hillary Clinton. Of the many local officials who backed Obama over Clinton, Inez Moore Tenenbaum was the first major state Democrat to endorse his campaign and help him secure the South Carolina primary. This connection, more than anything else, explains why Tenenbaum—a former state school superintendent with no real background in consumer protection—was chosen to take over the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). She was confirmed by the Senate as the Chair of the CPSC on June 19, 2009.

Born March 8, 1951, in Hawkinsville, Georgia, Tenenbaum attended the University of Georgia, where she received her Bachelor of Science in 1972 and a master’s degree in education two years later.
Following college, Tenenbaum worked as an elementary school teacher before joining the South Carolina Department of Social Services, where she licensed Head Start facilities and federally funded child care centers. She later went to work for the state legislature, as the director of research for the Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs Committee of the South Carolina House of Representatives.
She married Samuel J. Tenenbaum in 1984, and went back to school to study law at the University of South Carolina, where she served as associate editor-in-chief of the South Carolina Law Review. She received her law degree in 1986, and then joined the private law firm, Sinkler & Boyd. Working at the firm until 1992, Tenenbaum handled cases in the areas of health, environment, and public interest law.
She established the South Carolina Center for Family Policy, a nonprofit organization that aims to reform the state’s juvenile justice system, in 1992.
Tennenbaum’s first run for statewide office came in 1994, when she failed to earn the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor. But she continued to build her political connections, and four years later, she was elected State Superintendent of Education. She was re-elected in 2002 and held the post until stepping down in early 2007.
Some observers have called her record as state superintendent of education “exemplary.” During her time as South Carolina’s schools chief, test scores rose beyond national averages, full-day kindergarten became a reality, and the state was praised for improving student testing and teacher quality. She also won praise from both teachers unions and education reformers.
Her tenure was not without controversy, however. In 2005, following parental complaints, Tenenbaum decided to remove the book, Whale Talk, from the South Carolina Education Department’s English reading list for sophomores. The book had been selected by the American Library Association as a Top 10 Best Book for Young Adults, but Tenenbaum justified her move by claiming the book had too much profanity in it.
She also appeared on national television defending South Carolina’s low SAT scores as part of a 20/20 Special Edition program about public schools in the United States and around the world.
During her second term as schools chief, Tenenbaum ran for the U.S. Senate as the Democrats’ choice to replace the retiring Senator Fritz Hollings (D-SC). Few in Washington gave her much of a chance to beat Republican Jim DeMint, but as it turned out, she ran a competitive race that took advantage of several missteps by DeMint. Although she lost the race, her name continued to be mentioned among Democrats for other big-ticket offices. She was often named as a potential Democratic candidate for governor of South Carolina in 2006, but she chose not to run.
Arguably, her biggest, and riskiest, political decision came in 2007 when she endorsed Obama in the Democratic battle for president—at a time when few gave the Illinois senator much chance of knocking off Clinton. When Obama won the South Carolina primary and climbed down off the stage in Columbia, the first person he embraced (after his wife, Michelle) was Tenenbaum.
Tenenbaum is Obama’s Consumer Safety Pick (by James Rosen and Gina Smith, McClatchy Newspapers)
Obama's Weird Choice for CSPC (by Stephanie Mencimer, Mother Jones)
The Royal Tenenbaum (by Howard Fineman, Newsweek)
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