The Denver Post is now reporting as settled the rumor it reported this morning that Sen. Ken Salazar would be named Secretary of the Interior.
Salazar is a former director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, where he wrote the Great Outdoors Colorado Amendment that used lottery proceeds for land conservation. He serves on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Speaking to reporters in Chicago this afternoon, Obama said he would name the Interior Secretary later this week.
Salazar met with members of Obama’s transition team in Chicago at the end of last week to discuss a possible appointment as interior secretary, said sources close to the transition team.
On environmental issues, I think we could have done worse. California Rep. Michael Thompson, for instance, would have been much worse with his strong ties to timber and seemingly best qualification being the fishing and hunting groups like him. Much better, IMO, to have an interior westerner at interior than a coastal one. We probably could have done better, too. Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva, unabashedly progressive, had been very much on top of keeping track of Dirk Kempthorne’s diry deeds in the current administration.
Salazar’s family was among the earliest settlers in the southwest, having helped found Santa Fe in 1598, then settling in Colorado’s San Luis Valley, where they’ve been for five generations. While he’s never been considered an environmentalist, the prospect of a Westerner in the office who has such deep connections to the land is at the very least a little encouraging. He served at one point as Colorado’s attorney general, so there’s also the very real possibility that we’ll have someone at Interior who respects the rule of law, a welcome change after the past eight years. He’s also an expert on water law. Given the west’s current and ongoing drought, that expertise could be critical in coming years.
Salazar is definitely a centrist and could never be called an environmentalist. He vocally opposed the opening up of Colorado’s Roan Plateau to oil shale drilling (not a hard position to take, since oil shale has yet to prove even feasible, particularly where there’s scarce water available). Don’t expect a green revolution at Interior, or a commitment out of the gates to undo the all of the vast damage done by Kempthorne and his predecessors.
On the political side, depending on who Ritter chooses to replace him, we could see a decidedly more progressive slant to this seat. From the standpoint of progressives, particularly civil libertarians and Supreme Court watchers, having one less Blue Doggish Senator in the Dem caucus isn’t bad news, particularly remember Salazar’s membership in the Gang of 14 that helped land us with Roberts and Alito.
The primary question remains, then, will we end up with someone more progressive in his seat? According to the Post story, the names being floated are Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper; U.S. Reps. John Salazar, Ed Perlmutter and Diana DeGette; Denver Public Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet; outgoing state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff; and former U.S. Attorney Tom Strickland.
Among the higher profile possibilities, John Salazar is heading to Appropriations in the House. Given that he landed that plum committee membership, he might be less likely to want to move along. Hickenlooper, DeGette, and Perlmutter would all likely be more progressive than Salazar, particularly DeGette. The seat is up again 2010, so Ritter might choose to appoint a placeholder candidate giving all these Dems the chance to fight it out amongst themselves. One issue for Hickenlooper, DeGette and Perlmutter all is that their base of support is in the Denver area, and a statewide run in 2010 could be challenging.
Editor’s note: Joan McCarter’s weekly blogs are part of NewWest.Net/Politics’ “Diary of a Mad Voter” feature, a group blog, published in partnership with the Denver Post’s Politics West intended give a glimpse into the hearts and minds of several independent-minded voters and thinkers in the Rocky Mountain West in the ’08 election cycle. For more columns check in with www.newwest.net/madvoter. And for more information on each of the bloggers, click here.