Obama picks Colorado Sen. Salazar for Interior Secretary

Moderate Democrat has criticized Bush's environmental policies, dissed James Dobson.

Published December 16, 2008 4:42AM (EST)

Under the Bush administration, the Department of the Interior has seen biologists hamstrung by oil cronies and industry hacks. Now, Barack Obama will reportedly nominate Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar to run the embattled department. (In other appointment news, at an event Tuesday at an elementary school in Chicago, the President-elect plans to nominate Arne Duncan, the superintendent of schools in Chicago, to be his Secretary of Education.) 

As Secretary of the Interior, Salazar, who is now a moderate, first-term Democrat, would oversee the country's national parks and other public lands, including the access oil and gas companies have to exploiting the natural resources found there. His nomination signals a shift away from the policies of Bush's Department of the Interior, which -- to choose one example – put leasing vast swaths of the Chukchi Sea for oil and gas drilling ahead of the fate of the polar bears which live there. Just this year, Salazar, a lawyer with an expertise in water issues, criticized the Bush administration for opening up Colorado's picturesque Roan Plateau for drilling, according to the Los Angeles Times. Salazar said opening the land for oil shale development would "sell Colorado short."

Raised on a ranch in southern Colorado, the Latino senator was one of eight children. "I got my political values from my mother and father. They struggled mightily in one of the most rural and poorest counties in America," Salazar said, according to the Associated Press. "Their vision for their children was that they would have a better life." Before winning his Senate seat in 2004, Salazar served as Colorado's attorney general after running the state's Department of Natural Resources.

Salazar has been known to ruffle feathers on both sides of the aisle. He once memorably called James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family, "the antichrist." After righteous outrage from religious conservatives ensued, he clarified his remarks dubbing Dobson merely "un-Christian."

Salazar ran afoul of members of his own party for not only supporting Bush's nomination of Alberto Gonzalez as Attorney General, but even introducing him at his confirmation hearing. He later called on Gonzalez to resign following the firings of U.S. attorneys for political reasons.

Salazar once said of the Democratic party's leaders: "I hope they heed the fact that we in the West have been able to get the Democratic Party back in the saddle, and that's by being moderate pragmatists that don't see Republicans as devils."


By Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

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