Steamboat Springs News that President-elect Barack Obama will nominate U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, a San Luis Valley Democrat, Interior secretary drew praise from both sides of the political aisle in Colorado on Tuesday.
At the same time, the popular first-term senator's departure from the Senate could make for another high-profile race in 2010, following the heated Senate battle this year between former Republican Congressman Bob Schaffer and the eventual victor, Rep. Mark Udall, D-Eldorado Springs.
The Associated Press reported Obama's pick of Salazar - which had not yet been officially announced Tuesday - citing an anonymous official familiar with Cabinet selections. The task of replacing Salazar in the Senate until an election in 2010 falls to Gov. Bill Ritter. Officials with the senator and the governor were mum on the subject Tuesday.
Salazar "is not available and we're not commenting today," said Matt Lee-Ashley, a spokesman for the senator.
Messages left on Ritter spokesman Evan Dreyer's office and cell phones were not returned Tuesday.
Names being floated as possible successors to Salazar include Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper; U.S. Rep Ed Perlmutter, of Golden; U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, of Denver; former U.S. Attorney Tom Strickland; outgoing state Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff; Denver Public Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet; and Salazar's brother, Rep. John Salazar, D-Manassa, who represents Colorado's Third Congressional District including Routt and Moffat counties.
"He's not making any comments on that at this time, and right now, there isn't a vacancy," Eric Wortman, a spokesman for John Salazar, said when asked if the congressman was interested in his little brother's Senate seat.
Romanoff, who also is a finalist to replace outgoing Colorado Secretary of State Mike Coffman, expressed interest in the Senate seat should Ken Salazar accept a Cabinet position.
"I'd be happy to serve in any capacity the governor sees fit," said Romanoff, who would not say which job he would prefer. "My preference is to make a difference. If you're in public service, what you want to know at the end of the day is that people's lives are better off because of the work you did. : If I were lucky enough to face that choice, it would be a pleasant problem."
Before joining the Senate, Ken Salazar was director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, state attorney general and chief legal counsel to former Gov. Roy Romer. In the Senate, he serves on committees for finance, agriculture, energy and natural resources, as well as the Select Committee on Ethics and the Special Committee on Aging.
The Interior secretary oversees federal agencies including the U.S. Geological Survey, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the National Park Service.
"There is no better person in the nation to step into this position," Harris Sherman, director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, said in a written statement. "He will bring needed balance, judgment and experience to the nation's natural resource programs during these pivotal times. This is great for the West and the entire country."
In his own written statement, John Salazar echoed the sentiment.
"His experience, his knowledge of water and land management issues, and his love for the land will help ensure that Ken proves to be an extraordinary steward of our nation's public lands," he said. "Having someone who understands the important balance between multiple uses of our lands and water and protecting the environment will be so critical in developing and implementing land management policy in the coming years."
State Rep. Al White, R-Hayden, also joined the chorus. He said he is pleased that the West is on track to be well represented in the Obama administration. The president-elect already has nominated New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson to become Commerce Secretary and Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano to become Secretary of Homeland Security.
"That's really excellent for Western states," White said. "I anticipated Colorado would get a Cabinet position, and Sen. Salazar makes a lot of sense. : I think it's a good fit. I'm sure he'll do a good job."
Romanoff complimented Ken Salazar's bipartisan nature and willingness to address issues affecting the entire state.
"If he leaves the Senate seat, I think his successor should be willing to do the same," Romanoff said of those attributes. "Neither party has a monopoly on good ideas and no corner of the state does, either."
Although Salazar's expected nomination presents an opportunity for Colorado Republicans, White said winning the seat still would be a challenge for the GOP in a state trending to the left.
"They'll still have a two-year incumbency," White said of whomever Ritter ends up appointing. "It's probably better than running against a six-year incumbent, but I expect it will still be an uphill battle."
Republicans who could gun for the seat in 2010 include former Reps. Bob Beauprez and Scott McInnis, conservative talk radio host Dan Caplis and retiring Rep. Tom Tancredo, a staunch opponent of illegal immigration and former presidential candidate.
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