Colorado’s Salazar mum on possible Interior Secretary job |

Colorado’s Salazar mum on possible Interior Secretary job

M.E. Sprengelmeyer
Rocky Mountain News
Karin Cooper/Associated PressSen. Ken Salazar

WASHINGTON ” Speculation is rampant about Sen. Ken Salazar possibly joining President-elect Barack Obama’s cabinet as Interior Secretary, but the senator’s staff is declining to comment on a new spate of media reports.

Salazar, a lawyer who once led Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources, has long been considered a leading candidate for the position.

Now, the Reuters news agency is calling him “the leading contender,” just as Obama is preparing to roll out his picks for his environment and energy teams this week.

Obama is expected to name a new “energy czar” along with nominees for the heads of the Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency and Council on Environmental Quality today. An Interior Secretary selection is expected later in the week.

The ball might be in Salazar’s court already.

One Democratic source who spoke on condition of anonymity said that Salazar traveled to Chicago late last week, that he was offered the job by Obama and now must decide whether to accept it.

“I’m not going to comment on that one,” Salazar spokesman Matt Lee-Ashley said when asked if Salazar had traveled to Chicago last week, or if he had been offered the position.

Salazar’s situation is complicated by political considerations. He is up for re-election in 2010 and already has held his first fundraising event. If he were to resign to join the new president’s cabinet, Gov. Bill Ritter would have to appoint a replacement to finish the two years left in Salazar’s Senate term, with a costly re-election battle looming for 2010.

Among potential replacement candidates are: Rep. John Salazar, who is the senator’s brother; House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, and Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper.

Before the election, while campaigning with Obama in Colorado, Salazar was asked about the rumors that were swirling even then.

“I love what I’m doing now as U.S. Senator,” Salazar told the Rocky Mountain News at the Oct. 26 event at Colorado State University.

“I think it would be great if he chose to have a Coloradan, and I do think it would be great if he had ” and I know he will have ” people from the West, people who understand rural America,” Salazar added. “I’m positive that’s what he’s going to do.”

Lee-Ashley declined to comment on the new reports today, and said his boss was unavailable for comment.

Last week, the Senator told reporters he had suggested two other Coloradans to join Obama’s cabinet ” his brother, Rep. John Salazar, a potato farmer, as Agriculture Secretary, and Denver Public Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet as Education Secretary. Rep. Salazar later won a prized seat on the House Appropriations Committee and said that would make a cabinet position less likely.

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