Senate bids a fond adios to Colorado’s Ken Salazar |

Senate bids a fond adios to Colorado’s Ken Salazar

M.E. Sprengelmeyer
Rocky Mountain News
AP PhotoKen Salazar gave his farewell speech to the Senate today.

WASHINGTON ” Sen. Ken Salazar bid a soft-spoken farewell to the U.S. Senate, celebrating the family heritage and values that put him on the way to joining President-elect Barack Obama’s cabinet as Interior Secretary.

In his last, televised address on the Senate floor this morning, Salazar began by asking that his family genealogy – dating to 1520 – be entered into the official record, and he highlighted the values he learned growing up on a ranch in southern Colorado.

Salazar spoke of how he hoped his relatively short, four-year term in the Senate had helped shed a spotlight on a Hispanic heritage that was “for a long time shoved beneath the dust” of American history, and yet again he urged his Senate colleagues to remember the “forgotten America” outside the big urban areas.

He recalled how in early 2006, shortly after he and now President-elect Barack Obama were first sworn into the Senate, he was tapped to give the traditional re-enactment of former President George Washington’s farewell address.

Washington’s speech warned about the dangers of partisanship and regionalism. Less than a week before Obama’s inauguration as president – and Salazar’s expected confirmation to the cabinet – Salazar said, “There is a new hope, with a growing sense we are all in this together … We are becoming ‘one nation.'”

Salazar said Obama embodies that change.

Fellow Senators heaped praise on Colorado’s soon-to-be-departing senior senator.

“Parting really is such sweet sorrow,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said. “I have such great respect for this man we call Ken Salazar.”

Reid cited Salazar’s work on the so-called “Gang of 14” senators who helped broker a truce in a partisan showdown over judicial nominations. And he praised Salazar’s role last year in brokering a compromise within the Democratic caucus to allow Sen. Joe Lieberman to keep some key committee assignments even after the one-time Democratic vice presidential nominee became an independent and supported Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain.

“The most important thing I have found about Ken Salazar … was his ability to be a peacemaker, to reach out and bring us together,” Reid said. “He’s a peacemaker not bound by labels, but only by his own integrity.”

The Senate’s leading Republican, Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, said he hated to see Salazar leave the Senate to move into the cabinet.

“The first thing I said to Senator Salazar was, ‘Say it ain’t so,'” McConnell said.

Salazar faced few challenges on Thursday at his confirmation hearing in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and now he awaits Obama’s formal swearing-in as president before he can be officially confirmed to become Interior Secretary. That could happen as early as Tuesday, shortly after the inauguration, or the following day.

When Salazar departs, Gov. Bill Ritter is expected to formally appoint Denver Public Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet to fill out the remaining two years of Salazar’s term. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Eldorado Springs, then would become Colorado’s “senior” senator in just a few weeks on the job.

Citing Salazar’s family heritage, Lieberman called Salazar the “quintessential American.”

“We’re going to miss this man,” Lieberman said.

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