WASHINGTON – U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, a former U.S. senator from Colorado, announced Wednesday he will step down from his Cabinet position by the end of March to return to the Centennial State.
Salazar was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004, but moved to President Obama’s Cabinet in 2009 before finishing his term. After eight years in Washington, D.C., Salazar said in a statement that he is looking forward to returning to his family in Colorado.
“I am forever grateful to President Obama for his friendship in the U.S. Senate and the opportunity he gave me to serve as a member of his cabinet during this historic presidency,” he said in the release.
Born in Alamosa and known for his bolo ties, cowboy hat and boots, the fifth-generation Coloradan and rancher inherited a department that was fraught with scandal, allegations of incompetence and ethical lapses, The Associated Press reported upon Salazar’s unanimous confirmation.
An inspector general’s report at the time said: “Short of a crime, anything goes at the highest levels of the Department of the Interior,” according to the AP.
But during his tenure, Salazar worked to “usher in a new era of conservation,” according to a White House news release. The release cited Salazar’s accomplishments in promoting renewable-energy projects, and strengthening relationships with Indian Country.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said in a statement that Salazar continued to help Colorado in his Cabinet post.
“His many accomplishments included establishing the expansive Rocky Mountain Greenway across metropolitan Denver and creating a remarkable conservation area in Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico,” the statement said.
Jim Carpenter, Salazar’s former campaign manager and state director, praised his old boss for his creativity, energy and work ethic.
When staff seemed reluctant to work on weekends or holidays, Carpenter said Salazar would always respond: “You’ve still got to feed the cows on Christmas.”
Salazar also served as the Colorado Attorney General, first elected in 1998 and re-elected in 2002. Michael Bennet, the Denver Public Schools superintendent at the time, filled the final two years of Salazar’s term in the Senate before winning the seat in 2010.
In a statement, Colorado Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacio called Salazar balanced – solving current crises with planning for the future, particularly with renewable energy.
Salazar’s brother, John, is Colorado’s agricultural commissioner and a former U.S. representative for Colorado’s 3rd district.
“I know this was a tough decision for Ken because he values the important work being performed in the Interior Department, but we were raised with a strong family bond,” John Salazar said in a statement.
Colorado’s current senators are active in committees that share missions similar to the Interior Department: Bennet is the chairman of the Conservation, Forestry and Natural Resources Subcommittee, and Sen. Mark Udall is chairman of the National Parks Subcommittee.
“As a senator, Ken’s service to Coloradans was unrivaled in our state’s history,” Bennet said in a statement. “As Interior secretary, his work now leaves a long legacy characterized by the thoughtful stewardship of our nation’s lands and waters and a long list of impressive accomplishments.”
Udall agreed: “Ken and I have worked together for more than a decade to protect Colorado and the West’s land, air and water. He understands that we don’t inherit the Earth from our parents – we borrow it from our children,” he said in a statement.
Stefanie Dazio is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.