Ken Salazar steps down from Cabinet

Keywords: Politics,
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, a former U.S. Senator for Colorado, announced that he would be leaving the Cabinet in March. Enlargephoto

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, a former U.S. Senator for Colorado, announced that he would be leaving the Cabinet in March.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, a former U.S. senator from Colorado, announced today 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 Barack Obama's Cabinet in 2009 before finishing his term.

"Colorado is and will always be my home. I look forward to returning to my family and Colorado after eight years in Washington, D.C.," Salazar said in a statement. "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."

During Salazar's tenure, he worked to "usher in a new era of conservation," according to a White House press release. The release cited Salazar's accomplishments in promoting renewable energy projects and strengthening relationships with Indian Country.

Known for his bolo ties, cowboy hat and western boots, Salazar 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 Associated Press.

President Obama offered a statement in the White House news release: "I have valued Ken's friendship since we both entered the Senate in 2005, and I look forward to receiving his counsel even after he returns to his home state of Colorado."

Jim Carpenter, Salazar's former campaign manager and state director, praised his old boss for his creativity, energy and work ethic in a telephone interview.

When staff seemed reluctant to work on weekends or holidays, Carpenter said Salazar, a fifth generation Coloradan and rancher, 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 before winning the seat in 2010.

Salazar's brother John is Colorado's agricultural commissioner and a former U.S. Congressman 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. "He has spent his career serving the people of this great nation and I'm proud of him for his work but it must also be balanced with the needs of those you love. I'm excited to have him back in Colorado."

U.S. Sens. Bennet and Mark Udall, and Gov. John Hickenlooper all released statements on the announcement.

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.

Hickenlooper added: "Ken Salazar reflects the best that is Colorado. As Secretary of the Interior, Ken expanded the integrity of the agency and was a strong advocate for Colorado and the West," the governor said. "We want to congratulate Ken on his distinguished record as a Cabinet member. We look forward to welcoming him back to Colorado."

The Cortez Journal added to this report.