If ever you wondered why Ken Salazar gave up the power and perks of the U.S. Senate to serve the Obama administration as secretary of the interior, I suggest that you wangle an opportunity to visit our distinguished native son in his Washington office.
Forget the extraordinary responsibilities of the position – the national parks, the public lands, the 67,000 employees, the 180,000 volunteers and the opportunities for real and lasting accomplishment that go with the job. Instead, let’s look at the office!
There is, for example, a Thomas Moran painting from about 1880, titled “Green River Cliffs by Moonlight.” How good is it? As good or better than any Moran you’ll see at the Fine Arts Center, the Denver Art Museum or in any private collection.
And why is it in the secretary’s office?
Because a generous soul willed it to the Department of the Interior during 1938, probably thinking that it would brighten up somebody’s drab Washington office, and remind him/her about our greatest national treasure – the land itself.
I’d guess that none of the participants in the chamber’s “Washington Legislative Action Mission” have a painting so wonderful or an office so grand. To Salazar’s credit, he seems like the same guy who worked for Romer, served as Colorado’s attorney general and became a cautious, centrist senator.
Salazar spoke to us about the challenges facing the Interior. Many are in Colorado, including forest death from pine bark beetle infestation, diminishing flows on the river systems that give life to our state and region, and the multiple challenges of accommodating the needs of business, the military, the environment and the people who live and will live in Colorado.
Salazar introduced Tom Strickland, a former law partner who is now one of his senior aides. Strickland reminded us that Salazar was responsible for conceiving and creating the Great Outdoors Colorado initiative, which was passed by Colorado voters during 1992. That initiative established the state lottery and dedicated much of its proceeds to the preservation of open space and threatened landscapes throughout Colorado.
Now, Strickland said, Salazar hopes to create a national program modeled on GOCO, to be called “Great Outdoors America.” Strickland gave no further details, but it’s clear that Salazar would like to create a less political, less interruptible source of funding for the “crown jewels” of America – our national parks, monuments and public lands, stressed by overuse and threatened by climate change.
After his remarks, Bruce McCormick of Colorado Springs Utilities asked him to comment about the interlocking issues of Pueblo, Colorado Springs, the lower Arkansas Valley and water.
Salazar was surprisingly blunt.
He noted that Colorado Springs and Pueblo have been political antagonists for more than a century, and that background has made it difficult for the cities to work together. He said that CSU and the Colorado Springs business community have sometimes been less than responsive to the needs of their southern neighbors, but that he was hopeful that a new era of regional cooperation was dawning.
Speaking a little later about Pinon Canon, he said that, “People down there (in southeastern Colorado) felt that a golden curtain had dropped down at the El Paso County line.” Any new deal, he implied, would have to benefit the entire region.
He paid tribute to the influence of the business community, and to its ability to move debates away from ideology and toward problem solving. We need, he said, “a new conservation agenda.”
Responding, the chamber’s Dave Csintyan said, “We’ve gone to school on your comments,” noting that regional integration had moved beyond theory and into practice, particularly regarding the Pueblo-Colorado Springs cooperation on the Southern Delivery System, Fountain Creek and potentially many more issues.
“And,” he finished, “we have the Pueblo chamber with us today, and Woodland Park as well.”