Sources: Salazar accepts interior secretary, will create Senate vacancy

U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar has accepted an offer from President-elect Barack Obama’s administration to serve as the secretary of the interior, the Denver Post is reporting Monday evening. “It’s a done deal,” a Democratic source told the Rocky Mountain News, adding that it was a difficult decision for the first-term Democratic senator to give up his seat. An announcement is expected within 48 hours, sources told the Rocky.

An early and influential backer of Obama’s presidential campaign, Salazar made clear soon after the election that he hoped a Westerner would be named to head the Department of Interior but seemed to remove himself from initial speculation for the job.

A Salazar confirmation would leave vacant a Senate seat observers have said Salazar would have no trouble retaining in the 2010 election.

Salazar’s spokesman said he had no comment on the news Monday evening.

Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter, who will name Salazar’s replacement in the Senate if he becomes secretary of interior, issued a statement Monday evening, the Rocky reported:

“I have very mixed emotions. Ken Salazar has been an extremely effective United States Senator for Colorado these past four years, particularly as a moderate centrist. But if a nomination to join the Obama administration comes to pass, Sen. Salazar would make an equally outstanding Interior secretary for the country, for the West and for Colorado.

“He has a long and accomplished record on these issues, from his days in the Romer administration to his time as Colorado’s attorney general and as a U.S. Senator. For now, though, we shall wait and see what, if anything, transpires.”

Salazar headed the Department of Natural Resources under Gov. Roy Romer before being elected the state’s attorney general. He won the Senate seat in 2004, the same year his older brother, John Salazar, was elected to represent the 3rd District in Congress.

Immediately after the election, Salazar’s name was among those mentioned to head the Department of Interior, but he dampened speculation, saying he hadn’t met with the Obama transition team. Two weeks ago, Rep. John Salazar was listed as a leading contender to head the Department of Agriculture, but his appointment to the House Appropriations Committee last week appeared to cut short that prospect.

Earlier Monday, news that the Obama team planned to name Chicago schools chief Arne Duncan as the next secretary of education removed another Coloradan, Denver Public Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet, from the running for a cabinet position.

Ritter, who is already filing a vacant secretary of state position, will have a number of Democrats seeking appointment to a Senate vacancy. Possibilities include outgoing Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff, U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette, Ed Perlmutter and John Salazar, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, State Treasurer Cary Kennedy, and former Clinton cabinet secretary and former Denver Mayor Federico Pena, who also serves a key role on the Obama transition team.

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Ernest Luning

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