Musical Salazars: Ken emerges as top contender for secretary of interior

Colorado could wind up with a Salazar in President-elect Barack Obama’s cabinet after all. The Denver Post and Reuters are reporting Monday that Democratic Sen. Ken Salazar is “the leading contender” to be secretary of the interior after earlier removing himself from the list of top possibilities. A source with Obama’s transition team told the Denver Post last week, “It appeared that it was all but up to Salazar as to whether he wanted the post.”

Here’s what Reuters reported Sunday evening in a story about the imminent announcement that Dr. Steven Chu would be named secretary of energy and Lisa Jackson would be named head of the Environmental Protection Agency, among other energy-related appointments made official Monday:

(Obama) is also close to naming a secretary of the interior — the federal department that leases public lands for oil and gas drilling. Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado, who once practiced as an environmental lawyer, is the leading contender, sources close to the transition said.

Just last week, the name of Salazar’s older brother, Rep. John Salazar, led speculation he would be named secretary of agriculture, but an appointment to the House Appropriations Committee derailed that speculation. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of Interior nominations are among a handful still to be named by Obama. Another Coloradan, Denver Public Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet, has been mentioned as a top contender for the secretary of education position.

The senator’s office declined comment Monday morning on the speculation about the interior post. Sunday night, Salazar’s office canceled a planned swing through rural Colorado, pointing to forecasts of subzero temperatures.

Reports that Ken Salazar was again in contention for a cabinet post set off a flurry of speculation about the domino effects of a Senate vacancy. Fellow Democrat Gov. Bill Ritter would appoint any replacement for Salazar, likely before the Senate convenes in January. The Denver Post reports “those close to the Salazars” say they’d urge Ritter to appoint John Salazar to the Senate — which would set off another scramble to fill his 3rd District House seat — but the powerful appropriations seat might keep the Manassas Democrat in the House.

Other possibilities include Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, outgoing Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff, U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, State Treasurer Cary Kennedy and former Denver Mayor Federico Pena, who served as secretary of transportation and energy during the Clinton administration. Pena, an early Obama backer, is also a key member of the transition team.

Former Colorado Attorney General Gale Norton was President Bush’s first secretary of the interior until her resignation in 2006.