This time, Salazar brand is not so bankable

Scott Tipton may have to get himself a good hunting dog if he’s going to track down John Salazar for many debates.

Earlier in the week, Salazar’s camp wasn’t too sure if the congressman was going to be able to make the regular forum and debate at Club 20 here in Grand Junction, which is totally understandable since the gathering involves 20 counties in western Colorado and has only been scheduled for something like a year.

I’ve discussed earlier the John Salazar “groundhog strategy,” campaigning where the candidate lurks out of sight until flushed by poll numbers into the open. At that point, he unleashes his two greatest weapons, campaign cash and actors talking about him in commercials.

While he enjoys a sizable war chest and the advantage of having had no primary, one is forced to wonder how things will fare for Salazar now that the biggest reason for his election becomes a controversial and fading star — I am, of course, referring to his brother, former-senator and now Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar.

In the election that put the brothers in Congress in 2004, they seemed to rely on voter confusion about who was whom, with campaign signs that didn’t bother to mention first names or particular offices. One can still see a number of the 4 x 8 campaign signs that simply say Salazar and Congress. This worked for both of them and was the last bit of frugality either of them would ever support.

In the past, giving campaign money to John was a bit of a two-fer, since it got you influence with one brother and a warm and fuzzy feeling from the other. But now, Secretary “Boot on the Throat of BP” Salazar is in the midst of all sorts of problems that may lead to his departure after the midterm elections.

His ham-handed handling of the Gulf oil spill, coupled with the Obama administration’s penchant for politically expedient overboard tossing of appointees, had already placed a target on his back but recent revelations published in The Daily Sentinel are even more troubling.

A leaked memorandum by the Bureau of Land Management indicates consideration to use the 1906 Antiquities Act to authorize executive action creating national monuments on public lands around the size of Colorado or Wyoming — but only “should the legislative process not prove fruitful, or if a nationally significant natural or cultural resource were to come under threat of imminent harm.” So we can all feel pretty safe given that statement.

This leaked memo comes on the heels of a proposal by the BLM to close 77,000 acres of the Vermillion basin near Craig to oil and gas development. The Associated Press quoted Moffat County commissioners as estimating a loss of $25.6 million in taxes and $87 million in federal royalties if this scheme were to become reality — to say nothing about jobs.

But why bring those up. My guess is Salazar doesn’t much want to be asked about policies coming out of his brother’s agency.

Then there is the land swap problem that Congressman Salazar has found himself in near Gunnison. Several newspapers have reported angst about a land exchange between property owned by Bill Koch of the energy company Oxbow Corporation (and one of the richest men in the world), for 1,843 acres of BLM and Forest Service land in Gunnison County and 991 acres, presently owned by Koch near Dinosaur National Monument.

The Denver Post reported some BLM staffers worry Koch will be getting higher value land than he is trading and, as the switch is being handled by legislation introduced by Salazar in April, there is not the usual administrative process of public hearings and environmental protection studies. Moreover, a former Forest Service Ranger quoted in the story comments that a proposed conservation easement wouldn’t prevent drilling in the newly acquired area.

Koch is listed as the largest individual donor to the Salazar campaign for the 2009-2010 cycle.

National political strategist Dick Morris told me Tuesday that having Ken Salazar in the Cabinet was politically like having President Obama in the Salazar family — seems like he would feel right at home to me.

Rick Wagner offers more thoughts on politics at his blog, The War on Wrong.


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