Bill Grant Column December 09, 2008

Salazar shoots down his chances of becoming secretary of interior

The Pueblo Chieftain reports, “Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar’s name appears to be falling off the list of likely nominees (for secretary of the interior) this week, although the first-term Democrat campaigned vigorously for Barack Obama in this battleground state and has said he wants a Westerner to head Interior.”

Only a short time ago, Salazar’s name was suggested as a prospect for Interior, though he is not known to have lobbied for the position himself.

Anyone wondering why Salazar was dropped so quickly after his name surfaced as a potential nominee may not need to look much beyond the newly adopted rule to allow carrying of concealed handguns and other firearms in national parks, monuments and wildlife refuges. Without over-emphasizing the importance of this single issue, it nevertheless points up some reasons President-elect Obama might not be keen on Salazar as his Interior secretary.

Seven former directors of the National Park Service objected to the rule change, as did the Association of National Park Rangers, the National Parks Conservation Association and the Coalition of Park Service Retirees. In addition, almost 140,000 public comments were submitted, the majority of which also opposed carrying guns in the parks. Environmental and gun-control organizations also opposed the rule change.

The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, accusing the Department of Interior of having violated federal laws requiring studies of the impact on the new law on the parks, submitted its own independent analysis that concluded, “This change could have substantial impacts on parks and refuges, their resources and visitors, and park and refuge management. The proposed rule does not explain these changes, and no analysis of the potential impacts on the environment, cultural resources, public safety or agency management has been provided by DOI.”

Despite the opposition, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne sided with the National Rifle Association, the major supporter of the change.

“Once again, political leaders in the Bush administration have ignored the preferences of the American public by succumbing to political pressure, in this case generated by the National Rifle Association,” said Bill Wade, president of the retirees group.

Though a strong advocate for Second Amendment rights for law-abiding firearms owners, Salazar is not in lockstep with the NRA, as some of the co-signers of the letter to Kempthorne are. His support for banning certain assault weapons and for closing the gun-show loophole for purchases are two major points on which they disagree.

Nevertheless, it is difficult to understand Salazar’s position on this issue without considering the power of the NRA with Colorado voters.

Neither the Second Amendment nor the claim that National Park Service gun regulations should be consistent with U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management practices, reasons offered by the senators, justifies radically changing a fundamental Park Service principle without a careful analysis of the impacts on the environment, culture and experience of our national parks. By giving cover for the Bush Interior Department to continue its practice of ignoring professional and scientific advice and public opinion, avoiding regulation, and imposing ideological solutions on complex problems, Salazar and his fellow senators become complicit in the act.

Obama has affirmed his support for Second Amendment rights, but nothing in his previous record suggests that he would support bringing loaded guns into our national parks. Even less suggests that he would tolerate the manner in which the decision was reached. It will not be surprising to see this midnight rule change added to the list of Bush administration regulations marked for change under Obama.

No doubt Salazar can offer arguments in support of his position on guns in national parks. He might even win some votes from NRA members. But he is unlikely to convince Obama that he needs a secretary of the Interior whose values are closer to the NRA’s than to his own.

This is particularly unfortunate because, in so many other ways, Salazar would have so much to offer at Interior. 

Bill Grant can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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