Like his wildlands designation, the Salazar Era is in retreat

It wasn’t supposed to be this way for Ken Salazar.

Yesterday’s humiliating reversal of his grandiose “wild-lands” policy is the latest installment in a repeating trend of failures from a man who was once renowned for a political touch so deft that it hearkened the echoes of Midas.

Now the only thing golden in the realm of Ken Salazar is the door knob that gives entry to his luxurious corner office at the Interior Department, an office that’s diminished the Salazar Era from the ranks of fearsome to the realm of folly.

No longer resembling anything deft, most days Salazar just seems politically deaf.

When Salazar left his U.S. Senate seat to run President Obama’s Interior Department, the buzz was that Salazar was simply biding his time for a bigger, bolder, more historic post during Obama’s all-but-certain, eight-year reign.

United States Attorney General. Supreme Court Justice. Circa 2008, the sky was the limit for Ken Salazar.

But everything is different now. If Salazar has a job circa 2012, it will probably be in the private sector.

In truth, some of the forces that have conspired against Salazar during his time with the Obama administration were not his making.

For starters, the Interior gig is a brutally complicated arrangement. For a western Democrat in particular, juggling the interest-group pressure is a beastly burden.

Salazar’s most daunting task: appeasing fundamentalist environmentalists for whom production of federal energy resources is seemingly never acceptable.

Who cares about the environmentalists? Salazar’s supervisors in the White House political office, for starters, because the environmentalists’ credit cards will spend tens of millions on Obama’s re-election.

With the enviros tugging at his Wranglers to curb federal drilling, and the public screaming in his ear, “Drill baby drill!” Salazar has been forced to go through a tortured two-step on Capitol Hill and in front of cable-news cameras, pretending when in public to want more energy production, while doing everything humanly possible to prove to the environmentalists (and their campaign credit cards) that no such thing will ever be allowed to happen.

In fairness, that’s a trick of such resounding duplicity that it would be tough for anyone to turn, Salazar included.

But Salazar has contributed mightily to his present predicament too.

Most conspicuously, Salazar’s failed management of last year’s Gulf oil spill earned him a special place in the pantheon of bureaucratic ignominy. Put it this way: Salazar’s record on the BP oil spill makes it a lead-pipe-lock that he will never be in charge of FEMA.

And while his oversight of the Gulf debacle took Salazar’s image down a notch (or 10), what seems to have really done in Salazar is the ever-metastasizing chip on his shoulder.

Salazar has poked his finger in the face of congressmen and senators with more frequency than he’s issued permits to drill. Not hard to figure out why Congress scuttled his scheduled pay raise last week.

He’s even rankled the White House for making baffling comments in pivotal and public moments. The White House hasn’t been afraid to make this displeasure known.

In a real way, the implosion of his wild-lands policy earlier this week was the ultimate expression of the decline of Ken Salazar’s political era.

Under a federal law authored by former Western Slope Congressman Wayne Aspinall, it is Congress that designates wilderness, not the president, and most certainly not the Interior Secretary. But this didn’t stop Salazar from trying to create millions of acres of de facto wilderness with the stroke of a secretarial pen — as if he were Caesar to the American West.

On Thursday, that all came crumbling down, as Salazar was forced to retreat on a policy that, you just gotta know, was part of his planned legacy. The move was more evidence that, like the wildlands policy he was forced to euthanize, the Salazar Era is itself in full retreat.

Josh Penry is a former Colorado Senate minority leader and a graduate of Grand Junction High School and Mesa State College.


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