By Jody Hope Strogoff
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
Call it a political lovefest.
Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar, former U.S. Senator for Colorado, state Attorney General before that and fifth generation Coloradan from the San Luis Valley, was honored Oct. 23 by friends, supporters, elected officials and family members at a party fundraiser in downtown Denver.
The Sherman Events Center was filled with admirers who paid $100 for a ticket to mosey with the Democrats in Colorado’s congressional delegation and other officials and pay tribute to Salazar.
Gov. Bill Ritter told the crowd that it’s been “one of my greatest benefits in life to have known Ken Salazar at the beginning of my political life.” Salazar, Ritter pointed out, was on the committee that actually appointed him as Denver district attorney.
Ritter then introduced Michael Bennet, whom he had appointed to replace Salazar in the U.S. Senate.
“I had the dubious distinction of having to fill Ken Salazar’s boots, which is an incredible challenge,” Sen. Bennet said. “Coming from the San Luis Valley as Ken did, a place I’ve visited numerous times since the Governor appointed me to this job, you realize just how hard life can be, just how challenging life can be, but just how indomitable the American spirit can be in overcoming these challenges and fulfilling the aspirations that everyone in our state has for their kids and their grandkids. They’re the same.
“But Ken Salazar didn’t just leave his boots for me to fill; he left them for all of us to fill, a legacy that said we’re going to put people first in our state. We’re going to put people in front of special interests when it comes to health care, when it comes to education, when it comes to the way our economy works for working people.”
Bennet next introduced Congressman John Salazar, the Secretary’s older brother, who shared some family stories from the past. One was about his brother “Kenny” sitting on top of an ant pile with ants all over his back because “I had gotten mad at him” during their youthful days in the Valley.
Years later both brothers were elected to federal office and ended up in Washington, D.C. “And we have just so much fun because we can actually talk about the issues every night and live together in this condo. Oh man, this is an awesome time,” the older Salazar brother reminisced. “We can talk about (what’s going on) in the House and we were very productive because of that.
“Then all of a suddden,” John Salazar recalls, one day Ken tells him, ‘You know, I think I’m going to go to the Administration. And I said, ‘Well sure, I’ll support you, whatever you want to do but were going to miss you in the Senate.”
“He didn’t tell me we were going to get a divorce… And so he moved out and left me all alone.
“But I’ll tell you, it’s been a joy serving in Washington with my little brother who really is the the true spirit of America, someone who has dedicated his entire life to public service, always putting people ahead of himself and sometimes even putting them ahead of his big brother,” the Congressman acknowledged.
“Actually, Ken is one of the most unselfish, one of the most wonderful human beings that I have ever met. And I think, to many of you, we can actually consider Ken as the godfather of the Colorado Democratic comeback,” the 3rd District Democrat said.
U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, who served 16 days as the junior senator this year before being elevated after Bennet’s appointment, credited the Salazar team for helping him get elected last year. “Ken Salazar went to the mat for me day in and day out. And those of you that campaigned with us know that he was fond of calling me a true son of the West and I was deeply honored by that characterization,” Udall said.
“But I’ve got to tell you, that man there is a true son of the West. It just comes out of every pore, his love of the land and the water and the people who make up our wonderful part of the United States of America.”
Salazar said his journey has been intertwined with all the people in the room and said the work is not complete…”We have a lot of work ahead of us with the same values that led me to make the decision to run for public office are still values that I get to exercize.
“The Democrat Party is on the side of the people and that’s what it is when President Obama sits with his cabinet, sits with me and we talk about where we’re taking the country, we believe it is time for a change,” the Interior Secretary said.
“I will forecast to you that when the judgment comes in on the President and his agenda… they will say that we were able to change the world. We were able to change the country as we are to change our communities. And we will have found the solutions that make our world a much more peaceful and much more secure world. It will be a much more peaceful and much more secure world not only for us who are here, but even more importantly for our children and for our grandchildren for generations to come.”