Salazar wins approval in genial confirmation hearing

The Colorado Statesman

Compared to the morning floor fight in the Senate over the confirmation of Department of Labor and Employment Executive Director Ellen Golombek, Wednesday’s committee hearing on the confirmation of John Salazar as Commissioner of Ag couldn’t have been easier.

Salazar’s nomination sailed through the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources committee, 7-0, with only some light-hearted sparring between him and Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch.

“I live and breathe agriculture; it has been my passion since day one,” Salazar, a fourth-generation farmer and rancher, told the committee. The former Congressman pointed out that as an author of the 2008 federal farm bill, which he called one of the best in history, he sponsored an amendment on rural broadband and another on marketing for specialty fruit and vegetable crops. The latter “moves the scenario away from subsidies and toward research and marketing,” which he said would be a priority for the department under his leadership.

Salazar said he also wants to promote some of the good news on Colorado agriculture, including the growth in net farm income, which has grown by 29 percent in the last two years; and the expanded export market, which he said in some areas has grown by 76 percent.

Salazar was questioned by Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Yuma, on how he would balance the “parochial needs” for water in regions around the state against the “general greater good for agriculture” for the state. “You don’t destroy one part of Colorado to build another,” Salazar said. Agriculture is great for everyone, not just farmers, he said. “As we grow, you use water more efficiently” and invest in new technologies that will help with that task. As an example, Salazar pointed out that he had visited the Negev desert in Israel, where new irrigation technologies have been developed “to re-use water to infinity.”

Prior to the vote, Salazar and Harvey engaged in some light banter over a bill Salazar sponsored in 2004 — and that Harvey voted against. Harvey was one of four members on the ag committee who served in the Colorado House with Salazar in 2003-04. Harvey kidded Salazar about his changing views on water diversion, noting that “one of the biggest floor fights I’ve ever been involved in [was on a bill to] stop trans-basin diversions. I’m happy to hear he’s broadened his perspective to a statewide perspective and understands the resources of the state of Colorado should be used to the benefit of all of Colorado,” to the laughter of Salazar and the other members of the committee.

The bill Salazar sponsored, House Bill 04-1040, lost in the House on a 33-30 vote.

Salazar’s nomination now goes to the Senate floor for final confirmation.

Marianne@coloradostatesman.com