Ken Salazar is welcomed back home by friends, family

The Colorado Statesman

It was a grand party that brought together friends and associates spanning some 30 years, but they all were united on the evening of June 7 to welcome home Ken Salazar, the recently retired Secretary of the Interior who has returned to Colorado to practice law.

Hosted by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, Salazar’s successor in the Senate, the event held at the Wells Fargo bank building in downtown Denver paid tribute to one of Colorado’s bright stars in politics, someone who was raised on a family ranch in the San Luis Valley, who went on to college and law school despite tough odds, and who began his political career as chief counsel for a governor that later led to his serving as Colorado Attorney General, United States Senator, and as a member of the President’s Cabinet as Secretary of the Interior.

“Ken Salazar could have spent the next four years in Washington,” stated Gov. John Hickenlooper, who mentioned how Salazar had resisted “all the trappings of power and success” and recently moved back to Denver to be with his family.

Former speaker of the Colorado House and current Democratic candidate for CD 6 Andrew Romanoff has a happy moment with U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, left, and former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, right.

The Governor reminisced about Salazar coming to a jazz club in his basement more than 20 years ago, and it was there, Hickenlooper said, where the two struck a bond.

“And every time I saw him [Salazar] he never said ‘I’m doing this, I need some help,” Hickenlooper recollected.

“Every time I saw him it was, ‘What are you doing, what can I do to help?’

Que Bueno CEO Zee Ferrufino, Lt. Governor Joe Garcia, former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, author of “The Power of Self Healing” Fabrizio Mancini, M.D., U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, former soccer star forward Emilio Romero and his daughter Emily all join to have their picture taken before the Welcome Home event for Ken Salazar begins at the Wells Fardo building in Denver on June 7.

“What a gift for him to come back into our community and give himself to us,” exclaimed Hickenlooper during his remarks that night.

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet makes a point to Steve Coffin, Managing Principal at public affairs consulting firm GBSM, as Sec. Ken Salazar talks with author Elinor Greenberg in the background.

The shadow he casts in stature, Hickenlooper added, “is more than I can say.”

Bennet likewise reflected on his friend and political mentor.

Betsy Markey, former U.S. Representative for Colorado’s 4th Congressional District from 2009 to 2011 and a candidate for secretary of state in 2014, and current Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado’s CD 2.

“You think about a life like that, of all the chances to lose track of who you are, or where you came from,” Bennet said. But Salazar has always remembered the people of the Valley, from the time he started to now he’s carried [his] values to the highest reaches of goverment service in Washington, D.C.”

Former communications director for Salazar, Cody Wertz, right, chats with former communications team member Kyle Miller, left, and Ken Lane, a Pueblo native who worked with Salazar for the past 15 years as counselor and then deputy chief of staff at the Interior Department.

The most difficult part of succeeding Salazar in the Senate, Bennet told the crowd, was trying to fill the popular official’s shoes.

Old friends and new friends — U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, left, Secretary Ken Salazar, WilmerHale attorneys Tom Strickland and Co-Managing Partner Robert Novick of Washington, D.C.
Photos by Jody Hope Strogoff and John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman

“There’s not a person more beloved in the Senate than Ken Salazar,” Bennet related. “Both sides of the aisle felt he was there to give an honest shake, there to do the people’s business, not the politician’s business.

“Now it is appropriate that we welcome him back home,” Bennet said.

The guest of honor was humble in his comments. Looking around the large room brimming with friends from all aspects of his life, Salazar talked about one of his all time favorite prayers — one that he shared with President Obama when they were in California at an event honoring Cesar Chavez, founder of the United Farm Workers of America. The prayer, which Salazar cited in Spanish as well as English, asked that he be granted courage to serve others, for in that capacity there is honor.

“Part of what we fight for in making a more perfect union is making sure everyone has a shot,” Salazar said before calling numerous friends and political officials to share the stage. “I’d rather be surrounded by people,” he said as he shifted into personal recollections.

“My life, too, has been one of service and doing things most people would not imagine were possible,” the 57-year-old Salazar said as he shared stories about growing up at his family ranch near the small settlement of Los Rincones in the San Luis Valley where most people would not expect that he and his seven siblings would all graduate from college.

Salazar said he has been honored to serve the great state of Colorado as Attorney General, U.S. Senator, running the Department of Natural Resources and as chief counsel. Being Secretary of the Interior, Salazar acknowledged, has been “a great run and great legacy of service,” one which he couldn’t have done by himself. “You are the wind beneath my wings,” he told his many friends and especially his wife and daughters.

“Most of you were involved in all of our campaigns,” Salazar recalled. After being elected Attorney General in 1998, Salazar reflected on being in a meeting with then-Gov. Bill Owens. Salazar was the only Democrat to have been elected that year to statewide office, and the only Democrat in the room. “Things have changed,” he notioned that night.

Salazar singled out numerous people to thank, including political consultant Michael Stratton, the main organizer of the event.

“I can’t think of one person in the last 30 years who has done more to change the character of the state of Colorado,” he lauded longtime friend Stratton.

“A long time ago there was a young lawyer at the firm Sherman and Howard, who thought this Mexican-American lawyer might be apt at serving the Colorado governor as chief counsel,” Salazar said about another important person in his life, current law partner, “wonderful friend and brother” Tom Strickland, who he first met back in the 1980s.

“‘Look at this guy, he has possibilities,’” Salazar recalled Strickland saying about him. “He grabbed my resume from my desk and walked it into Gov. Romer.”

That was the start of Salazar’s life in public service.

“My father and mother had a favorite prayer which was handed down by my grandfather,” Salazar concluded. It was called Infinitas Gracias Damos. “Thank you, God, for all the great blessings you have given us.”

Jody@coloradostatesman.com

See the July 5 print edition for full photo coverage