Rep. John Salazar tapped for Appropriations

Cabinet post less likely now

By Jody Hope Strogoff

U.S. Rep. John Salazar’s political star is rising. In November, the Democrat was easily re-elected for a third term representing Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, which is considered a swing district. And just this week, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi selected him to serve on the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

Rep. John Salazar is flanked by his mother, Emma, left, and his wife, Mary Lou, right, at the train depot in Pueblo in 2007.

The coveted position was just one of two for which the Colorado potato seed farmer was being considered. For weeks, Salazar’s name was prevalent as insiders discussed possible appointees to be secretary of agriculture in the upcoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama. Salazar confirmed last week that he was on the short list of contenders for the position, which he said he hadn’t sought.

Salazar’s appointment to the Appropriations Committee lessens speculation that the affable San Luis Valley farmer will be asked to join Obama’s cabinet. Salazar, however, told reporters Thursday morning that he is not taking his name out of consideration. He said that — although he recognizes that heading the USDA could enhance agriculture in the state — a position on the Appropriations Committee is also a political plum that would serve Colorado well.

Salazar secured one of the two open seats on the committee Wednesday night when the Steering and Policy Committee forwarded his name to Pelosi, who, Salazar said, had backed him.

Salazar said he had been informally campaigning for the slot for the past six months.

He called the seat “critical” for the Rocky Mountain region, and pointed out that Rep. Tom Udall, of Arizona, who is moving up to the Senate, is vacating his Appropriations Committee seat. Udall had been the sole Westerner on the committee. Speaker Pelosi considered the geographical make-up of the committee, Salazar said, in her decision to name him.

The Appropriations Committee oversees federal spending, and representation on it could be a boon to Colorado.

Salazar, however, is a member of the Blue Dogs Caucus in Congress, a group that generally looks askance at liberal spending measures.

But he may be bending. During his conference call with reporters this week, Salazar mentioned that spending on infrastructure projects would create more jobs and be an important part of the new president’s economic stimulus plan — and would be an investment in the future.

Members of the Appropriations Committee usually don’t sit on any other panels, so Salazar’s appointment means that he will have to give up his membership on the Agriculture, Veterans Affairs, and Transportation and Infrastructure committees. During his conference call on Thursday, Salazar said he still hopes to focus on pet projects through his work on Appropriations. Salazar, a veteran, is one of a handful of farmers in Congress.

Salazar’s younger brother, U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, said he had not spoken to President-elect Obama and the transition team about his sibling’s qualifications for the agriculture secretary’s post.

The Salazar brothers come from a large family which has farmed in the San Luis Valley for more than a dozen generations. The two Washington, D.C. officeholders return frequently to their home in Manassa, where John Salazar still works weekends tending to the family farm with his brother Leroy and wife Mary Lou.