Ken Salazar announces he isn’t running for governor of Colorado in 2018

Former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar awaits the start of a rally in support of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on Feb. 25, 2016, in Denver's Civic Center Park. (Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman)

Former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar awaits the start of a rally in support of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on Feb. 25, 2016, in Denver’s Civic Center Park. (Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman)

Democrat Ken Salazar brought months of speculation to an end late Wednesday night when he announced in the opinion pages of The Denver Post that he won’t be running for governor next year.

“The 2018 election for governor of Colorado is a keystone to the future greatness of Colorado. Several individuals, both Democratic and Republican, have expressed an interest in serving as governor. I will not be among them,” Salazar — a former state attorney general, U.S. senator and interior secretary — writes in an opinion article for the state’s largest newspaper that posted online just after 10 p.m.

“This has been a difficult decision, because I love Colorado,” he continues. “I believe I would have won an election for governor, and that I would have been a successful governor for all the people of Colorado. However, my family’s well-being must come first.”

As the only Colorado Democrat to have won election statewide three times in the last 20 years — twice as attorney general and then as U.S. senator — Salazar, 62, had been considered the leading Democratic candidate in next year’s gubernatorial election, when Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Denver Democrat, faces term limits.

Salazar’s decision likely sets in motion a jostling queue of candidates who have been awaiting word from Salazar before finalizing their course, from campaigns for governor to other offices that those runs could open up.

“Colorado is the greatest state in the nation,” Salazar writes. “Our people embody the great spirit of Western independence and common sense. The grandeur of our mountains, rivers, ranch and farmlands make us the most beautiful state in the nation and provide us our enviable quality of life. And our economy is the best in the nation thanks to the leadership of many over the years.”

The “key question for the next governor,” he writes, is how to keep Colorado great and maintain the life residents love as the state grows by more than 2.5 million people in the next 25 years.

“As Colorado grows, we face many challenges. Even though our economy is booming statewide, we have many communities in economic distress, including much of rural Colorado,” Salazar writes. Among the challenges he identifies: the state’s transportation problems; a crisis in education, including colleges and universities starved of funding; and demands on Colorado’s landscape and open spaces as the state’s population swells.

Tracing his family’s heritage to the 16th century in Colorado and nearby territory, Salazar was born and raised in the San Luis Valley and graduated from Colorado College. He earned a law degree from the University of Michigan Law School. He and his wife, Hope, have two daughters and one granddaughter.

Salazar and legendary Democratic patriarch Paul Sandoval famously plotted his political path on a napkin in the back room at Sandoval’s tamale shop in north Denver when Salazar was a young member of Gov. Roy Romer’s cabinet. After winning election and reelection as attorney general  — “Fighting for Colorado’s Land, Water and People” — Salazar was elected to the Senate. He stepped down four years into his term to serve as secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, a post he held through President Barack Obama’s first term. Salazar returned to Colorado in 2013 to open the Denver office of international law firm WilmerHale. Last summer, he was named to head Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s transition team, an assignment cut short by her unexpected loss to Republican Donald Trump.

“I have had the honor of working alongside presidents, governors, senators, county commissioners, mayors and other officials to address Colorado’s challenges over the last 30 years,” Salazar writes in the opinion article. “I have stood on the shoulders of giants to see a bright and optimistic future for all of our people regardless of ZIP code, gender, race, nationality, or sexual orientation.”

Thanking the people of Colorado for electing him, he recalls the opportunity to serve the state and the nation as interior secretary. “And I thank my forefathers and foremothers who came to farm and ranch the soils along the Rio Grande River more than four centuries ago who taught me the timeless values of faith, family and community,” Salazar writes. “I look forward to supporting a candidate for governor who has the conviction to tackle Colorado’s challenges and to preserve the quality of life for ourselves and our posterity.”

State Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver, is the only major Democratic candidate yet to declare he’s running for governor, although a number of other potential candidates have been reportedly weighing bids, including U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter and former State Treasurer Cary Kennedy.

The Republican gubernatorial primary could be more crowded. Former state Rep. Victor Mitchell, R-Castle Rock, announced he’s running last month, and Larimer County Commissioner Lew Gaiter III joined him earlier this month, while heavyweights State Treasurer Walker Stapleton and Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler are said to be prepping campaigns. Other potential candidates include Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, former U.S. Senate candidate Jack Graham, businessman Kent Thiry and state Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction.

— ernest@coloradostatesman.com

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