Both the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News are reporting that Colorado Senator Ken Salazar will become Obama’s Secretary of the Interior. That’s good for Salazar, and perhaps good for Colorado, but it may or may not be good for the Democratic Party of the state.
As far as I can tell, the two leading candidates to replace Salazar are his brother, Congressman John Salazar from the Western Slope, and Andrew Romanoff, Speaker of the Colorado House (who loves tax hikes).
I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Governor Bill Ritter named Salzar for the position, for several reasons. First, that would be the safest bet for preserving the seat for the Dems; Salazar has the name and the Western appeal. Next, that would allow Ritter to name Bernie Buescher to Congress. (Buescher, a prized Dem, was just beaten in his state house race in an upset.) I’m not aware of anybody better to fill John Salazar’s shoes from the D side.
[Update: I’m wrong on that point, as somebody noted in the comments. While Ritter can appoint the Senator, he cannot appoint a House member. Ed Quillen pointed me to the Federal Constitution, which in Article I, Section 2, states, “When vacancies happen in the representation from any state, the Executive authority thereof shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies.”
Colorado statute 1-12-201 states, “When a vacancy occurs in the office of United States senator from this state, the governor shall make a temporary appointment to fill the vacancy until it is filled by election.” Statute 1-12-202 states “the governor shall set a day to hold a congressional vacancy election…”
I think this fact makes it unlikely that Ritter would name John Salazar to the Senate, for, without Obama’s coattails and with nervousness about one-party rule, I think the seat very likely would go Republican. But that creates the problem for Ritter of putting somebody up for Senate that the Republicans can take down in a couple years.]
That move would take Buescher out of the running for Secretary of State, which Ritter will fill because Mike Coffman went and got himself elected to Congress.
That leaves Ritter to choose between Andrew Romanoff and Ken Gordon, both tax-and-spend, anti-gun, Denver Dems. My vote (not that Ritter cares) is for Gordon. Even though most of his politics stink, he actually has some good ideas about running elections (though I fear he may follow the common Dem line and reduce identification requirements for voting).
The problem for Ritter is that he probably has to expose the Senate or House seat. I think John Salazar would be a strong candidate for Senate in two years. But Buescher is a proven loser in his area. I think Westerners already tire of the Democratic takeover. But any senatorial candidate but Salazar probably would invite a very strong Republican challenge.
There are several Republicans who would love a contest against the likes of Romanoff or leftie Congressional member Diana DeGette. I’m thinking of Bob Schaffer, who just lost the senatorial contest to Mark Udall; former Congressman Scott McInnis, who claims he could have beat Udall; and former governor Bill Owens. Hell, even Elway might decide he’s ready for some politics. There are probably a half-dozen other Republicans who could pry the seat from a tax-and-spend Denver Dem.
Maybe Ritter will come up with a name that doesn’t seem obvious to me. But so far I don’t see how he can avoid putting at risk the Third Congressional or the Senate seat. Not that I’m terribly concerned about that.