WASHINGTON – Ken Salazar vowed to return home to Colorado after resigning as Interior secretary last April, but he’s spending nearly half his time in the nation’s capitol schmoozing lawmakers and guiding campaign funds to political races.
A typical week finds Salazar in D.C. for three or four days and back in Colorado for the remainder, according to his secretary at WilmerHale, an international law firm with a major office in the nation’s capital.
“He actually goes back and forth quite a lot. He’s been spending a lot of his time in D.C.,” she said.
Salazar, who declined an interview for this story, works on environmental and energy issues for the firm where three former top Clinton administration officials are also partners.
Salazar, Colorado’s Democratic Senator from 2005 to 2009, has returned to Capitol Hill and its nearby environs on several key occasions.
As the Senate prepared to vote on legislation last June to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws, Salazar made an unusual appearance on the exclusive chamber floor reserved for members and staff only. Salazar was seen beaming a toothy smile at the bill’s co-author, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, and wrapping the Democrat in a hug.
As immigration-reform advocates pressured House Republican leaders to vote on the Senate bill in December, Salazar stepped into the studios of MSNBC on 400 North Capitol Street to lend his voice to their cause.
“I was just down at the National Mall with people who have been fasting to send the message out about the moral imperative to get immigration reform done,” Salazar said, referring to advocates who slept in white makeshift tents in the shadow of the Capitol.
Landing cable TV appearances and strolling the azure carpets of the Senate are the classic moves of a Washington insider that author and New York Times correspondent Mark Leibovich parodied in his book “This Town.” Talking about one’s desire to return home after serving in office in Washington is too, Leibovich wrote.
Salazar, a fifth-generation Coloradan, vowed he would return to his native state after he stepped down as a member of President Barack Obama’s cabinet last year.
“Colorado is and always will be my home. I look forward to returning to my family in Colorado after eight years in Washington, D.C.,” Salazar said in his resignation statement.
Salazar said he needed to return to Colorado in part to care for his five-year-old granddaughter who has autism.
But Salazar’s return home was short lived.
Although he was named a partner at WilmerHale on June 6, a job that entailed anchoring the firm’s new Denver office, he returned to Washington within months. His secretary said he began commuting back and forth to Washington in the summer or fall.
Salazar’s peregrinations have not gone unnoticed among members of Colorado’s political class. Politicos would not speak on the record about Salazar’s intent or motives, but they recognized two of his activities that would help him build a national constituency.
WilmerHale, Salazar’s primary employer, boasts on its website that it is the only law firm to have two partners who have served as White House counsel. The firm also three partners who were stars in President Bill Clinton’s administration. Seth P. Waxman was the solicitor general for most of Clinton’s second term; Charlene Barshefsky was the trade representative from 1997 to 2001; and Jamie Gorelick was the deputy attorney general from 1994 to 1997.
Salazar also announced in December he had helped form a political action committee with hedge-fund billionaire Louis Bacon. America’s Conservation PAC donates money to congressional candidates who support land conservation.
Could the moves signal that Salazar is interested in a run for the White House?
Mike Stratton, Salazar’s campaign manager for his successful Senate campaign in 2004, told The Colorado Independent last February his friend is “young enough at 57 to run for president.”
Yet Stratton downplayed talk of a run for the presidency or vice-presidency in an interview earlier this year.
“I would not say he has national ambitions per se, but I would say there’s a great likelihood that Salazar has more than one election in him. He’s a young man at 59,” Stratton told The Colorado Observer in an interview.
Whatever Salazar decides about his future, it won’t be as a stranger in his old neighborhood — his firm’s D.C. office is less than three quarters of a mile from the Interior Department.