We are pleased to present a Q&A with Senator Ken Salazar. Senator Salazar has answered your questions on a variety of subjects, and the entire text of the Q&A appears below.
Prior to being elected to the U.S. Senate, Mr. Salazar served six years as Colorado Attorney General, He is a former executive director of the Department of Natural Resources and chief legal counsel to former Governor Roy Romer.
Senator Salazar addressed a number of topics in the Q&A below, including the question of whether he would leave the Senate in order to run for governor of Colorado in 2006. Click below for the full text of the Q&A...
Colorado Pols Q&A with Senator Ken Salazar
1. What surprised you about being a U.S. Senator that you had not anticipated or were not prepared for?
Two things come to mind right away:
The poisonous partisan atmosphere. Certainly partisanship is a part of the political and government process. But I was and continue to be struck by how partisan every issue is, large and small. I do not think that is healthy for government or for the people it is supposed to serve and the excessive partisanship is one of the reasons why I became involved crafting the judicial nominations compromise to head off the "nuclear option" that threatened to disrupt government. My votes have reflected an effort to work in a bipartisan manner and I will continue those efforts.
The amount of information and issues to learn. I loved being Attorney General for Colorado and before that as head of DNR and working for Governor Romer. In each of these jobs, I learned new skills and was able to spend time in-depth on the issues that were important. As a Senator, virtually every issue takes on a new importance and focus and I need to know a lot more. It is amazing to me how much I've learned here already. Each day is a new opportunity and I find it a fascinating opportunity that I am so grateful to have.
2. When you have been asked about running for governor in 2006, you have said that you have not ruled it out. Does that mean that you are seriously considering running? If not, why have you not come out and said that you will not run for governor?
Being U.S. Senator is the most fascinating experience of my life. I have no plans to leave the U.S. Senate early.
3. Under what scenario would you run for governor in 2006?
None that I can think of offhand.
4. The 2004 election has been widely examined. Looking ahead to 2006, what do you think is going to determine whether Democrats or Republicans are more successful overall in Colorado?
The determining factor will be which candidates or incumbents are addressing the real life issues that affect the lives of Coloradans. I think the state Democratic candidates in 2004 had a better message on these issues, and that is why they won.
5. Now that you have had time to look back on the filibuster controversy, why do you think you ended up playing such a prominent public role in this fight?
My history of trying to solve problems and willingness to work with others across the political aisle and my fundamental belief that government works best for the people when it works together strongly compelled me to get involved. When I found Senators willing to try to solve this problem it was not a difficult decision to jump in with both feet.
6. As part of the filibuster fight, you were involved in a very public battle with Focus on the Family that evolved into a discussion about religion in politics. Recently, Indiana Congressman John Hostettler accused Democrats of waging "a war on Christianity"? What was your reaction to that comment, and why is this a debate that is raging so strongly right now?
His comment is exactly what is wrong with Washington. It was outrageously irresponsible. I honestly do not know why this debate is raging in American society and American government in the 21st Century. The hijacking of religion to politically divide Congress and the Nation is wrong.
7. The House of Representatives recently voted in favor of prohibiting desecration of the American flag, which critics say is infringing on First Amendment rights. Where do you stand on this issue, and why do you think it succeeded in passing the House?
I support the proposed amendment because the Flag is special and deserves our reverence and protection. It is that simple.
8. You have taken a lot of criticism from some Democrats who allege, in a nutshell, that you are not representing Democratic interests as a Senator. What is your response to those criticisms?
I am proud to be a Democrat because I think the Democratic Party is the party of the people. But my job as the Senator from Colorado is not to represent only Democratic interests. My job is to represent the interests of all the people of Colorado as an independent voice on their behalf. That is how I worked as Colorado's Attorney General, that is how I campaigned for U.S. Senate and that is how I will be an independent voice for Coloradans during my time in Washington.
9. You received a great deal of criticism from some Democrats for supporting Alberto Gonzales for Attorney General, which came right after you had taken office. Take us through your thought process that led you to support Mr. Gonzales and how you weighed those competing considerations.
I have known Attorney General Gonzales from my own days as Colorado's state attorney general. I was troubled by accusations being leveled against him and so I went directly to him to get answers. I voted to confirm his nomination because Judge Gonzales, in oral and written communications to me: Disavowed the use, and acknowledged the illegality, of torture; agreed to work on revisions to the Patriot Act to protect civil liberties; stressed his understanding and appreciation of the independent role of the Attorney General as the chief lawyer for all of the people of the United States, and supported equal opportunity for all Americans. Specifically, Judge Gonzales wrote the following to me:
"I do not condone torture in any form. I confirm to you that the United States of America does not condone the torture of anyone by our country or by anyone else. The laws of the United States and the international obligations of the United States prohibit torture in all its forms. These international obligations include the Geneva Conventions, which I consider binding upon the United States. I reaffirm to you that, if confirmed as Attorney General, I will enforce these laws and international obligations aggressively to prohibit torture in all its forms.
"I pledge to do so for two reasons. These are the laws of the United States, and I am obligated to uphold these laws. And, secondly, any action by the United States that undermines the Geneva Conventions threatens the safety and security of our troops."
10. You were outspoken on the extradition of Raul Gomez-Garcia, even after Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey and Congresswoman Diana DeGette called for Colorado's Congressional delegation to step back. This is obviously a small piece of a larger issue, so what are you doing to address the issue of illegal immigration in general?
I have made clear that my interest in the Raul Gomez-Garcia issue has to do with the longer-term issue of U.S.-Mexico agreements and efforts to prevent Mexico from being a haven for criminals. Both DA Morrissey and Rep. DeGette have expressly assured me they recognize that legitimate interest. International extraditions are matters of federal law, and therefore it is appropriate that the United States and Mexico review the extradition framework. As a United States Senator, it is entirely within my jurisdiction to raise issues concerning international relations between the United States and other countries.
Regarding the broader issue of illegal immigration, we need to address it to enhance our homeland security and address the realities and problems of businesses and undocumented workers in the U.S.
11. Your wife owns a Dairy Queen in Westminster. Do you think you could get enough Republican votes in the Senate to ban Baskin Robbins?
Competition is good for a healthy business climate. That said, anybody who visits my wife's Dairy Queen will be impressed with its taste, cleanliness and great service - they won't go to any other ice cream shop after that. But I like Baskin Robbins too!
The following Q&A comes from a selection of questions submitted by Colorado Pols readers. Questions are organized by the reader's name.
1. Chris (Centennial, CO)
Hello Senator. Congrats on your win from a GOP'er. I'm curious as to your thoughts regarding energy policy (shale in NW Colorado, increased drilling, near-shore drilling and development). Is the currently stalled energy bill being held up because of ANWR, or is there something else to this? Is there any talk of incentives for new refineries or for new facilities to refine heavy sour crude?
Actually, the Energy bill hasn't been stalled in this Congress. It was reported out of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, of which I am a member, with a bipartisan 21-1 endorsement. Just a few weeks later, it moved to the Senate floor, where we worked through it very efficiently in a week. And on Tuesday of this week the Senate passed this energy bill, again with bipartisan support, by a vote of 85-12.
I was proud to have supported this bill both in Committee and in the full Senate because I think it makes strides toward gaining our energy independence and setting America free from overdependence on foreign imports of oil. The bill's cornerstones are renewable energy, conservation, technology and balanced development.
I would like to ask Senator Salazar what his take on the Downing Street Memo is.
I do not think it sheds new light on how the U.S. became involved in the Iraq war but is a disturbing reminder of all the information that had previously come to light as a result of the numerous commissions and investigative news stories that have analyzed how this war came about. There have been several memos leaked in Great Britain in the last several months. In some respects, the Downing Street memo is the least problematic of the lot. The most problematic, in my view, is the memo leaked just a few weeks ago that expressed alarm at the Bush Administration's lack of planning for post-Saddam Iraq.
3. Julio Trujillo
What do you think of the article in the Rocky Mountain News, that credited your electoral success to downplaying your hispanicity, and appealing to rural, white voter? Do you think that Latinos are as important in Colorado politics as a lot of people seem to be saying? And how important are rural voters in statewide election?
In every decision I make I consider what is best for all the people of Colorado. That is how I worked as Colorado's Attorney General and that is how I ran for U.S. Senate. However, I would hardly say I downplayed my Hispanic heritage - it is hard to do so with a last name of "Salazar" and my family background so publicly prominent. It is more accurate to say I consciously ran as a candidate for all Coloradans.
Latinos are very important to Colorado politics. But I do not think their issues are different from those of fellow Coloradans. At the end of the day Latinos want more affordable health care, access to good paying jobs, and better educational opportunities.
I am living proof of the importance of rural voters in statewide elections. I attribute my three statewide victories in six years in part to my attention to rural communities, issues, and voters.
4. Phoenix Rising
Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions, Senator.
a) You played a significant role in the compromise on judicial nominees; does the nomination of John Bolton for UN Ambassador change your thoughts about the confirmation process and the "advise and consent" interplay between the Senate and President? Will you be standing firm against his nomination until the President releases information requested by the committee?
My fundamental position is that a president's nominees deserve appropriate deference but that does not mean the Senate should be a rubber stamp. The President, any president, is not king. The Senate is a partner in the nomination process, as provided by the Constitution and we need to get the information requested to properly fulfill our role in the confirmation process.
b) You campaigned on your ability to reach across the aisle to get things done. Now that you're in the Senate, do you find it harder to find someone reaching back? Or is it easier than you thought, or pretty much as you expected? Any examples or thoughts on the art of openness and compromise from your short time in the Capitol?
The partisan atmosphere hangs heavy over Washington, much more than I expected. That does make it harder to bridge differences and work together but that just means you just have to work harder at it. I think the judicial nominations compromise and the Senate Energy bill are examples of how Congress should operate and I am proud to have been a leader in both efforts.
Senator Salazar - What is your position on CAFTA? More generally, do you believe that free trade is good for the U.S.?
I am currently studying the issue of CAFTA and how it will affect Colorado. This past Sunday I invited U.S. Commerce Secretary Gutierrez and members of Colorado's agriculture, business, labor and environmental communities to roundtable discussions about CAFTA.
The meetings were very informative, with people on both sides stating their concerns about trade issues. As I consider this legislation I will keep in mind what is best for Colorado. In general I support the principle of free trade because the world is too small to isolate ourselves.
Dear Senator Salazar: When asked about gay marriage, most elected Democrats say they support civil unions, but not gay marriage. Is this a "politically correct" response or is there some reason marriage should be reserved only for heterosexual couples?
I believe marriage should be between a man and a woman.
Sen. Salazar: When Michael Westbrook caught the tipped pass in the end zone at Ann Arbor, was your initial response: "WOO HOO" or "D'OH"?
Decidedly, "WOOHOO!" Michigan was a great place to go to law school. But as a fifth generation Colorado native, I will pull for a Colorado team any day of the week. Besides, that was a brilliant ending to an amazing upset - Westbrook up and over Ty Law is one of the greatest images in the history of college football.
You are the guest of honor at a dinner on Friday, June 24 that is being put on by Council Tree. These are the people that are proposing the Indian Casino east of Denver. Does this mean that you are supportive of the casino project?
The event you refer to was the 5th Annual Flor y Canto Festival hosted by Escuela Tlatelolco. People were honored for their work on human rights and social justice, in art, literature and culture, business and community development, education, and for their humanitarian efforts. I am not a supporter of the Denver casino project, I was not a supporter as a U.S. Senate candidate, and I will not support the project.
Do you agree with the comments Dick Durbin made about Gitmo?
I think Senator Durbin used the wrong examples in trying to make his point about what he felt was inappropriate activity at Guantanamo Bay. He apologized last week for his remarks on the Senate floor. It is unfortunate though that Mr. Rove has not apologized for his outrageous comments last week at a Republican fundraiser, nor has Senator Santorum apologized in the very public way Senator Durbin did for his recent remarks equating Senate Democrats with Adolph Hitler. This reiterates my earlier point that there is too much partisan rancor in Washington.
Sen. Salazar: Democrats have begun linking farm household finances to Social Security solvency. Also, numerous pro-Bush ag interest groups have come out against partial privatization. Since you represent an agriculture state, what is your take on this linkage, and how do you respond to criticism that not only is privatization the answer to Social Security solvency, but that Democrats have no ideas of their own?
Farmers are generally pretty much common-sense people. They know a snake oil sales pitch when they hear one. My response to criticism that privatization is the answer to Social Security solvency is: hogwash. Simple logic will tell you that if you take more money from the Social Security fund, you don't make it more solvent, you make it less solvent. It is the President who has pushed for privatization of Social Security. If he is serious about making Social Security solvent, it is incumbent upon him to offer up a legitimate proposal-Democrats do not control the Congress.
Sen. Salazar: Since I know I won't get an answer about whether you plan on running for Governor, how about this, when do you plan on making your intentions known? Does the fact that you were recently elected to the Senate factor into your decision making process?
I have made my intentions clear: I have no plans to run for Governor at this time.
12. Stars & Bars
Ken, Now that the U.S. Supreme Court threw out some of the mandatory sentencing provisions for federal cases, it appeared in [the] newspaper that some people think that this is leading to unnecessarily light sentences and giving more discretion to judges (God forbid). Would you support legislation to roll back the Court's decision?
We are currently examining the ruling to see what legislative response is appropriate.
Ken, during the campaign for the Senate last year I attended a press conference you held on the South Platte where you expressed support for legislation preserving the so-called "Clinton Roadless Rule" that would protect millions of acres of national forest land from road construction. Now that the Bush Administration has eliminated this protection, will you join other Senators in co-sponsoring legislation that would reinstate the rule as you promised? I speak as one who was very proud that you took a courageous stand on this issue with LCV and others who care about the environment.
Actually, what I said then, and continue to say is that I thought the Clinton roadless rule went too far, just as I feel President Bush's actions have gone too far the other way.
You made the support of rural America a theme of your first months in the Senate. One of your first bills was to provide incentives for broadband investments in rural America. As a farm boy and a technologist, I was pleased by both of those moves, but we haven't seen any follow-through. When can we expect to see some action?
I have been a strong advocate of rural Colorado and will continue to do so with my legislative initiatives.
Sen Salazar: Recently, Afghan and US forces have been fighting a series of battles with a resurgent Taliban, who often find sanctuary across the border in Pakistan. What kind of position do you take, or what initiatives do you propose, to once again make Afghanistan a national priority, and how can we go about finally kill or capture Bin Laden and Zawahii?
With 10,000 troops in that country, I believe that Afghanistan is a national priority. That said, I am continually concerned about the exploding drug trade and the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan. That is why I have been urging greater NATO ally troop deployments to Afghanistan as par of ISAF and to broaden the reach of ISAF beyond Kabul. My view of bin Laden is simple: when we have good intelligence on his whereabouts, we should use whatever means we have to get him.
Please join us in thanking Senator Ken Salazar for participating in the Q&A with Colorado Pols. For more information, visit http://salazar.senate.gov/.