Colorado’s Rep. John Salazar reflects on a year in Congress | SummitDaily.com

Colorado’s Rep. John Salazar reflects on a year in Congress

Dennis Webb
Post Independent Staff

Almost a year into the job, U.S. Rep. John Salazar is well on his way to learning how to exercise the powers of a congressman.

He also has wasted no time capitalizing on the advantage of incumbency as he prepares for a re-election bid.

But lest life as a politician in Washington becomes too heady, Salazar needs only look to his feet to remind him of his roots.

“I wear my cowboy boots every day. I don’t want to forget what rural life is all about,” said Salazar, who also is a potato seed farmer and cattle rancher in the Manassa area of the San Luis Valley.

Another reminder of home is ever-present when Salazar is in the nation’s capital.

He shares an apartment with his younger brother, Ken, a fellow Democrat who also happens to be a U.S. senator from Colorado.

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And while the Salazars may have to spend the day following the rules of decorum on the House and Senate floors, at night they’re still brothers who enjoy playing practical jokes on each other and sometimes wrestle to see who gets to sleep in the bottom bunk.

Perhaps getting to share his experience in Congress with his brother is one reason John Salazar, in a telephone interview Friday, said he has “loved every minute” of his first year in Congress.

He likes the job enough that he plans to seek re-election next year, and is on pace to raise $1 million in campaign funds this year.

While fun, his first year on the job also has been stressful and has involved a learning curve, Salazar said.

“Once I learned how to get from my office to the Capitol building it was actually a lot easier for me to concentrate on the issues,” he said.

But he believes he’s already been able to make a difference in several areas of interest in his 3rd Congressional District, such as agriculture, veterans affairs, transportation and energy development.

Salazar’s district includes western Colorado.

He replaced longtime 3rd District representative Scott McInnis, a Republican and Glenwood Springs native who decided not to run again for office last year.

Salazar was in for some surprises as a new congressman.

One involved the high level of partisanship in Congress.

“That came as totally a shock to me, as to how this country is totally divided,” he said.

A moderate Democrat, Salazar said he doesn’t think most people think along party lines, and neither should government.

Though the Republicans control both the U.S. House and Senate, and President Bush is a Republican, Salazar has been able to achieve some goals and influence political decisions as a freshman member of the minority party.

One of his accomplishments could make a difference in Glenwood Springs.

As the only Coloradan on the House Transportation Commission, he helped to secure $5 million for the proposed south bridge project, which would extend Midland Avenue south to a new crossing of the Roaring Fork River, and on to Highway 82.

Salazar also worked with others in Colorado’s congressional delegation to obtain $1 million to speed up construction of down-valley portions of the trail along the railroad corridor in the Roaring Fork Valley.

Salazar also has been active on energy issues in western Colorado. He succeeded earlier this year in pressuring the Bureau of Land Management into delaying auctioning off of mineral leases after the surface owners and communities involved said they hadn’t received adequate notice.

Salazar also weighed in on the future of the Roan Plateau near Rifle.

He joined environmentalists in opposing drilling on the plateau top.

However, Salazar respects the growing consensus that has emerged in support of a state proposal that seeks to minimize drilling impacts on top of the Roan.

He said he will support any Roan management plan that is backed by the communities that will be affected by drilling.

Salazar has voiced concern about the possibility of rapid development of oil shale in northwest Colorado, and also is hopeful about new technology that Shell is trying to perfect to develop the resource with reduced environmental impacts.

A chief goal for Salazar next year is pushing for renewable energy as a means of achieving energy independence in the United States.

His focus on ethanol and biodiesel ties in with his ardent interest in promoting Colorado’s agricultural economy.

It also is one of the areas where the Salazar brothers have been able to work together to pursue issues of common interest.

“I think having both Salazars in Congress allows for a more effective voice for rural Colorado,” said Nayyera Haq, John Salazar’s spokesperson.

It sometimes means that debates in Congress work their way into the Salazars’ Washington apartment late at night.

Haq said John Salazar also has been able to alert his brother to legislation of importance that is originating in the House.

She said John Salazar was able to warn his brother of a recent mining reform proposal that critics said would easily allow federal land to be converted into private hands and developed.

Growing opposition to the proposal, including among Western senators such as Ken Salazar, eventually led to the proposal being put on hold.

Reflecting his moderate inclinations, however, John Salazar has backed proposed reforms to the Endangered Species Act, saying change is needed so the law protects private property rights and also effectively protects species.

Salazar said he also has supported the National Rifle Association’s efforts to protect gun owners’ rights under the Second Amendment. And he opposes increasing the federal deficit.

The only veteran in Colorado’s delegation, Salazar introduced legislation seeking to keep military honors from being fraudulently claimed, and pushed for adequate funding for veterans programs.

“We need to take care of those who take care of us,” he said.

He said he’s been a strong supporter of making sure U.S. troops in Iraq have the funding to complete their mission.

He also takes hope in last week’s elections in Iraq.

“I think there’s a strong sense that the sooner we can put the Iraqis in control of their own destiny the better off they are,” he said.

As much as he would like to see troops come home, he doesn’t favor setting a deadline for withdrawal.

“I don’t know that we can really set a date because we don’t know how this thing will work out,” he said.