Norton mum on plans after resigning as interior secretary |

Norton mum on plans after resigning as interior secretary

DENVER ” In her first visit home since announcing her resignation, Interior Secretary Gale Norton said Wednesday another Westerner should replace her as chief manager of the nation’s public lands and resources.

“I think it’s important to have somebody who really understands what a significant role the Interior Department can play in people’s lives here in the West,” she said.

Norton, a former Colorado attorney general, plans to step down at the end of the month after five years heading the department that oversees the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service and other agencies that manage millions of acres of public land.

She said she is leaving for personal reasons and denied her departure has anything to do with the ethics scandal surrounding lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty in January to federal charges related to congressional influence on peddling and defrauding Indian tribes of millions of dollars.

In e-mail exchanges made public after his plea, Abramoff mentioned having an inside track at the Interior Department, and his clients donated heavily to the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, which Norton co-founded.

Norton said she wanted to leave as early as possible in President Bush’s second term to allow her successor time to take over and continue programs. She said she might have left earlier if not for such tasks as restoring offshore energy production after the hurricanes that racked the Gulf Coast.

Norton said she has talked to Bush about potential successors, but declined to speculate about individual. White House officials have indicated they will look West for Norton’s replacement.

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