Ken Salazar’s reported exit from the Department of Interior leaves open three key cabinet positions — Interior, Energy and EPA — with potentially-enormous power to impact the economy, regulatory climate and quality of life in Colorado. Who Obama chooses to fill those vacancies is thus something worth closely watching for at least two reasons.
The first, most obvious reason, is that we don’t want to see people appointed to those positions who bring with them an even more radical agenda than the people they’re replacing. That may be hard for some to imagine, given the reign of error that marked the tenures of Lisa Jackson (EPA), Steven Chu (Energy) and Colorado’s own Ken Salazar. But we’ve all heard the saying about the devil we know being better than the devil we don’t. And no one will be too surprised if this increasingly-extreme and ideological President — who never retreats, never apologizes, never compromises and consistently “doubles-down” on past policy blunders — seizes on his political momentum to push the envelope even further, by replacing the key three with individuals who actually make the incumbents seem centrist.
That will likely result in even more regulatory burdens and mandates heaped on Colorado by Washington. We’ll see even more energy jobs killed or preempted. We’ll see even greater access restrictions imposed on federal lands. Our federal tax dollars will continue to be blown on “green energy” schemes and “investments” that won’t work or don’t make sense. An ever-expanding federal government, with ever-growing regulatory power, will loom even larger, casting a long shadow over Colorado’s economy, freedoms and quality of life.
The second reason, maybe less obvious, is that the appointments also will tell us something revealing about the philosophies, attitudes and political independence of Colorado’s still-slightly mysterious senators, Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, who both have a say in approving the replacement players through their “advice and consent” powers. The Senate’s “advice and consent” prerogative also of course opens the door to advice and dissent, which can sometimes be an equally-important responsibility. Senators can and should object when a nominee isn’t deemed worthy of appointment, for any number of potential reasons, including the policy prescriptions that individual is likely to champion.
Each of these agencies wields enormous regulatory clout in Colorado. The state will benefit if reasonable and responsible centrists fill the top jobs; it will suffer if the President succeeds in plugging extremists, ideologues or well-connected incompetents into the slots. The two Coloradans in the best position to influence that outcome, for good or ill, are Udall and Bennet, neither of which has distinguished himself in terms of drawing a line in the sand against Washington’s regulatory excesses and abuses.
Will the two toe the party line, and pay total deference to the President, if Obama appoints someone to those positions who has ideas or attitudes that are contrary to Colorado’s best interests? Or will they have the political character and courage to buck an out-of-the-mainstream nominee, at the risk of upsetting the President or angering party colleagues? Colorado has been too fast to roll-over for whatever Washington dictates, in our opinion. We would like to see Udall and Bennet, along with Gov. John Hickenlooper, show a little more independence and chutzpah by challenging Washington mandates that damage our economy, kill our jobs, restrict access to our public lands and impose unreasonable regulatory burdens that dampen our business climate, as do the leaders of so many other Mountain West states. How Udall and Bennet react to Obama’s new appointees — whether they bring down the rubber stamp, push back, ask probing questions or actively resist a questionable appointment — will tell Coloradans almost as much about them as it will the White House’s second term regulatory agenda.