Hispanic caucus wants John Salazar in ag job | AspenTimes.com

Hispanic caucus wants John Salazar in ag job

Colleen Slevin
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
**FILE**This is a file photograph taken on Nov. 20, 2004, of U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., front, and his brother, U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, on their family ranch east of Manassa, Colo., after both were elected to their respective federal posts. John Salazar is under consideration for the post of U.S. Secretary of Agriculture with the incoming Obama administration. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, file)

DENVER ” The Congressional Hispanic Caucus is lobbying for the selection of Colorado’s Rep. John Salazar to be the next agriculture secretary.

Rep. Joe Baca, D-Calif., chairman of the 21-member group, said Thursday that the caucus sent a letter to Barack Obama’s transition team backing Salazar last week. He said he’s also urged members to follow up by calling members of the team, including former Denver mayor Federico Pena, to make their pitch for Salazar.

Pena’s spokesman said he doesn’t comment on the names of any possible nominees.

Salazar, the brother of Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., has represented western and southern Colorado in Congress since 2004. The potato farmer and rancher from Manassa in the San Luis Valley won re-election to a third term last month.

Salazar issued a statement Wednesday saying he was humbled that he may be under consideration for the cabinet job, but he didn’t elaborate. He was working on his farm Thursday and didn’t return a telephone call seeking further comment.

Baca, who serves with Salazar on the House Agriculture Committee, said Salazar helped pass this year’s farm bill over President Bush’s veto.

“His determination and work ethic are just there,” he said.

Baca said he doesn’t think a Hispanic has ever served in the position.

Salazar is among just a handful of farmers serving in Congress, and both the Colorado Farm Bureau and the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union said they would welcome a chance to work with someone with firsthand knowledge of agriculture.

Rocky Mountain Farmers Union President Kent Peppler favors Salazar “by a nose” over the president of the National Farmers Union, Tom Buis, for the job.

“He acts like a guy that would talk to you on the street, rather than a congressman,” said Peppler, a farmer in Mead. “There’s no ego about him.”

Besides working on farm policy, the agriculture secretary also oversees the U.S. Forest Service and animal welfare programs.

Steve Smith, assistant director of the regional office of The Wilderness Society, said the group doesn’t comment on possible cabinet nominees but said it has enjoyed working with Salazar on forest and wilderness issues in Congress.

If Salazar is picked for the cabinet job and accepts it, Gov. Bill Ritter would have to call a special election within about three months of his departure. That would give Republicans a chance to win back the seat.

“We know who’s there now and know that he does that job, and to stir that up is an unknown that can be worrisome,” Smith said.

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