Washington, DC—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following statement today in honor of Sen. Ken Salazar, President-elect Obama’s Interior Secretary-nominee. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
“I rise to pay tribute to my friend the senior Senator from the State of Colorado. I spoke yesterday to similarly honor Senator Biden, who will become Vice President of the United States next Tuesday, and Senator Clinton, who after her confirmation will become Secretary of State. The accomplishments of these two great Americans are well known.
“The accomplishments and life of Senator Ken Salazar are less known but no less remarkable. Kenneth Lee Salazar is a fifth generation Coloradan and a twelfth generation American. The Salazar family settled in New Mexico 400 years ago and moved to Colorado’s San Luis Valley in the middle of the 19th Century, claiming some of the region’s first water rights.
“Ken Salazar grew up farming and ranching the same Colorado land his ancestors have for hundreds of years. And this is real rural American land – some 300 miles from Denver, the ranch didn’t have electricity until 1982, no telephone, no television.
“Senator Salazar and his seven brothers and sisters were born to two American patriots. His mother, Emma, worked in the War Department in World War II, while his father, Henry, was a staff sergeant. Although Emma and Henry were not educated people, their love of education was so strong that all eight Salazar children graduated from college.
“Ken Salazar farmed for more than 30 years; he and his wife, Hope, owned small businesses in Colorado, including a Dairy Queen and several local radio stations. Later, Ken practiced water and environmental law to protect the health of Coloradans and the beauty of his state. And anyone who has ever been to Colorado knows that it is one of our countries great natural treasures.
“You can tell a lot about a person by his or her family. The Salazars are a great American family. When Ken decided to run for Colorado State Attorney General, his father Henry was right there by his side. Henry not only told Ken that he had to visit all 64 counties in Colorado – he got in the pickup truck and traveled the state with his son. And Senator Salazar didn’t take that trip just once. He has visited every county in his state nearly every single year since then.
“Henry Salazar was not alive long enough to see his son Ken elected to the United States Senate in 2004, but I can say with certainty that as proud as he was of his son already, his pride would overflow for the United States Senator Ken he has become for his state and our country. His mother Emma, now 87, is surely just as proud that her son will now serve our country as a cabinet secretary.
“Senator Salazar’s election in 2004 was one of the few bright spots for Democrats in a year that saw us defeated in the presidential election and many close Congressional contests. Expectations were high for the new Senator from Colorado, and Ken Salazar met and easily exceeded them.
“He has been a champion for a new defense and foreign policy that keeps us safe, restores our authority in the world and honors the courageous service of our men and women in uniform. He has helped lead the fight for affordable health care and to broaden the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. He serves on the Senate Finance, Energy and Agriculture Committees. And, of course, he has been a leading national advocate for clean, renewable energy and for protecting our environment and natural resources for generations of Coloradans and Americans to come.
“He will bring this remarkable experience and wisdom as he leaves the United States Senate and, upon confirmation, begins a new adventure as President Obama’s Secretary of Interior.
“I can’t help but feel that Senator Salazar’s time in the United States Senate was a little short. But I know that his service to our nation will be in no way diminished – indeed, it will be greatly enhanced – in his new role. Senator Salazar has a keen understanding of the environmental concerns and needs of Western states like Colorado and Nevada. He will be a great advocate for the people of both of our states.
“He is best known as a problem-solver – on tough issues like the ‘nuclear option’ or the situation with Senator Lieberman. He is a peacemaker, bound not by labels but only by his own integrity. Much of that integrity and moral grounding comes from his faith, which I have heard him discuss in Senate prayer breakfasts and elsewhere. And I have seen tears in his eyes as he talks about the beautiful mountains that surround his ranch back home.
“Ken tells the story of how those mountains were named by a young priest long ago who lay in bed, delirious, death close at hand. The priest awoke early one morning to see the sun coming up through the mountains and named them the Sangre de Cristo – the Blood of Christ Mountains.
“Senator Salazar, your abiding faith, your moral grounding and your life-long love of our country’s natural treasures will serve you well in the years to come. Your colleagues are proud of your accomplishments, grateful for your service, and excited for the problems you will solve and progress you will make for all Americans.”