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Why did Obama forsake Grijalva?


Theories are flying fast and furiously over why U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva didn’t get President-elect Barack Obama’s nod to be secretary of the Interior.

Remember Grijalva? He’s the would-be nominee who was endorsed by virtually every environmental group and Indian tribe; by Latinos; by former Interior Secretary Stuart Udall and Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M.; by nonprofits representing blind people, wild horses, Yellowstone bison, etc. etc. ad nauseam.

Grijalva also is the public lands watchdog who in October published a 23-page report (“a partial list,” he deemed it), outlining the Bush administration’s assaults on our national parks, forests and public lands.

That document wasn’t a mere Bush-bashing exercise; it was a blueprint for how to remedy the havoc wrought and how to bring transparency, honesty, ethics and professionalism to the hideously corrupted Department of the Interior.

And Grijalva was the appropriate authority to weigh in on these important matters, as chairman of the important House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands.

So why didn’t Grijalva get the job for which he is so well suited?

• The Daily Kos and other blogs suggest it’s because he and Rahm Emanuel (Obama’s pick for White House chief of staff) didn’t get along on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Emanuel’s mission was fundraising and Grijalva wasn’t big on raising money for Dems. (Grijalva, of course, isn’t big on fundraising period – even for himself.)

• Powerful Californians and some top people in Congress, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, had been pushing for Rep. Mike Thompson, while environmental groups and Indian tribes had lined up behind Grijalva, putting Obama into a sure-lose no matter which he chose. So he made a whole new pick.

• U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., Obama’s pick for Interior secretary, is decidedly centrist. Or moderate. Or unpredictable, depending on whom you ask. He’s already attracting opposition for being, shall we say, less than environmentally correct.

A letter opposing his nomination was signed by 36 wildlife biologists and environmentalists, The Associated Press reports.

And the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity blasted Salazar for having endorsed Republican Gale Norton for Interior secretary under President Bush. (From an environmental perspective, Norton was pure poison.)

The appointment of Salazar fits Obama’s pattern of Cabinet selections, however. The president-elect has yet to include any real liberals, such as Grijalva, even though we real liberals gave him our full support.

These are all good theories. One also must note the anonymous (and largely baseless) list of allegations against Grijalva sent to me and many other media representatives around the country.

The worst accusation? The congressman got a DUI decades ago. The horror! The horror! (Of course, our president-elect admits he experimented with cocaine and other drugs, so the idea that a DUI would have put him off Grijalva seems dubious.)

In the end, I suspect the Rev. John Fife got it right early on.

The retired former pastor of Southside Presbyterian Church is as savvy a political observer as any in southern Arizona.

He kept saying powerful interests – including the gas, oil and mining industries – would do everything in their power to block Grijalva.

That makes the most sense of any theory. Our congressman clearly would not cut deals to sell out public lands. He would not back down – no matter how powerful his opponent.

That level of dedication and determination isn’t evident in the other would-be nominees – or in Salazar, for that matter.

Could Obama have caved to monied interests already? If so, I’d like my vote back, please.

Reach Billie Stanton at bstanton@tucsoncitizen.com or 573-4664.


Our congressman clearly would not cut deals to sell out public lands. He would not back down – no matter how powerful his opponent.

NAME: Ken Salazar. AGE: 53; BORN: March 2, 1955 in Alamosa, Colo.

EDUCATION: B.A., Colorado College, 1977; J.D., University of Michigan, 1981.

EXPERIENCE: U.S. Senate, January 2005-present; state attorney general, 1999-2004; private law practice, Parcel, Mauro & Spaanstra, 1994-98; executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, 1990-94; chief legal counsel to Gov. Roy Romer, 1987; private law practice, Sherman & Howard, 1981-86.

FAMILY: Wife, Hope; two daughters.

QUOTE: “I will do all I can to help reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil. I look forward to working directly with President-elect Obama, as an integral part of his team, as we take the moon-shot on energy independence.”

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