Ken Salazar’s decision to step down as Interior Secretary, announced this morning, comes as President Obama faces criticism for a lack of women in his senior cabinet nominees.
Salazar, a Colorado rancher, had forged strong working relationships with western Republicans like Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and Rep. Mike Simpson, chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies.
"I have always appreciated the collaborative approach that Ken takes to problem solving," Simpson said in a statement. "We need more problem solvers in government, and I am going to miss working with him in his capacity as Secretary.”
Salazar got a lukewarm response from environmental groups because of his willingness to compromise on hot-button issues like wolf delisting. But they liked his leadership on issues like oil and gas leasing near national parks and renewable energy.
The woman best positioned to replace him would be former Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire, who just left office. She is best known in environmental circles for her support of renewable energy and for climate change in state policies.
On the controversial dam and salmon issue, she largely stayed on the sidelines, a common position for Washington Democrats.
Another woman who was talked about four years ago for the Interior post was Sally Jewell, president and CEO of REI. The Seattle-based executive, trained as an engineer, has deftly led the company that has revenue of $1.8 billion-a-year and has been an outspoken leader in the outdoor industry in environmental efforts.
Both women pass one of the major litmus tests for the job of the nation’s landlord for 500 million acres of land, with 70,000 employees and a $20 billion budget: They come from the West. And there are many former governors, senators and congressmen among western Democrats who would love the job.
But the man most talked about for the job is John Berry, Obama’s director of the White House Office of Personnel Management. He used to be director of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and previously worked at Interior, the Treasury Department, the National Zoo and the Smithsonian.
He also is openly gay, which addresses another diversity issue. But Berry is from Maryland and has no history in the West, which certainly would make him a target among some western Republicans and even some Democrats.
He has received high marks for his management skills in all of his jobs, but would face questions from environmental groups for his willingness to work closely with motorized recreation groups while at Interior and with corporations at the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.