In the 1998 general election the Republicans won the Colorado Governor’s office for the first time in 24 years when Bill Owens won a narrow victory over Gail Schoettler. In the Attorney General’s race Ken Salazar was unopposed in the Democratic primary. Former Fourth Judicial District Attorney John Suthers won a four-way Republican primary. Salazar won the general election by a 49 percent – 47 percent margin with a Libertarian candidate winning four percent of the vote.
One of eight siblings, Kenneth Lee Salazar was born March 2, 1955 in the San Luis Valley in south central Colorado. His family had farmed and ranched in the area for five generations, since before Colorado became a state. Salazar graduated from Centauri High School in 1973 and from Colorado College, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science, in 1977. He earned a law degree from the University of Michigan in 1981. He then practiced law in Denver until 1986 when he became chief legal counsel to Governor Roy Romer. In 1990 Romer appointed him to his cabinet as Director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. In this capacity, Salazar co-authored a Colorado constitutional amendment creating Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), a highly successful land conservation effort. In 1994 Salazar returned to private practice specializing in water, environment and public lands law. In 1998 he left his law firm to run a full-time campaign for Attorney General.
Upon his election, Salazar’s management team included John Dailey as the Deputy for Consumer Protection and the Appellate Division and Christine Arguello, Deputy Attorney General for State Services who later served as Chief Deputy Attorney General and eventually federal judge for the U.S. District Court for Colorado. John Dailey would be appointed to the Colorado Court of Appeals, to be replaced by Jan Zavislan as Deputy Attorney General for Consumer Protection and Robert Russel as head of Criminal Appeals. Salazar’s creation of a separate section for state employment cases brought much greater expertise to the defense of cases brought by state employees. Previously such cases were handled by lawyers who did other work for the respective state agencies.
Soon after the election, Ken Salazar asked for the resignations of the more than 200 attorneys in the office. While he would accept the resignations of only a few, the process prompted considerable discussion and debate both inside and outside the office, and more than a few voluntary resignations.
In the area of criminal justice, Salazar pursued a number of initiatives. He set up a unit to assist District Attorneys in Colorado to pursue fugitives from the law who fled to Mexico. Under Article IV of the Mexican Criminal Code, fugitives could be prosecuted in Mexico for crimes committed in the United States, even if Mexico refused extradition. The new unit, headed by LuzMaria Shearer, became quite successful in coming years. Salazar also emphasized environmental crime prosecution and assisting District Attorneys in multi-district gang prosecutions.
As Chairman of the Colorado Police Officer Standards and Training (POST) Board, Attorney General Salazar helped get approval of a 25 cent fee on motor vehicle license registrations that would generate funds to improve police officer training throughout Colorado, particularly in rural areas.
In April of 1999, two troubled young men killed thirteen students and one teacher in a shooting rampage at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado before killing themselves. The incident focused the country on the issue of school safety and the Attorney General’s Office played an important role in the State’s school safety efforts by hosting conferences, helping to start an anonymous tip line, starting anti-bullying programs, and issuing a school safety and violence prevention manual.
The office continued to pursue environmental cleanup cases. A settlement was finally concluded in a water contamination case involving the Summitville Mine in southwest Colorado. A joint settlement was reached in which the federal and state government shared the $5 million settlement proceeds.
In the aftermath of the 2000 census, a dispute arose over redistricting of state legislative districts. When a divided legislature was unable to reach agreement on redistricting, a judge approved a redistricting plan. When the Republicans won both houses of the legislature in 2002, they attempted to redistrict again. Ken Salazar brought suit to block the second redistricting. Although it was highly unusual for an Attorney General to sue his own client, the Secretary of State, in Salazar v. Davidson, the Colorado Supreme Court not only ruled he could, but also upheld his contention that only one redistricting was legally permitted after each census. The federal courts subsequently affirmed the holding of the State Supreme Court.
The Attorney General’s Office continued to be asked several questions pertaining to term limits and in 2000 issued a formal opinion clarifying that term limits did in fact apply to the District Attorneys in the state. The office also expanded its outreach efforts to protect the elderly from consumer fraud, partnering with AARP in a program called “Elder Watch.” Under Salazar’s direction, the office also investigated sexual assault allegations against the University of Colorado football program and the Jon Benet Ramsey homicide, as well as numerous securities fraud, consumer protection matters.
Ken Salazar cruised to reelection in 2002 over Republican Marti Albright. In his second term Don Quick moved from Deputy for Criminal Justice to Chief Deputy Attorney General and was replaced by Michael Goodbee as head of the Criminal Justice Section. Salazar served as chairman of the Conference of Western Attorneys General and won the organization’s “Profiles in Courage Award” for his stance in the redistricting case.
In November 2003, the Colorado Attorney General began an investigation into allegations that two large Denver-based mutual fund companies, Janus Capital Management and INVESCO Funds Group, had permitted large individual and institutional investors to rapidly trade in and out of popular funds. This undisclosed “market timing” activity caused substantial dilution of fund values to the detriment of long-term investors. Working closely with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission, the Colorado Attorney General entered into settlement agreements with both mutual fund companies that dramatically restructured management policies and compliance at both companies and created settlement funds of $100 million (Janus) and $325 million (INVESCO) for injured shareholders.
In 2004, U.S. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, who had said he was running for reelection, abruptly change his mind and created a political frenzy to see who would replace him. After contentious primaries, Ken Salazar defeated Pete Coors in the general election with 51.3 percent of the vote.
Salazar served in the United States Senate from 2005 to 2009. As senator, he worked on such bipartisan efforts as creating an extensive energy legal framework, comprehensive immigration reform, the legislative effort to end the War in Iraq, and the beginning of healthcare reform that was enacted into law in 2010.
He was then appointed by President Barack Obama to serve as U.S. Secretary of the Interior from 2009 to 2013, being unanimously confirmed by the Senate. As Secretary, he helped lead the President’s “all of the above” energy strategy overseeing both traditional and renewable energy resource development, particularly on federal lands. He oversaw the government’s response to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill and overhaul of regulatory oversight of oil and gas exploration and production. His term also saw gains in conservation, including the creation of 10 national parks and 10 national wildlife refuges and the successful resolution of bilateral conservation efforts with Mexico and Canada.
Upon resignation from the cabinet position, he became a partner in the international law firm of Wilmer Hale where he remains today.