Friday, August 22, 2008

And Wearing a Cowboy Hat Never Hurts

Colorado's own Sen. Ken Salazar had an op-ed in Monday's L.A. Times -- an interesting choice of venues, given that there are plenty of Colorado papers in which it might run -- counseling his fellow Democrats on how they can win the West. And the senator, with all due modesty, offers himself up as the paradigm to follow.

One piece of advice he didn't offer up is the importance of wearing a cowboy hat, since it's worked as well for Salazar as the pony tail and Harley Davidson worked for former Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell. I can't recall Salazar wearing a cowboy hat when he was attorney general; then the part called for a suit and tie. Now he's never seen without the hat when he's back in the home state.

Maybe Salazar is sharing these trade secrets behind closed doors. If Barack Obama accepts the nomination in a cowboy hat, we'll have Salazar to thank.

Most of what the senator serves up is re-warmed press release, but he actually makes some interesting, if misdirected points about the strained relationship between the West and Washington. "In many Western communities, the frustration also comes from feeling like an afterthought in Washington's policies," he wrote. "The resentment toward the administration's consistent disregard for Western wisdom has reached a boiling point. From federal money grabs of state mineral revenues, to oil and gas development in valuable hunting and fishing areas, to false promises on oil shale, Washington has come to see the West as a means to an end."

Actually, Western frustration with Washington reached a boiling point years ago, with a little something called the sagebrush rebellion (which continues, albeit at a slow simmer, in some untamed corners of the mild, mild "new" West). And Salazar's attempt to pose as the sagebrush rebel is about as convincing as the cowboy hat, since his support for Western self-determination has been inconsistent and selective.

Salazar argues that Colorado should have had more say in the drilling plan for the Roan Plateau, for instance, and I, too, believe Western states should have much more control, and a true "partnership" with Washington, when it comes to federal land policies. But how much latitude Salazar would grant states on a host of other key issues, from the Endangered Species Act to the National Environmental Policy Act to the clean water and clean air acts, is negligible to nil, as far as I can tell. I've never heard Salazar argue that Colorado and other states should be able to tailor these regulatory regimes to meet their individual needs, or to opt out of them. On the contrary, he seems to embrace all of these onerous impositions from Washington, in letter and in spirit.

When President Bush tried to settle the seemingly-endless roadless areas controversy by allowing Colorado and other states to come up with their own plans -- a potential breakthrough moment in terms of forging a new Western partnership with Washington -- Salazar was quick to condemn this as a gimmick, preferring that Washington dictate terms on roadless areas.

On this issue, as on so many others, Salazar is all hat and no horse.

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