Ken Salazar thanks Obama, praises Jewell at White House

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Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and President Barack Obama at the White House Wednesday.

DENVER — President Barack Obama thanked outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar at the White House on Wednesday as he introduced Sally Jewell, the REI CEO being nominated to take his place.

“When you’ve got Ken Salazar, you’ve got a real friend,” said Obama, who reminisced about his relationship with the former Colorado senator that goes back to 2004, when both were running for the U.S. Senate.

“Not only did I come to appreciate his jump shot — he is surprisingly quick on the court —  — but also his patriotism, and his belief that we’ve got a responsibility to care for the land with which we’ve been blessed,” Obama said.

“And it’s not surprising that Ken feels this way — after all, his ancestors were living here before the Mayflower set sail.  As he explains it — and relevant, as we are working to get immigration reform passed — his family did not cross the border, the border crossed them.  (Laughter.)  And that’s why, when I needed somebody to lead Interior, I didn’t have to look very far.”

Obama praised Salazar for opening new federal lands for oil and gas development and for leading the administration’s response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster off the Louisiana Gulf Coast, even though Salazar, at the time, was criticized by the media and some administration officials for his response to the spill.

Salazar also got the chance to speak at the White House and thanked Obama for making him part of his historic administration.

“I am humbled and honored beyond imagination to have been a part of the President Obama dream team for the United States of America,” Salazar said. “His presidency is historic, his team in the White House is historic, and the team at the Department of the Interior are historic. And for that, I will ever be eternally grateful to you, my wonderful friend, Mr. President.”

He also praised Jewell, an unconventional choice to be his successor, as a “stellar” pick.

“Sally Jewell knows firsthand the inextricable link between conservation and the economy,” Salazar said.

Jewell, with all due deference, thanked Salazar.

“I’m going to do my best to fill those big boots of yours,” she said. “But I think I might get lost in your hat.”

Salazar’s political future is unknown.

He’s believed to be interested in running for governor at some point, although Gov. John Hickenlooper is almost a shoe-in to be reelected next year, leaving no opening for Salazar unless Hickenlooper were to pursue higher office at some point before 2018.

Garcia still considered front-runner for Labor post

Meanwhile, Colorado Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia remains the front-runner to become Obama’s next Labor Secretary.

On Tuesday, Garcia told FOX31 that he has no plans to travel to Washington for any possible press conference at the White House and that he’s standing by “until the situation changes.”

Garcia is scheduled to be in Colorado Springs and Pueblo on Thursday.

While his potential nomination will focus on him being a Latino, FOX31 Denver has confirmed that the White House approached Garcia about the post last November, well before any cabinet picks had been named and, thus, before the small uproar about a lack of diversity among those picks.

Ritter unlikely to be tapped as Energy Secretary

And sources close to former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter tell FOX31 Denver that they think it’s unlikely that he’ll be chosen to take over for outgoing Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

Chu, who’s been expected to leave his cabinet post early into Obama’s second term, made an official announcement on Monday.

Ritter, whose name has been floated as a potential Energy Secretary nominee, now runs the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University in Fort Collins and may not be interested in moving his family to Washington.

A scathing new audit of his administration’s handling of energy projects, showing that the office couldn’t account for $252 million in state dollars, may make it increasingly unlikely that Ritter will be the pick to follow Chu at the Energy Department.