Obama Picks Vilsack, Salazar For Cabinet

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Barack Obama is on a pre-holiday roll to fill his Cabinet, with two more nominations in former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack for agriculture secretary and Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar to lead the Interior Department.

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Obama was appearing with his latest picks Wednesday, his third news conference in as many days to announce Cabinet appointments. Transition officials said more announcements were likely this week, before Obama planned to head to Hawaii for Christmas vacation with his family.

Democratic officials familiar with the selection process discussed Obama’s plans with The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because a formal announcement had not yet been made.

Vilsack will be the fourth former opponent of Obama in the campaign for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination to join his administration. Others include Vice President-elect Joe Biden, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has been tapped for secretary of state, and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, selected to head the Commerce Department.

Vilsack announced his presidential candidacy in late 2006, positioning himself as a Washington outsider with heartland appeal, but he dropped out before the primaries because he had trouble raising money. He endorsed Clinton and campaigned actively for her in the long primary campaign against Obama. After Obama defeated Clinton, Vilsack endorsed him.

First elected governor in 1998, Vilsack, 58, carved out a reputation as a political centrist. He balanced Iowa’s budget and resisted raising taxes, but was willing to spend on such priorities as education and health. He argued that pushing alternative energy sources was key to bolstering rural sections of the nation that are struggling economically and with vanishing populations.

Salazar will head a department that oversees oil and gas drilling on public lands and manages the nation’s parks and wildlife refuges. Salazar is expected to try to balance the protection of natural resources while tapping the nation’s energy potential — an approach Obama has said he wants.

Salazar co-sponsored a bill in Congress to create a new land conservation system under the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management for permanently protecting 26 million acres of national monuments, wilderness areas and wild and scenic rivers. The legislation died during the lame-duck session of Congress after the November election.

The Colorado senator opposed drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and objected to the Bush administration‘s efforts to lease Western lands for oil shale development. It will be up to the Obama administration whether to go ahead with leasing.

If Salazar is confirmed as interior secretary, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, a Democrat, will name a replacement to serve out the final two years of Salazar’s term. Before being elected to the Senate in 2004, Salazar was Colorado’s attorney general. He also headed the state’s Natural Resources Department from 1990-1994.

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