John Salazar won one of the very few House races where a seat flipped from the Republicans to the Democrats last year, so you can expect they will really be gunning for him in 2006. That's why it is such a good idea for Salazar to be advocating that former state Rep. Matt Smith of Grand Junction, one of his strongest possible challengers, get hired as the top water lawyer in Bush's Interior Department:
In urging Interior Secretary Gale Norton to name Matt Smith, a water attorney and former state representative, Salazar said Smith "has the technical expertise, government experience and community respect that are essential to addressing the water concerns of rural communities."
. . .
Two years ago, Smith and Salazar teamed up to lead the fight against Referendum A, a water-bonding proposal backed by Gov. Bill Owens and Walcher, then the director of the state Department of Natural Resources.
Yes, and the GOP was arrogant enough to think that they could run Referendum A supporter Greg Walcher, who was loyal to the Front Range leaders of the party instead of to the Western Slopers who wanted to fight off what they viewed as a water grab, and still win the tossup 3rd CD on pure party loyalty.
Smith, whose water views are very close to Salazar's, would take the water issue off the table if he were to be the GOP challenger in 2006 -- assuming he could get the nomination. The problem for the Republicans is that water has turned into a true wedge issue, dividing the rural and Front Range constituencies, while on the Democratic side there isn't much to argue about between rural Dems who are against big water projects designed to help the Front Range grow, and Front Range environmentalists who would prefer conservation over more big projects.
With Smith safely in Washington, Salazar can continue to build on the 3rd Congressional District Water Caucus he has founded -- an excellent way to cement the association between John Salazar and protection of Western Slope water interests. And if he can slip in a little anti-Social Security privatization rhetoric into the water meetings, as he did in Durango recently, so much the better.