Nobody has ever mistaken Ken Salazar, the mild-mannered, 57-year-old Secretary of the Interior, for Mike Tyson. Except, perhaps, Salazar himself. Taken by surprise by a question about one of his agency's most troubled programs -- the scandal-plagued effort to rid the public lands of "excess" wild horses -- the flustered Salazar apparently threatened to clean the clock of Colorado Springs Gazette reporter Dave Philipps.
The exchange went down on election day, during a gathering of Obama supporters in Fountain. Philipps, who recently wrote a revealing piece for ProPublica about how the Bureau of Land Management has moved at least 1,700 wild horses to a Colorado livestock hauler who may have shipped them abroad to slaughterhouses, grabbed a couple of minutes with the Secretary for a quick interview.
Philipps asked Salazar about the pending investigation of the horse trader, Tom Davis -- who, as Philipps pointed out in his original article, lives "just down the road" from the Salazar family spread in the San Luis Valley. Salazar said he didn't know much about it. According to witness Ginger Kathrens, executive director of the wild horse advocacy group the Cloud Foundation, Salazar then unexpectedly turned back to Philipps and declared, "If you set me up like this again, I'll punch you out."
Philipps, a Pulitzer finalist and author of a meaty book about PTSD in the American military, didn't consider the encounter front-page news. But Kathrens, who has been a vocal critic of the BLM's efforts to drastically reduce the number of wild horses on public lands, fired off a press release bruiting "the Secretary's rude and clearly hostile comment toward Dave."
Kathrens says Salazar also brushed past her, refused to shake her hand and told her, "You know, you should never do that."
"I can't believe that a top official in Obama's cabinet could be so defensive," she says.
On the wild horse issue, Salazar may have plenty to be defensive about. Philipps's exposure of the BLM's inability to account for hundreds of horses that were supposedly "adopted" but have disappeared is only the latest in a series of revelations about brutal roundups, poorly managed holding facilities and soaring costs of the removal program, which many horse advocates believe is not justified.
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But Kathrens insists, "This isn't just about wild horses. America needs leaders in Washington, and the President needs cabinet members who respect citizens, respect the laws, value discussion and working toward mutual solutions. Ken Salazar displayed none of this" last week.
A spokesman for Salazar told the Denver Post that the Secretary "regrets the exchange."
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