The resurrection of Tom Strickland

The knock on Tom Strickland, during his two unsuccessful runs for the Senate, was that he was a (shudder) "lobbyist-lawyer." Not as appealing, it turned out, as folksy horse-vet Wayne Allard, whose basic charm seemed to be an almost complete absence of anything that might be described as a fresh idea.

Yet  Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has named Strickland as his chief of staff -- a move that suggests the new Secretary is quite possibly serious about "cleaning up the mess" in his department, which he declared was job one during last week's confirmation hearing. (See my previous coverage of the event, "Salazar hearing a lovefest among chums.")

True, Strickland has the kind of client list that might raise eyebrows in all kinds of government jobs -- but not this one. Unlike so many of the appointees of former DOI chief Gale Norton, his clients aren't going to be hitting him up for special treatment on oil leases and the like. What he does bring to the job is a background (like Salazar) in the creation of Great Outdoors Colorado and (like Salazar) some needed prosecutorial experience. As a former United States Attorney, Strickland may be just the guy to delve into the ethical swamp the DOI has become during the long, long years of the Bush administration. For links to our previous stories on assorted grafts and scandals, see "Senator Salazar's day of reckoning."

At his confirmation, Salazar quoted a devastating appraisal from DOI Inspector General Earl Devaney: "Simply stated, short of a crime, anything goes at the highest levels of the Department of the Interior. Ethics failures on the part of senior department officials have been routinely dismissed with a promise not to do it again."

Devaney was being a bit kind, actually; some former DOI officials have actually been convicted of crimes in recent months. Putting a prosecutor in charge of the ethics watch makes a lot of sense.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast

Latest Stories