Bush cabinet member in Craig

Interior Secretary Gale Norton stumps for president

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U.S. Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton stopped in Craig Sunday as part of a last-minute push to get Coloradans to the polls on Tuesday and to warn voters that a Kerry-Edwards administration could have repercussions for the West.

Norton, a former Colorado attorney general and the first woman to head the 154-year-old department, met with supporters at McDonald's before knocking on doors in Craig.

Although Moffat County is considered a GOP stronghold, Norton said her visit was to remind even staunch Republican supporters that their votes are important in what is expected to be a tightly contested presidential race.

"I'm here because Colorado had been close -- although it doesn't seem to be as close today. The president has forged ahead in the last few days."

Still, Norton said, Coloradans have much at stake in Tuesday's election, including how the state divvies up its Electoral College votes. One of the issues on this year's ballot is Amendment 36, which proposes splitting Colorado's nine electoral votes by percentage of the popular vote. If it passes, Kerry could come away with a few precious electoral votes even if he doesn't win the state's popular vote.

"This is purely my personal perspective, but it bothers me to think that Colorado could be in this race what Florida was in 2000," Norton said.

Although the Bush administration had come out with no official position on the amendment, Norton says she worries that if it passes, it will minimize Colorado's political relevance during future campaigns.

She also spoke of a little-publicized plan Sen. John Kerry has proposed to promote renewable energy development. Kerry wants to create a $20 billion trust fund from oil and gas royalties on federal lands, Norton said. The problem is that a large percentage of those royalties are allocated to the states where the royalties originate -- mostly in the Rocky Mountain region. Kerry's plan would divert money away from water and reclamation projects, she said.

"We certainly support renewable energy. This administration has issued 10 times as many permits for renewable energy on public lands as the previous administration," she said.

"But Sen. Kerry would be taking funds away from very important purposes in the West and putting into a national fund."

Norton also warned that Sens. Kerry and John Edwards' values aren't in line with residents of Northwest Colorado. Kerry never signed on to be a member of the Congressional Sportsman's Caucus and has an "F" rating from the NRA and a zero rating from the Gun Owners of America, she said.

Neither Kerry nor Edwards were in attendance for a vote on the Healthy Forests Restoration Act, which Norton said is important for Colorado.

"There are so many places where insects and drought have left hillsides ready to go up in smoke," she said.

"Rep. Scott McInnis has been very personally involved in this legislation, and it took a lot of work."

If Bush is re-elected, Norton said she would welcome the opportunity to serve another term as Interior secretary.

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