Continuing his push to identify more historic sites important to the nation’s Hispanics, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar plans to tout a new report Wednesday identifying several sites tied to Latino heritage in Colorado and New Mexico that could one day become national parks or historic landmarks.
Notably, one of the sites happens to be in Salazar’s back yard.
The report, requested by Salazar, should help his personal goal of establishing more national parks and historic sites tied to minorities. The fact that the sites are in two swing states with burgeoning Hispanic populations means that the report also could be seen as an overture to the nation’s Latino voters, a bloc being aggressively wooed by President Obama’s reelection campaign.
The event also serves as a reminder that whether the White House will admit it or not, the travels and priorities of Cabinet secretaries this year could be used to overtly or covertly benefit Obama’s reelection.
Salazar, the Obama administration’s most senior Hispanic official and Colorado’s former senator and attorney general, plans to visit his home state to formally unveil the report, published late last month, that labels 3.26 million acres in Colorado’s San Luis Valley and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and northern New Mexico as areas that could one day become part of a national park or historic site.
Salazar is a native of the San Luis Valley and his family has farmed in the region for five generations, according to his official biography. The region includes “nationally significant American Latino heritage sites” and Colorado’s oldest town and church, according to the National Park Service.
In October, Salazar said the Park Service needed to identify more sites tied to minorities that could be added to the park system, noting that less than 3 percent of all national landmarks are designated for women, Latinos or African Americans. Last year, he ordered agency officials to identify sites nationwide that could eventually join the nation’s network of parks and historic sites, including California’s “Forty Acres” site used by labor activist Cesar Chavez in the 1960s to raise awareness about migrant farm workers.
“I think when you look at the way Americans most understand the history of Latinos in this country, a lot of it is being told now through the lens of what’s happening with the immigration debate,” Salazar said at an October meeting with reporters. “While that’s an important debate that has security and moral implications, in my view, there’s also a huge history of Latinos in the United States that’s never been told.”
Although the Park Service may not conduct formal studies of potential new historic sites or parks without congressional authorization, the agency said Salazar asked officials to conduct a “reconnaissance survey report” that compiled preliminary studies on resources and other relevant data. The findings may then be used by supportive lawmakers to make the final push to have a site added to the park system.
Salazar is scheduled to be joined at Wednesday’s meetings by Sens. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.). Aides to Bennet and Udall said they hope to continue exploring possible sites to be named as national parks. Aides to the Republican-led House Natural Resources Committee said they had not yet reviewed the new report, but welcomed any new park proposals introduced by lawmakers.
Again — Wednesday’s event is an official Interior Department event, but its potential political benefits cannot be ignored.
Obama won Colorado in 2008 thanks in large measure to Hispanic voters who overwhelmingly supported his campaign. Ditto in New Mexico, where 69 percent of Hispanic voters backed Obama and helped him carry the state by more than 14 points.
But his approval among Hispanic Democrats nationwide has slipped, according to a Pew Hispanic Center poll released last month. The president’s approval rating among Hispanic voters dipped to 54 percent in the survey, down from the previous year in part because of a 15-point drop among Hispanic Democrats. Despite the declines, Obama’s approval rating among Hispanics is higher than the 49 percent overall approval rating he earned in last month’s Washington Post-ABC News poll.
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