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Interior Secretary Grijalva? Lawmaker cool to effort pushing him for Cabinet

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WASHINGTON – A coalition of 238 groups urged President Barack Obama on Monday to nominate Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, for the position of Interior Secretary should the job become open.

But a spokesman for Grijalva said the support was unsolicited and that the office had not met with any of the groups pushing the plan.

“We haven’t talked to any groups about it,” Adam Sarvana said, adding that Grijalva has not met with the president about a job that is still occupied.

“We haven’t been approached by the White House. The position isn’t even open,” Sarvana said.

But there have been “persistent rumors” that current Secretary Ken Salazar will step down soon, and the groups pushing for Grijalva wanted to get ahead of that, said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. His group is part of the coalition signed on to the letter.

“We all came together to ask Obama to put him at the top of the list for consideration,” Suckling said of Grijalva.

The Department of the Interior is responsible for managing the country’s natural resources and oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the National Park Service and seven other bureaus. Suckling said the coalition – which includes conservation and environmental groups as well as religious, Latino, women’s and other groups – believes Grijalva is best suited for the job.

“His entire career in politics has been marked by a devotion to conservation issues,” Suckling said.

Barry Rabe, a professor of public policy at the University of Michigan, called it interesting that a group has backed a successor so early, but not unusual for groups like these to band together in an effort to rally public support for a candidate.

“Environmental groups tend to coalesce around a candidate,” Rabe said. “It’s fairly early to do this, since there’s no official announcement that the position is available.”

Rabe said Grijalva was considered for the secretary’s job in 2009, but passed over for Salazar. But he said that, because of Grijalva’s strong voting record on environmental issues, he should not be discounted as a candidate this time around.

Suckling said that in addition to his history of pushing for policies that protect public lands, he is confident that Grijalva’s sense of duty would push him to accept the job if the “opportunity became real.”

“I expect that Congressman Grijalva will view it as a duty to take a job of that importance,” Suckling said.

But Sarvana noted that little has changed since 2009, when Grijalva was not offered the position. And he reiterated his statement that this is not a job the congressman is seeking.

“He is not considering a career change,” Sarvana said.