The movement in congress to ban the burning of the American flag took a Colorado twist yesterday with news that U.S Sen. Ken Salazar, a Democrat, plans to break ranks with his party and support the bill.
People on both sides of the issue said Salazar’s decision to co-sponsor the legislation could prove pivotal. That’s because they believe the amendment is just one or two votes short of the required two- thirds majority needed for passage, and only a handful of senators have declared positions crossing party lines.
Salazar is no stranger to controversy when it comes to party-line votes. He infamously broke ranks in his first month on the job when he supported Attorney General nominee Alberto Gonzales despite protests from Democrats that Gonzales had an unsavory past. That support was explainable in two ways: a) Salazar was showing that he would work with Republicans, which wasn’t a bad move because any opposition to Gonzales was going to be purely symbolic and wouldn’t affect the outcome of his confirmation, and b) Salazar was supporting a fellow Latino politician, which is something that he said was important to him.
Yesterday’s announcement that Salazar would support a bill banning flag desecration is much less explainable. For a former attorney general who is well-versed in the law and First Amendment issues, it is curious that Salazar would back an issue that would seem to be in violation of traditional no-brainer Democratic principles. Some Colorado politicians have other explanations: Congressman Bob Beauprez is just toeing the Republican line on this one, and in a primary for governor he can tell party folks that he stood up to those who think flag desecration should be allowed. Congressman John Salazar (Ken’s brother), who represents a more rural district, can explain his vote by perhaps saying that he was following the wishes of his constituents.
Yet for Ken Salazar, this support is a bit of a head-scratcher. To Democrats who already thought that Salazar was a “Democrat-light” he’s going to have a much tougher time explaining his support of the flag desecration issue than any of his previous bi-partisan stances.