Profile: Secretary of Interior Gale Norton

Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton has been asked by President Bush to stay on in her position for his second term in the White House.

While Gale Norton's nomination stirred controversy among environmentalists in 2001, since then the issues most synonymous with the Department of the Interior -- such as public land issues -- have taken a back seat to terrorism, the war in Iraq, and the economy.

Before joining Bush's Cabinet in 2001, Norton had a pro-development résumé when it came to public lands.

Norton's environmental résumé starts with a stint at the Mountain States Legal Foundation, a conservative think tank, from 1979 to 1983. She also spent time in the Reagan Interior Department. And she has headed the Coalition of Republican Environmental Advocates, a group that emphasizes free-market solutions over environmental regulations.

But Norton, who was Colorado's first female attorney general, is no doctrinaire right-winger. She won respect for working with Democrats on various issues during her two terms as attorney general, from 1991 to 1999; she led the fight for financial settlements from tobacco companies; and she supports abortion rights.

"I was absolutely, immensely impressed with her competence," said former Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm, a Democrat. But Lamm expressed worries about the pro-development stances of the Mountain States Legal Foundation.

Moderate Attorney General

Norton, 46, was known for taking moderate positions as attorney general, though her legal requirement to defend the state's positions dropped her in the middle of one of the hottest social issues in America. She led the defense of Amendment 2, an anti-gay ballot initiative that was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1996.

But people close to her told The Denver Post at the time that her personal politics seemed to support gay rights. And she's always kept her personal stances on the issue private.

After stepping down as attorney general because of term limits, Norton worked at Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber & Strickland, known in Denver as a predominantly Democratic law firm.

Norton was a popular attorney general, but never considered charismatic. Her 1996 U.S. Senate bid failed in the primaries.

Proponent of Arctic Drilling

When it comes to public lands, Norton has said she's proud of her efforts to clean up toxic waste sites in Colorado. But her past associations place her closer to pro-development interests. And in a speech she gave when Bush first nominated her in December 2000, she focused as much on using public lands as on preserving them.

"An entire one-third of our land is owned by the federal government. Together with the other departments that own that land, the Department of the Interior faces the challenge of seeing that our land is used in an environmentally responsible way," she said.

The Mountain States Legal Foundation is known in Colorado as a pro-development organization. CREA, which Norton headed, included opponents of the Endangered Species Act and other environmental legislation and was blasted by the Sierra Club.

Norton also said after her original nomination that she backed Bush's stated decision to open up parts of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.

"President-elect Bush took the position as part of his campaign that we should explore opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil and gas exploration. The belief is, there are huge amounts of oil available in that area," she said.

Norton is married to her second husband, John Hughes, and has no children.

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