Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Gale Norton (2001–2006): Secretary of the Interior

When President-elect George W. Bush nominated Gale Norton as secretary of the interior, he chose an able and controversial woman, experienced in both environmental issues and Republican politics.

Norton was born in 1954 in Wichita, Kansas, but was raised outside of Denver, Colorado. She graduated magna cum laude from the University of Denver in 1975 and then completed her legal studies at the school, with honors.

In 1978, Norton was hired by the Mountain States Legal Foundation, an organization that has advanced such conservative causes as anti-affirmative action measures, lower taxes on oil companies, and greater public and private use of federal lands. Norton also helped the Libertarian presidential candidacy of Edward Clark in 1980. She left Colorado in 1983, becoming a scholar at Stanford University's Hoover Institute. There, she advocated solving environmental problems by means other than regulation, which businesses often find stifling.

In the Reagan administration, Gale Norton served first in the Agriculture Department and then as associate solicitor at the Interior Department, where she continued to work to open protected lands to increased uses. Norton returned to private environmental practice in Colorado in 1987 and joined the conservative Independence Institute of Golden, Colorado.

President George H.W. Bush appointed her to the Western Water Policy Commission. Norton was elected attorney general of Colorado in 1991 and held that position until 1999. During this period, she also served as chairwoman of the Environment Committee for the National Association of Attorneys General.

In 1998, she founded the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy (CREA), an organization which advocates partnerships between business and environmental needs and seeks to improve the anti-environmental image of the Republican Party. Following the expiration of her term as attorney general, Gale Norton became a lobbyist for NL (formerly National Lead) and joined the Board of Directors of the Independence Institute as a trustee. Norton also chaired the Environment Committee for the Republican National Lawyers Association.

She served as secretary of the interior until 2006.