Rep. Manuel Lujan Jr., R-N.M., chosen to head the Interior Department, said Friday he repeatedly rejected offers to join the new administration but only agreed after President-elect George Bush bullied him to say "no" in person.
The 50-year-old Republican, who decided not to seek re-election, consistently spurned Bush's offer for several weeks, telling the president-elect he wanted to return to Albuquerque after 20 years on Capitol Hill. But Lujan said Bush was persistent, finally telling Lujan he would have to turn down the job in person."I was adamant," Lujan said in a brief interview at National Airport before flying to New Mexico. "I told everybody up and down the line that I didn't want to (stay in Washington). Basically, I wanted to go home. That's the reason I retired from Congress.
"But it's very difficult to tell a president `no' to his face. I probably could have done it over the telephone, if he had asked me over the telephone," he said.
Many environmental groups wish Lujan had proceeded with his original plans to retire from politics.
Brock Evans of the National Audubon Society said that when he heard of Bush's choice of Lujan, he had "the same sinking feeling in my heart" he had when highly controversial James Watt ran the Interior Department.
"The promise of the environmental presidency has already been cut in half, and it looks like four more years of hard battling for us," Evans said.
But Lujan, the second-ranking Republican on the House Interior Committee, said environmentalists should not fear his appointment, pointing out he was a major sponsor of clean air and water bills.
He also denied rumors he would dismantle the Bureau of Indian Affairs, adding, "I don't think that's in the vice president's - I mean president's - agenda."
But Lujan added, "I'm there to do whatever he says. I'm no longer an independent contractor like I was (in Congress.)"