State Democrats at impasse

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, center, is shown at the Mesa County Democratic Party Spring Fling dinner.

U.S. Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff meets Democrats during their regular meeting Friday at Main Street Bagels.

Gov. Bill Ritter started it when he passed over Andrew Romanoff last year for an appointment to the U.S. Senate and named Michael Bennet instead.

So, it seemed fitting that the Democratic governor was in Grand Junction on Friday, the same day the other two were in town.

All three played nice when they came to Grand Junction to attend the Mesa County Democratic Party’s annual Spring Fling dinner, even though Romanoff is challenging Bennet for the seat Ritter gave him.

The governor denied he helped create a split in the party when he picked Bennet, a relative unknown, to replace Ken Salazar after Salazar resigned in early 2009 to accept President Barack Obama’s appointment as secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Ritter said he did so, not because of any animosity for Romanoff, whom he called a friend and praised as an accomplished elected official, but because he was impressed thoroughly with Bennet’s credentials.

Political hit

“I would not say it was a misstep at all and not because I have a tin ear about these things,” Ritter said. “It’s because if you spend time with Michael Bennet, you understand he has a vision and a sense about transforming things in a way that aligned with my political philosophy.”

The governor said he knew he would take a political hit from his own party in making the appointment, but he chose to do it anyway. Ritter said he did so because Bennet made a better case for himself.

“There was a real difference between Andrew and Michael to articulate a vision for where they wanted to go,” he said. “In terms of the issues that this country faces ... Michael was head and shoulders above (Romanoff).”

Regardless, that decision has led to an in-party fight between Democrats who support the former speaker of the Colorado House and the former superintendent of Denver Public Schools, the job Bennet held before going to Washington.

During the caucus and county assemblies over the past month, Romanoff has garnered more support among the party faithful, earning as many as 60 percent of the delegates who will be attending the party’s May convention in Broomfield, where it will choose who will be on the primary ballot in August.

Referendum C backer

At one campaign stop Friday morning, Romanoff discussed his candidacy with Grand Junction residents in the back room of Main Street Bagels, where a mostly Democratic group meets weekly to discuss issues of the day.

Romanoff is known statewide not only for his work to repair crumbling schools and get Referendum C on the ballot in 2005, which he did with bipartisan support, but also for the key role he played over the past three general elections in getting Democrats elected to various offices.

Why then would he buck his own party, particularly when the state’s governor and U.S. president are openly supporting his opponent?

“Because I believe I would be better for the job,” Romanoff said. “I’m not getting support from the National Democratic Party, which has picked another candidate in this race. They’re running an incumbent-protection racket out of D.C. that circles the wagons and protects the people who are in office.”

Bennet, however, said he’s seeking the seat because he’s just getting started in pushing for the changes he thinks Congress should approve, not the least of which is congressional reform.

“We need a greater magnitude of change than we’re seeing,” he said. “I try to have the same conversations whether I’m in red parts of the state or blue parts, because I really do believe people have shared aspirations for their kids. I try not to contribute to the silliness on the floor of the Senate, which can be a really silly place.”


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