Sen. Michael Bennet
We supported Denver Public Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet when he was in the running to become President-elect Barack Obama’s secretary of education. Bennet has a track record on education reform and of standing up to the teacher’s union that we believe would make him a good choice for the Cabinet spot.
But Bennet’s credentials are far more limited when it comes to serving as Colorado’s next U.S. senator.
Even so, Gov. Bill Ritter officially named Bennet on Saturday to replace Ken Salazar in the Senate when Salazar moves on to become secretary of interior.
Ritter’s choice is a bit perplexing, not just to us but to a number of political observers. Bennet has never held elective office. He is not a statewide figure and, except for education, he has little record on the many important issues that face this state and this nation.
What are his thoughts on energy development on federal lands? On the auto-company bailouts? On various foreign problems? What does he think of Colorado rivers and streams that flow westward, not toward population centers on the Front Range?
Lack of political experience isn’t all bad. In fact, someone who hasn’t made winning elections his primary focus for years may have insights to offer that more typical political figures cannot.
Besides, Bennet is clearly a capable individual. In addition to his work with the Denver schools, he has a law degree from Yale. He served in the Justice Department during the Clinton administration. He also worked as managing director of Anschutz Investment Co. and served two years as chief of staff for Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper.
Still, Bennet is a political unkown compared to other candidates Ritter was reportedly contemplating, including Hickenlooper and the outgoing speaker of the Colorado House, Andrew Romanoff. Both have more political experience, and Romanoff, especially, is more familiar with the issues and concerns of the Western Slope, having worked with lawmakers from this side of the Continental Divide on a number of bills affecting Western Colorado.
However, by appointing someone with such a limited political background — and one who has never donated money to the governor’s campaigns — Ritter avoids any appearance that his appointment is tainted by Gov. Rod Blagojevich-style attempts to trade the Senate seat for personal gain.
Also, with his legal, business and education background, Bennet has a solid foundation for dealing with difficult political issues, even if he has not been elected to office himself..
We hope Bennet will serve Colorado well in the Senate. He will start strong if he demonstrates he is willing to listen to people from all parts of Colorado, not just the Front Range cities, and if he rejects the notion that his primary reason to be in Washington is to be an acolyte for Democratic leaders in the Senate.