by Lisa Cyriacks

When introduced January 13 in Alamosa, Senate designee Michael Bennet told the standing-room-only crowd that he intended to carry forward Ken Salazar’s values and agenda. Bennet also informed those present that he intended to retain Senate aide Charlotte Bobicki and keep the San Luis Valley office open, a statement that was met with applause.
Bennet accompanied Governor Ritter on a multi-city tour that ended in Alamosa. In addition to introducing Bennet statewide to constituents, the tour gave Ritter the opportunity to present a brief rendition of his recent “State of the State” speech. Despite the necessity of prudently managing the budget (i.e. budget cuts) the governor’s goal is to craft a focused economic-development strategy that will help us protect what we’ve got and continue to pave the way for future growth.
In his introduction, Ritter referenced Bennet’s wide experience—he served in Clinton’s Justice Department and directed an investment company owned by noted conservative Philip Anschutz before giving it up to work for Mayor John Hickenlooper and then to serve as Superintendent of Schools and improve Denver’s urban schools—as a decisive factor in his selection of Bennet to fill Salazar’s seat.
“I think we’re in this very unique time in history,” Ritter said, suggesting it’s one that requires transformational leaders like Barack Obama. “In meeting with people and talking to applicants to replace Ken Salazar, I came away believing that Michael Bennet is such a person as well.”
“Serving as governor has only reinforced my belief that holding public office is indeed a sacred trust,” Ritter asserted, “a trust relationship not only with those who voted for us, but for all people. Elections determine who has the privilege to serve, and with this privilege comes the responsibility to honor this trust relationship, which dictates that we serve for all.”
Ritter’s selection was not without some controversy. There was criticism from Hispanics for not choosing another Hispanic (like former Denver Mayor Federico Peña) to replace San Luis Valley native-born Ken Salazar. Some Colorado Democrats expected the choice to be largely governed by who could best win what is now expected will be one of the most hard-fought Senate races in the country in 2010. Bennet has never been elected to public office and is relatively unknown in the Democratic Party.
Both Ritter and Bennet frequently referred to Democrat Ken Salazar’s legacy in the U.S. Senate and promised to follow through with Salazar’s policies on the environment, energy, war in Iraq and immigration reform. Bennet said he would be honored to finish Salazar’s term and plans to seek re-election when that term is ended.
Following Salazar’s nonpartisan style, Bennet remarked that the solutions to many problems are neither Democratic nor Republican, but instead require “pragmatic problem-solving.”
Questioned about his stand on the environment, Bennet said his views would be similar to Ken Salazar’s. He said his wife, Susan Daggett, has spent 15 years as an environmental lawyer working to protect land, water and air, so that also speaks to his stand on that issue. “I don’t expect to see much change between Ken and myself on this issue,” Bennet said.
In response to an audience question, Bennet also talked about bridging the gap between rich and poor and stated that education and adequate health care were the two main avenues to accomplish that objective.
Praising the contributions of the Salazar family to the state’s politics, Bennet stated that he would follow Ken Salazar’s stance on immigration, including supporting a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and educational assistance for their children.
Bennet recently spent three days with Senator Salazar in Washington D.C. He came away from that experience with the impression that Salazar was much admired among his colleagues. Many of Salazar’s colleagues talked about what a decent person he was, how much they liked working with him and what a difference he made in just four years in the U.S. Senate. Bennet added that President-Elect Barack Obama selecting Salazar to fill one of only 15 cabinet posts serves as evidence of that high regard.
Bennet assured the audience that when Ken Salazar supported his appointment it was done so with the implication that the San Luis Valley will not be forgotten. “Although we (Bennet and Salazar) come from different places and backgrounds, I believe we share the same set of values,” Bennet stated.