On Thursday evening, newly appointed Sen. Michael Bennet is doing what most freshmen members do: making connections with influential figures at a reception in his home state. But the crowd that will surround Colorado Democrat at the Coors Clubhouse at Coors Field has left some labor officials a bit disconcerted.
Only days after speaking out skeptically on the labor community's highest legislative priority, the Employee Free Choice Act, Bennett will be attending a "CEO Reception" hosted by the EFCA foes: the Colorado Association of Commerce & Industry.
"The reception," the invitation reads," will include an opportunity to visit with Senator Bennet as well as an opportunity to meet with other Colorado Business Leaders. A gourmet spread will be prepared by Executive Chef Rik Kiessling. A premium bar and specially selected wines will be served."
Bennet's aides say that the event is not a fundraiser, just one of many guest appearances and meetings that he is hosting in his home state. "He met with AFL-CIO Executive Committee this morning," said aide Craig Hughes. "He is very much talking to both sides of the aisle about a wide variety issues including health care and how to create jobs."
Nevertheless, Thursday's reception represents one of those tricky political maneuvers that often trip up freshmen members, especially those from swing states. Bennet is still relatively fresh on the scene, having moved into Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's seat from the post of superintendent of Denver Public Schools. Colorado, meanwhile, has only recently trended Democratic, with an organized labor force that is growing but relatively small. In short: Bennet needs to make the type of institutional connections that can secure his political fate but must do so without disappointing the constituencies that traditionally vote Democratic.
This past week, he disappointed labor leaders by declaring that the Employee Free Choice Act, "right now" isn't "something that can be passed."
That he would dine with the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry a few days later gives fodder to the cynics. But the Senator's office insist that he is not closing any doors when it comes to labor's legislative priority.
"Michael continues to keep an open mind on the Employee Free Choice Act," said Hughes. "He is meeting with both sides to discuss not only EFCA but to get real health care reform passed this year, and how to get Colorado economy moving to create jobs."