Michael Bennet -- I'll Have to Win This on My Own

05/11/2010 04:32 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Christopher Scott Founding member, Denver Education Advocacy Network and recovering progressive

In an article that ran on Sunday, The New York Times postulated that the Democrats "dreams of expansion [in Colorado] have given way to hopes for survival." The article, "Democrats See Hopes for West Dim in Colorado", goes on to state the real concerns of voters are "the "persistent sluggish economy, the ninth highest foreclosure rate in the country, the rising federal deficit, and opposition to the new healthcare law."

All of those are a concern to every Coloradan I know, Democrat and Republican alike. However, I doubt that these will be the differentiating factor in this autumn's voting. As usual, the votes will be cast based on the perceived character of the candidates.

Inadvertently, Sunday's Times article did a good job of giving us some insight into the character of one Democratic candidate. On page 20, under pictures of Andrew Romanoff and Jane Norton, Michael Bennet started whining: "A fair reading of the facts are that I was appointed [to the U.S. Senate], the president endorsed me and 10 months later someone decided to run."

Another, more detailed, reading of how Bennet became our senator is more like this: Michael Bennet participated on Obama's Sunday afternoon strategy calls, became buddies with the future president, who made a call to Bill Ritter before appointing Ken Salazar as Secretary of the Interior to ensure Bennet would get the senate appointment as payment in kind for his services.

I do not have one lick of proof of any of this. It is speculation, a dramatization, if you will, but look at the circumstantial evidence.

  • Bennet did participate on Obama's strategy calls, significantly shaping Obama's education platform, but couldn't really be a credible education secretary. On paper, Bennet didn't have the qualifications.
  • Obama is a Chicago politician, and the one thing Chicago politicians know is cronyism. If Bennet helped Obama, Obama needed to be there for Bennet. In Illinois, they sell appointments to the U.S. Senate. Obama must have thought Coloradans were smarter than people in Illinois -- Bennet paid for his seat in the Senate in advance with a few one offs and some pithy advice.
  • Ritter hasn't had a backbone since becoming governor of Colorado. He's been pushed around by whoever is in power or at the helm of his ship at that moment. Does anyone really believe he came up with Bennet's name over Romanoff or Hickenlooper's on his own? Ritter is such a political novice he opened a phone line to take suggestions regarding his U.S. Senate appointment. Bennet's name never came up on the answering machine. At least Romanoff and Hickenlooper got mentioned by the people of Colorado -- a lot of them, apparently.

So when the time came, the phone call was made on Mr. Bennet's behalf. My entirely fictional interpretation of the conversation goes like this:

[Governor Ritter, picking up the phone.]
Obama: Governor Ritter, this is President Barack Obama.
Ritter: Gosh, Mr. President, congratulations on your victory. I'm glad the people of Colorado came through for you.
Obama: Thanks, Bill. Let me come to the point. I'm thinking of appointing Ken Salazar as the Secretary of the Interior, but I'm worried about how we will hold the Senate seat out there in Colorado.
Ritter: Well, Mr. President, our former speaker of the state house, Andrew Rom...
Obama: Let me interrupt you, Bill. I like Andrew, but he's not our man.
Ritter: How about Denver's mayor, John Hicken...
Obama: No, Bill, I like John a lot, too. I have great plans for him, but this is not his job. I have someone else in mind.
Ritter: Oh, Mr. President, I'm flattered you'd ask, but I couldn't possibly...
Obama: Not you, Bill. We'll talk about your future next January. I am thinking of Michael Bennet.
Ritter: Who?
[Camera pans to the citizens of Colorado, most of whom echo Ritter.]

I expect an Oscar for screenwriting at next year's academy awards.

So, off Mr. Bennet goes to the U.S. Senate, a position he tells people he has coveted since he was a young man. He leaves under the banner of fundraising capability and presidential top cover. He opportunistically moves into Ted Kennedy's seat on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. He finds a home on the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. These magical things happen to him all within his first year of being a Senator after an out-of-cycle appointment. How it happens is a mystery, isn't it?

When Bennet says in the New York Times on Sunday, "But like anybody else, I have to win this on my own," who is he kidding? Bennet hasn't had to do anything on his own during his senatorial soiree. Bennet has had the president and his White House staff holding his hand the whole way.

Nearly every roadblock to Mr. Bennet's "reelection" has been removed. Money has been thrown at him. He gets around D.C. like the native he is, moving in and out of power circles apparently at will, cavorting with Wall Street financiers, lunching with the political elite. Back in Colorado, everyone is told to line up behind him, saluting the proud new Senator and his vision for our state and country. The Colorado Democratic Party starts campaigning for him almost out of the box. Mr. Bennet only has one problem.

Andrew Romanoff.

Like Bennet, Mr. Romanoff has a pedigree to die for. His undergraduate is from Yale. His master's in public policy is from Harvard, and his J.D. is from the University of Denver.

Unlike Bennet, Romanoff has come up through politics the hard way: he's run for office and he's won. Romanoff served in Colorado's state house from 2000 to 2008 and from 2005 to 2008 was the Speaker of the House. Romanoff was seen as a possible candidate for governor in 2006 but decided not to run for that office. Before running for the State House of Representatives, Romanoff worked for Governor Roy Romer in the Office of Policy and Initiatives, analyzing state and national proposals for education reform.

In 2008, when Bennet was appointed Colorado's U.S. Senator, Romanoff was as beloved a politician as any in Colorado. Despite representing an urban district, Romanoff endeared himself to rural Colorado by taking the time to understand the needs of farmers and ranchers as well as business owners in small to medium sized towns. He connects well with a large segment of Colorado's population, Democrat and Republican.

Romanoff is so scary, the power brokers of the Democratic Party began thinking of ways to take him off the table for Bennet.

  • The Denver Post reports that Bill Ritter attempted to woo Romanoff with the position of Lt. Governor. The article, "Soured deal with Gov. Ritter forces Romanoff's hand, states that, after numerous meetings during which Romanoff says he was offered the job as Lt. Governor, "...Romanoff expected an announcement after the end of the legislative session in May." Instead, in June, Romanoff was told he was no longer being considered for the job.
  • By August, as Romanoff began to make serious noise about running against Bennet, the White House apparently came calling. The article D.C. job alleged as attempt to deter Romanoff reports that President Obama's deputy chief of staff, Jim Messina, suggested a place for Romanoff might be found in the administration and offered specific suggestions, one of which included a position at the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID. Romanoff demurred, and Obama endorsed Bennet the day after Romanoff announced he would run for the Senate. The White House denies allegations that it offered Romanoff a job, but the tactic seems part and partial for Rahm Emanuel, who orchestrated the same type of maneuvers to avoid primaries for Democrats prior to the 2006 midterm elections.
  • To rub Romanoff's nose in it, President Obama came to Denver in February to stump for Bennet. Making an appearance in front of about 2,500 people, Obama touted Bennet as a champion for the middle class and children, saying he expected Bennet to become one of the most outstanding senators of all time (see "Obama helps Bennet raise $675,000 at Denver fundraisers").

I voted for Obama. In fact, I gave him more money than I have ever given any candidate... by a long way. I volunteered for his campaign. I was a believer. In February 2010, the worm turned.

I was sickened by Obama's presence in Colorado supporting a man who has nothing to offer us but a carpetbag, his hat in hand. The sight of Obama stumping for a Republ-o-crat against a well-tested, well-respected Democrat was unbelievable. Michael Bennet votes against home owners, kids, consumers, the working class, and anyone else that might go against the Brotherhood of Big Business. I'm not exaggerating -- check Bennet's record: Project Smart Vote -- Michael Bennet (CO).

I have worked across the table from Michael Bennet. I have firsthand knowledge of his strategies and tactics. Michael is smart. Michael is hard working. Michael is a good schmoozer. Michael will tell a room full of parents one thing. Michael will walk out of that room and do the exact opposite 20 minutes later. Michael will do this over and over again. Count on it.

The New York Times article on Sunday is just another case of Michael Bennet sitting on stage acting a part. This role is called The Caring U.S. Democratic Senator Who is the Outsider to Politics. Ho hum... Woe is me, says Senator Michael "Eeyore" Bennet.

But nothing could be further from the truth. According to his biography,

  • Michael Bennet is from Washington D.C.
  • He attended St. Albans Preparatory School with other rich kids who wear blue blazers with ties and khakis to class.
  • His father ran USAID under President Jimmy Carter, served as President and CEO of National Public Radio (1983-1993), was Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs in the Clinton Administration (1993-1995), and was President of Wesleyan University (1995-2007).
  • His brother is editor of a little periodical called The Atlantic Monthly.

Bennet's biography even says, "His grandmother, Phoebe Bennet nee Benedict, is a direct-line descendant of Edward Fuller, who crossed the Atlantic Ocean from England to Plymouth Colony on the Mayflower in 1620."

Michael Bennet has never wanted for anything in his life. He has never had to do anything for himself. As a boy, eight gentlemen put boots made of soft Italian leather on his feet and said, "Sir, let us help you up by your boot straps, if you please."

Michael sees himself as American aristocracy, a direct descendant of Edward Fuller, whoever that is. (Even the contributors at Wikipedia don't seem to know. There is a posting for Fuller but it has no citations. It links one way, from the Michael Bennet page.)

It's a small thing, really, Michael Bennet's whining in The New York Times. If it were any other candidate, I would just shrug it off after a good laugh with the boys. The mythology of Michael Bennet, however, is built one brick at a time out of fable after fable and homespun fibs until you can't tell truth from fable from outright lie.

I have no idea if the Times was correct on Sunday. Maybe the Democrats will lose Colorado. Maybe Colorado will be lost because we are all worried about housing foreclosures and the federal deficit. I doubt it.

Among my Democrat friends, many of us will not vote for Michael Bennet, even if it means voting for Jane Norton. With Jane, at least we know what we're getting. It might not be all that bright or eco-friendly, but Jane comes from plain-spoken folk. I'll take plain-spoken over the shifty-eyed man with the Italian leather boots from D.C. any day of the week. Democrats and pollsters would be wise to remember this sentiment in August 2010.