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Michael Bennet: Colorado’s New US Senator: Just The Change Needed To Maintain The Status Quo

January 18, 2009

There has been much in the news here in Colorado about Governor Ritter’s choice to replace Ken Salazar in the US Senate, Michael Bennet. Salazar was chosen by Barack Obama to be the Secretary of Interior, leaving one of Colorado’s two Senate seats open. In such a situation, the state’s governor appoints someone to complete Salazar’s term.

Ritter’s Surprise

The appointment surprised many and apparently there was much behind-the-scenes maneuvering, lobbying Ritter from different interest groups supporting this or that candidate. Although I thought he never had much of a chance, I did respond to emails about Mike Miles – who ran for the Senate several years ago – and emailed Ritter to consider him. Miles is something of a hero for the state’s liberal Democrats – I certainly respect him – but does not seem to have a political sugar daddy or significant power base from which to work. He burst on the scene suddenly and then, after losing the Democratic nomination for the Senate to Ken Salazar, pretty much receded to the Colorado Springs area from whence he came. But `for one glorious moment’ he really got the different power circles within the Democratic Party rather nervous. In the end he turned out to be something of a useful political barometer for a number of aspiring politicans, Jared Polis among them, to weigh the chances of a reform Dem shaking up the party and actually challenging the old guard hierarchy. Oh yes, and the grassroots movement that supported his candidacy `Be The Change’ remained active for awhile afterwards, but now seems to have lost a good deal of its former `umphh’.

Getting back to Ritter’s present appointment of Bennet, there were, it seems, several others in contention, Andrew Romanoff , former Colorado speaker of the state house and Denver’s Mayor John Hickenlooper, among them. Romanoff – a little too anxious to be appointed to something – it seems anything – first made it clear he was interested in the state Secretary of State position – as was Ken Gordon. That position was vacated as the state’s Secretary of State, Mike Coffman who won a Republican US Congressional seat in Colorado’s Sixth District. And although popular enough to have been seriously considered for a position in Obama’s administration, it’s hard to consider Hickenlooper – whose political experience prior to his election was limited to owning a number of bars and restaurants, as someone who knows much – or anything – about foreign policy. It is arguable what he has done for the city of Denver that would not have happened without him.

Although generally liberal – and as they competed and scrambled to position themselves for `the call’ – Romanoff, Hickenlooper and Ken Gordon function within what I would call the Brownstein-Farber political orbit with close ties to Rabbi Stephen Foster of Temple Emmanuel. As a result they have some clout, backing, enough one would have thought, to help them in their quest for higher office. None succeeded this time round although they lobbied intensively to their political connections on both sides of the aisle. In Gordon’s case, this included Hank Brown, Colorado’s former Republican US Senator and for a short moment President of the University of Colorado. Brown — has never been too far away afield from his college cronies, Norm Brownstein and Steve Farber.

But it didn’t work. Hickenlooper and Gordon were passed over, their political influence and Denver base not able to exert enough to pressure Ritter to appoint them with Brownstein and Farber passing on the occasion as well. (or so it appeared)..

A Tear For Andrew….

A similiar fate befell Romanoff not once but twice.

Like Gordon, Romanoff has a genuine and hard earned base of support among the state’s liberal Dems, including a fair number of leftists I know within the party. I’ve never particularly `appreciated’ him that much – to the annoyance of some of my friends, but more on that later. In any case, having been jilted in his efforts to become Colorado’s Secretary of State, shortly thereafter Romanoff made a serious bid for the US Senate appointment. He did so through the party’s county chairs throughout the state with whom he is in close touch and who look upon him as something of a golden boy of Colorado liberalism which he is not. No matter. Romanoff was able to get these Dem county chairs – with very few exceptions – to launch a lobbying campaign in Romanoff’s behalf. The pummeled the governor with emails and telephone calls on Romanoff’s behalf but to no avail.

Romanoff’s supporters were among those who wrote letters to the editor in protest of the way Ritter pushed Romanoff aside. I have to admit that I was surprised that Romanoff did not get the nomination and while I admit that my thinking only amounts to speculation, I can’t help wondering if this was Ritter’s way of snubbing Brownstein and Farber. The latter – always one to play both sides of the aisle politically – supported his right-wing Republican friend, air-head and political retrograde extra ordinaire, Bob Beauprez in the contest against Ritter for the governorship (while Brownstein, as a friend pointed out, Brownstein did not). Snubbing Romanoff was probably a (very minor) jab at Farber and Brownstein.

That Brownstein and Farber did not put much political energy into pushing Romanoff’s candidacy might have been because they thought Romanoff a bit too hasty in climbing up the ladder, and that he like others before him (Mark Udall comes to mind) would simply have to wait his turn. Patience in climbing the political ladder is a hard lesson to learn it appears. That Andrew Romanoff is bright and generally liberal also is plain enough.

Romanoff Would Privatize PERA

On the other hand, he was – along with Gordon – something of a point man for AIPAC initiatives in the State Legislature and also was quite active, if not aggressive in the attempts – backed by the same financial interests that have brought us the current crisis – supporting any and all efforts to privatize PERA. When challenged (by local Arab Americans) for why he had helped push through a legislative statement supporting Israel’s war in Lebanon or another bill for PERA to divest with companies doing business with Iran, Romanoff admitted that he really didn’t now much about the Middle East.

For the moment Romanoff (and Gordon) will have to lick their wounds, regroup and perhaps try to understand why it was that the power interests that they so faithfully served let them down – or to put it more blunted – screwed them this time round.

Michael Bennet: Anschutz’s Waterboy

And instead, Michael Bennet got the nod and is now on his way to becoming Colorado’s junior US Senator. Much is made about Bennet – like Romanoff – of how bright he is, how he has made his way on his own. And while he is bright enough, the story is a little more nuanced.

It reminds me of the tales spun about Microsoft’s Bill Gates, how he was a self made man who started his multi-billion dollar company after quitting Harvard after tinkering around with computers in his garage. Gates did start in his garage but what is often left out is that it was a rather well stocked garage, his father worth several million dollars providing seed money for the project. Does that take away from Gate’s entrpreneurial talents, probably not, but he did have something of a head start.

So it is with Bennet whose father was the president of Wesleyan University in Connecticut. One of the nation’s best small schools, just a notch below the Ivy League colleges and by some estimates just as good academically, Wesleyan has long attracted the offspring of the country’s most politically and economically connected. Here Michael Bennet went to college, did well and with the help of his father, schmoozed with the sons and daughters of people far more powerful than himself. It paid off and fresh out of college he soon landed a job in Colorado with what is referred to as the Anschutz Foundation where he served as a `corporate turnaround expert’, investing in and then buying out weak companies – consolidating the remains by shutting down some and raising prices on what the others sell. The Anschutz Chronicles – how he made his money – will be developed later.

Bennet: Consolidating Movie Theaters For Fun and Profit…

A classic example of Bennet’s talents working for Anschutz was to help the billionaire – probably the richest and most powerful man in the state – to buy out movie chains. This he did by making loans to money strapped small movie theater groups until he was able to buy them out, consolidate the movie theater industry by closing many and raising the price of movie tickets on the remaining ones. There is nothing `brilliant’ about this. Frankly any asshole working for Anschutz and having access to his money could have done likewise suggesting that all this talk about Bennet’s brilliance is a bit overstated. Bennet basically took the same approach at DPS where he consolidated the more successful schools at the expense of others, mostly in poor and minority neighborhoods which he forced to close down, at the expense of the livelihood of the district’s teachers.

Add to this the fact that the man has no experience in national or international affairs, and despite his liberal trappings when it comes to public policy has been something of a neo-con and one has to wonder how it is that a number of progressives (in their on-line discussions) can look upon the Bennet appointment with favor going so far as to suggest insipidly that `It’s possible that when Mr Bennet is a Senator, he’ll have more power and influence to change the system’ as one `Zooey’ did on an on-line discussion group.(1) Please Zooey. What is it about this corporate waterboy that so impressed you?

Politically, actually, there is virtually no difference between Romanoff who didn’t get the position and Bennet who did. On the major issues of the day, they will follow Salazar’s lead – support for the war on terrorism, infintessimally slow progress on withdrawing the US from Iraq, continued belligence including supporting covert war against Iran and of course, towing AIPAC’s line on Israel-Palestine. Given his background as Anschutz’s waterboy, don’t expect him to take the lead on the financial bailout either. That said, I doubt Romanoff would have been much different.

If his public remarks are any indication, Bennet will straddle the line between his old ties with Anschutz and his need to make peace with Brownstein and Farber, who very likely provided the freshman senator with some of his talking points on his trip around the state so that Coloradoans can know him better. Bennet will, like Ken Salazar before him, straddle the middle between powerful Republicans like Anschutz and Hank Brown and fake liberals like Brownstein and Farber. Pueblo trade unionists correctly smelled a rat and gave the golden boy short shrift as a part of Bennet’s whirlwind tour through the state.

What is it all about? I’m not sure. But how it looks is that Ritter threw Anschutz a bone to strengthen the former’s financial base for his next run for the governorship. He gave the appearance of tweaking (no more) Brownstein and Farber, who will make the political adjustment rather smoothly as they always do and find other ways to stick their claws into Bennet. `Progressive’ Colorado Dems – those folks with generally good politics but basically spineless when it comes to standing up to the powers that be – got screwed again without much of a whimper. And all is well in the world as all the change that is necessary to maintain the status quo has taken place once again.

Endnote:

1. http://thinkprogress.org/2009/01/02/denver-schools-superintendent-michael-bennet-reported-to-be-salazars-replacement/#comment-5402818

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