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Bennet-Romanoff – Wesleyan Vs. Yale – Colorado’s US Senate Non-Race Of The Decade

October 13, 2009


The Call That Never Came

The race for the Democratic Party nomination for the US Senate seat, to be decided in November 2010, is heating up. It pits Michael Bennet, the current US Senator, against Andrew Romanoff, the former speaker of the Colorado State House. Romanoff, hoping for and probably anticipating `the call’, was disappointed – if not shaken – when Colorado Governor Bill Ritter appointed Michael Bennet in his stead.

Well, as one friend poetically put it, the good news is `at least it’s not the usual contest between two low grade political hacks.’ Both are intelligent and I suppose what can be considered `moderately liberal’. The bad news? Just how far their talent goes remains to be seen and that their skills and credentials – need to be more carefully considered.

There has been much written about both, enough so that in both cases pretty clear pictures emerge. From my own perspective, despite the enthusiasm to the contrary, frankly, neither of them has the makings of US senator. True, Andrew Romanoff is popular with the state’s Democratic Party base – especially different district and county party chairs, movers and shakers. He has a genuine `fan base’ among young liberal Dems. One of my daughters even campaigned for him a few years ago. And he also was able to craft bi-partisan legislation and is generally considered to be liberal on most issues.

Way Down Deep, He’s Shallow….

Hate to say it, but my sense is that `way down deep he’s shallow’. Like Bennet, his knowledge of foreign policy appears poor to nil. One can expect he’ll be reading Democratic Leadership Council scripts on most issues. In the past he has made a bit of a fool of himself by passing on AIPAC-sponsored legislation (praising Israel’s war in Lebanon, leading the charge in the state legislature to get the state – meaning its retirement fund PERA – to divest from Iran’s energy sector). In the State House, he did not come through for the state’s labor movement hoping for legislation that would strengthen union organizing and regardless of what he now might say, led the charge for a special legislative session to undermine what little rights are left for undocumented foreign workers. Very few Blacks or Chicanos support his campaign with much enthusiasm, at least that is the word from an informal sampling.

One senses that Romanoff is trying what might be called `The Mike Miles Road To Political Office’ – trying to woe and mobilize the grass roots against the party’s more `established’ (meaning monied) interests. He is having a certain success in this respect. The problem with Romanoff’s cultivated underdog image is that it is not especially true, or at best is somewhat overstated – that he too has never strayed to far from the Brownstein-Farber political faction. In the end, he is about as much of a political operative (sorry Andrew – but that is how it appears) as is Bennet. And while Romanoff might craft his campaign with Miles’ style, he lacks `his soul’ – Miles’ far more principled and progressive politics. Miles openly opposed the US invasion and occupation of Iraq and was openly critical of Israel’s occupation of the 1967 territories. It will be a cold day in hell before Romanoff comes even close to Miles’ politics.

Beneath His Surface, There’s Just More Surface, And Beneath That, Nothing More…

Likewise Bennet, although with a different history. Despite the fact that he has come out a half notch left of center on the current health care debate, Bennet’s record is, when closely examined, not that interesting either. He tries to project the image of another self-made type, the story is a little more nuanced.

Bennet’s most endearing quality is he comes from and understands power. Bennet comes from a Connecticut family with strong connections to power, connections he has used well to both become quite rich and to climb the ranks politically. Like Denver’s Mayor John Hickenlooper, (for whom Bennet worked) he attended Wesleyan University in Connecticut, where it turns out, his father, Douglas Bennet was president. Douglas Bennet was closely connected with some of the most powerful names in US postwar politics – Hubert Humphrey, Chester Bowles, former US Ambassador to India, Abraham Ribicoff, Michael’s brother, James Bennet, is editor of The Atlantic magazine and a former Jerusalem bureau chief for The New York Times.

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 with Philip Anschutz – probably the richest and politically powerful man in Colorado. Bennet worked for Anschutz 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. A somewhat irreverent friend of mine, commenting on Bennet’s job said, `in the end it did not take an brilliance to do this; any one could have had the same results playing with all Anschutz’s money’. In the process, Bennet himself became quite wealthy.

He continued in this somewhat dubious tradition as Superintendent of Schools for Denver, a position for which he was completely unqualified. As with Anschutz, at DPS, his main talent seemed to be applying his business model to public education resulting in the shutting down of a number of the city’s public schools. His other `contribution’ to Denver education is getting teachers to accept a merit pay plan, which in the name of market competition, pits teachers against each other for raises. While the business community praised the program and for some unknown reason the Denver NEA chapter got on board, in the end both shutting schools and the merit pay program were simply examples of applying inapplicable business models to education.

Why Bennet should have been praised for helping to undermine public education in Denver I still do not understand. None of above gives any hint of the kind of background that might contribute to becoming a US Senator, unless in Washington he works on cutting out Pentagon fat by closing US military bases abroad the way he closed Manuel High School…which is highly doubtful.


Tweedle De and Tweedle Dum

Politically, there is not much difference between the candidates who will – unless there are great surprises – follow in the political footsteps of Ken Salazar, the former US Senator, tapped as Secretary of the Interior by Barack Obama. Either one will be a hair left of center on domestic questions, but hardly progressive pioneers; on foreign policy – the Middle East wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and the full court press against Iran – expect little. On Israel-Palestine expect nothing. Indeed, nothing would even be progress.

So this is a classic `personality’ contest in which the issues hardly matter because they candidates are so similar both in their lack of experience in foreign affairs and the fact that each one appears to be an `operative’ from a powerful political circle, in Romanoff’s case the `left wing’ of Brownstein-Farber’s stable, in Bennet’s case the connection with Anschutz and powerful national Democratic Party operatives cannot be overlooked.

There is something else going on though a bit more vulgar but common enough: the speed with which Barack Obama came out to endorse Michael Bennet’s candidacy was stunning. Less than 24 hours after Bennet’s formal announcement, Obama let it be known that he favored the Wesleyan graduate over his Yale competitor. The endorsement generated a fair number of protest letters to the editor in the Denver Post from Colorado Obama supporters, although one has to wonder if these were not generated by Romanoff’s campaign.

More than likely there is some political pay-back at work here.

Romanoff Supported Hillary; Bennet Supports Obama Who Supports Bennet

The story goes back to two elections – the latest gubernatorial race in Colorado and the 2008 Democratic Party presidential nomination contest.

In the gubernatorial race, `consigliere’ Steve Farber supported their old friend, Republican Bob Beauprez against Bill Ritter whom they essentially snubbed. But Ritter won. Ritter returned the favor by appointing Bennet – rather than someone closer to Farber and Brownstein – to the US Senate. Romanoff was the obvious fall man here. Nor, despite his talents in the state legislature, did Romanoff land any post in the Obama Administration after coming out publicly during the primary races for Hillary Clinton. Not that Obama could entirely deny Brownstein and Farber. The president’s appointment of Ken Salazar as Secretary of the Interior, a close Brownstein-Farber associate suggests that while a bit weakened, the two Denver power brokers retain considerable influence, even on a national level.

The key, nay – decisive – role that Steve Farber had in bringing the Democratic Party Convention to Denver should be recalled. Brownstein-Farber and a fair share of the state’s Democratic Party machine, including people like Wellington Webb, Diana De Gette and others, got on Hillary Clinton’s bandwagon early on, many of them expecting the now-Secretary of State to win. Her supporters would reap the political harvest..

First You Make A Plan For Life And Then Life Makes A Plan For You

The Denver Convention was set up to be Hillary’s crowning victory, one that would have probably propelled a fair number of her Denver supporters to Washington – including possibly Brownstein and/or Farber. Instead, they reaped nothing having jumped on the losing political horse (so to speak). But then, as my mother used to say…`First you make a plan for life and then life makes a plan for you’

Obama’s stunning victory `from below’ shook the Democratic Party apparatus nationwide including in Colorado where, the party’s base is far more radical – and principled – than those who fund it and wield influence from above. Hillary lost, Obama won and the plans of mice, men, Hillary, Bill, Steve and Norm were shaken. Romanoff supported Hillary. Obama remembers and came out in Bennet’s corner. This was not only a case of pay-back but an attempt on Obama’s part to reshape the national Democratic Party structure with `people in his corner’ , in an attempt to break down the more established power relations, which were largely shaped by the Clintons.

Finally, I would hope, regardless of which of these two politicos friends support that they get something in return – a promise to oppose the troop build up in Afghanistan, support for single payer healthcare, strengthening labor’s right to organize and not just be stampeded into endorsing one or the other.

Where Is Kinsey?

As for myself, I am withholding support for either and am waiting to see if and whom the Green Party will put up – if they put up anyone, for the US Senate contest. Their last candidate, Bob Kinsey, would make a better Senator than either Bennet or Romanoff, knew the issues far better and is not tied to power brokers.


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