Colorado Senate pick continues to stump insiders |

Colorado Senate pick continues to stump insiders

AP Photo/Rocky Mountain News, Judy DeHaasU.S. Senator-designate Michael Bennet, left, D-Colo., talks to attendees of a community meeting with him and Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, right, at a museum in Loveland, Colo., Friday.

DENVER, Colorado ” Colorado’s governor asked the public to suggest candidates to fill a U.S. Senate seat, and thousands replied by e-mail.

However, it’s unclear whether Gov. Bill Ritter seriously considered many of them.

In hundreds of e-mails released by Ritter’s office, Coloradans proposed dozens of people to fill the job of Democratic Sen. Ken Salazar, who has been tapped to become U.S. interior secretary. Suggestions included state lawmakers, sitting and former U.S. House members, favorite relatives and a football star.

Not one of the e-mails made public through an open records request suggested the man chosen by Ritter, Denver Public Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet.

Ritter, a Democrat, announced Jan. 3 he would appoint Bennet, a millionaire lawyer-turned-educator who advised President-elect Barack Obama on education policy. Bennet and Ritter then took a seven-city tour of Colorado to introduce Bennet to voters.

Some Democratic party insiders are scratching their heads over Ritter’s pick to serve the remaining two years of Salazar’s term.

“We’ve been just totally caught off guard,” said Tonia Gurnea, chairwoman of the Montezuma County Democratic Party. In an e-mail to an address Ritter set up to field suggestions, Gurnea picked former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff.

“It was kind of discombobulating” when Ritter chose Bennet, who has not held elective office, Gurnea said. “We thought we had this line of people and we took the time to look at them and think about it, and then out of the blue came this guy.”

Ritter’s suggest-a-senator address received some 3,300 e-mails. Only about 10 percent of them were made public because of a state legal conclusion that the e-mails were job recommendations and therefore not subject to public review. Those made public came from folks who agreed to have them released.

Of that group, the largest number of people wanted Romanoff, followed by Colorado Springs Schools Superintendent Mike Miles, who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic Senate nomination in 2004. Others picked Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter of Denver’s western suburbs and Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper.

One person suggested former Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway. Another writer nominated her boss, explaining to the governor that her boss is a “master of diplomacy.” One man nominated his wife, talking up her household-budgeting skills.

“As a compassionate mother of two,” he went on, “she understands the needs of others.”

And at least a dozen people nominated themselves, adding resumes as if applying for the job. The self-nominees included an engineer, a construction worker and a man who trumpeted his prowess at “mountaineering and long-distance walking.”

As Coloradans learn more about the Yale-educated Bennet, party insiders say they’re ready to give him a shot. But some wonder why Ritter bothered asking what they thought.

“The governor came to us and said, ‘Give us your suggestions,’ and overwhelmingly it was for Romanoff. And then to pull Bennet out of nowhere, it was kind of a surprise,” said Joan Lucia-Treese, a former executive director of the state Democratic Party now living in Colorado Springs. She suggested Romanoff.

A spokesman for Bennet said he “is the first to admit his is not the conventional path to the U.S. Senate.”

Spokesman Matt Chandler said Bennet is prepared to do the work necessary to fill Salazar’s seat and win re-election in 2010. Chandler referred questions about the e-mail search to Ritter. A spokesman for the governor did not immediately return a call for comment.

Party members predict a bruising primary in 2010 if Bennet doesn’t soothe Democrats miffed that their suggestions were ignored.

“It seems to me the party elite ” the people that run the party ” don’t listen much to the grass-roots people,” said Henry Nordsiek of Glenwood Springs, an officer with the Garfield County Democratic Party. Nordsiek suggested Miles.

“I would hope that it’s a bold move and not just in the ozone layer somewhere,” Lucia-Treese said with a laugh. “I guess time will tell.”


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