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Colorado’s new U.S. senator eager to get to work on economy

M.E. Sprengelmeyer
Rocky Mountain News
Matt McClain/Rocky Mountain NewsFormer Denver Public Schools Superintendent, Michael Bennet works Thursday in the Hart Senate Office Building prior to his swearing in as senator in Washington, D.C.
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WASHINGTON ” Helping jump start the economy is a top priority for Michael Bennet, the former Denver schools chief who’s poised to take Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s old U.S. Senate seat later today.

Just hours before he was scheduled to take the oath of office and begin his first official day on the job on Capitol Hill, Bennet said Salazar gave him some to-the-point advice: “Do the right thing for the people of Colorado.”

Right now, that means joining the push for an economic stimulus package to turn around the country’s sagging economy. And Bennet told reporters he wants to make sure it helps struggling municipalities and brings jobs to farm country, too.

“The stimulus package is going to occupy most of our time in coming months. It’s critical that people in Colorado have their voices heard,” Bennet said.

Although Bennet’s eclectic resume includes experience in law, business, education and city government, he is hoping to get a seat on the Agriculture Committee because of its importance to the state.

“I’m going to travel the state and talk to people whose living, and whose family’s living, depends on our agricultural economy,” he said.

Bennet’s pick was a surprise to some observers, since he did not have the big name, statewide profile or long political resumes of some of the other candidates that Gov. Bill Ritter reportedly considered for the Senate seat.

But Bennet praised fellow members of the state’s congressional delegation for getting him up to speed on the issues and the inner workings of Capitol Hill.

“They’ve done an amazing job of getting me up the learning curve,” he said.

Sen. Mark Udall, who becomes Colorado’s “senior senator” in just his third week on the job, is confident that he and his new colleague would not suffer for their relative lack of seniority. That’s because personal relationships, focus and knowledge about procedural rules matter more in the U.S. Senate.

Udall said he and Bennet would complement one another based on their varied backgrounds, experiences and likely committee assignments. Udall serves on the Armed Services and Energy and Natural Resources committees. If Bennet gets other assignments, such as Agriculture, “I think we’re going to cover the entire state of Colorado very well,” Udall said.

Bennet’s installation caps a week that included President Barack Obama’s inauguration on Tuesday and Salazar’s first official day working at Interior Department headquarters on Wednesday.

“This has been an historic week. It has been an exciting week,” Udall said. “That trend continues today.”


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