Colorado’s new U.S. senator makes West Slope debut |

Colorado’s new U.S. senator makes West Slope debut

Marija B. Vader
Grand Junction, CO Colorado
Grand Junction Free Press/Marija B. VaderIn line to assume the seat of outgoing U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, Michael Bennet, right, meets Fruita Mayor Ken Henry, left, and Palisade Town Administrator Tim Sarmo, center, Monday in Grand Junction.

GRAND JUNCTION, Colorado ” After Michael Bennet addressed a group of Western Slope businesspersons Monday afternoon, one asked him how the country will handle the national debt.

“If we don’t get these deficits under control, our kids and grandkids will have to deal with them,” said the man, a retired banker.

“I hear you. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done,” answered Bennet, chosen by Gov. Bill Ritter to assume the post of U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, who’s leaving to become U.S. Interior Secretary.

Eight years ago, “we had no deficit, and the debt was actually being paid down,” Bennet said. “In eight short years, that’s all turned around. It’s going to take us a long way to dig out.”

Bennet, 44, and Ritter met with leaders of Club 20, a lobbying group on Colorado’s Western Slope, and elected officials. They also met with people at Mesa State College.

When he considered applicants for the job, Ritter liked Bennet’s intellect, temperament, bipartisan approach to problem-solving, and more.

Bennet, whose past includes working as an attorney, a businessman, and the superintendent of Denver’s schools, will mesh best with President-elect Barack Obama, Ritter said.

Obama is a “different kind of leader, a transformational leader,” said Ritter, who traveled extensively with the president-elect during the campaign. “You’re going to see a change in the way this country tackles issues.”

Bennet is the best match, Ritter said.

“I really do believe he’ll have a distinguished career in the U.S. Senate, not only because of the thinker he is and the reformist he has been,” Ritter said. “He really has a different way of thinking.”

Bennet stressed finding bipartisan solutions.

“I don’t think we have time to figure out what the Republican answer is, or what the Democratic answer is,” to the country’s economic crisis, he said.

Great ideas come from both sides, he said.

Regarding Iraq, Bennet supports a phased withdrawal, after consulting with military and political leaders, while honoring the military, “so we don’t create more harm on the way out.”

Fruita Mayor Ken Henry talked about the new sewer being built there, and his disdain for unfunded federal mandates.

On the Colorado Transportation Commission, Doug Aden asked Bennet to “please don’t require a state match” on highway projects on the federal stimulus package “because we don’t have any,” matching funds.

Rocky Mountain Health Plan Chief Operations Officer Steve ErkenBrack suggested Bennet keep Salazar’s staff because they are well-versed in rural health care issues. He said he hopes they will stay.

Support Local Journalism