By Ellen Miller
COLORADO STATESMAN WEST SLOPE CORRESPONDENT
GRAND JUNCTION — Senate-designee Michael Bennet impressed Western Slope residents by “being smart and being open” during his stops in the region, towed along by Gov. Bill Ritter, as he prepared to take his seat in the U.S. Senate when Ken Salazar is confirmed as Interior secretary.
Bennet started out telling a standing-room-only crowd of about 200 at Mesa State College that when Ritter first interviewed him, “I told him, ‘If you don’t pick me for the job, nobody will complain.’”
With the first laughs out of the way, the 44-year-old Bennet talked about his wife and three daughters and about a job track that led to his position as superintendent of the Denver Public Schools.
Then he focused on the problems facing the country, saying, “We are in danger of being the first generation to leave behind less opportunity for our kids and grandchildren.”
He called for bipartisanship.
“It’s a mistake if we think there’s a Democratic answer and a Republican answer,” Bennet said. “The American public doesn’t have time for us to horse around with orthodoxies that belong deep in the 20th century. We’re not going to solve 21st-century problems with 20th-century ideas.”
As he did during an earlier stop in Steamboat Springs, Bennet said he has asked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., for a seat on the Agriculture Committee, which oversees the U.S. Forest Service, among other
He offered no specific opinions on the natural resource issues people on the Western Slope hold dear, saying only that he wants to “strike a balance between competing interests and legitimate interests” and that “you’re not going to satisfy 100 percent of the people all the time.” He said a balance could found “close to where Ken Salazar is.”
Concerning water rights, Bennet noted that the Western Slope “has strongly held views” and that it will find him to be a partner.
“All I would ask you for is this. Please give me the same chance you’d want people in Denver to give someone from here,” he said, to strong applause.
At an earlier meeting with Club 20, the Western Slope’s promotional and lobbying organization, Bennet introduced himself to about 35 people.
Club 20 President Reeves Brown said he left a good impression.
“For a lot of people in rural Colorado, we’ve gone from two senators from Walden (where former Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., has a small ranch) and the San Luis Valley (where the Salazar family farm is) to two senators from Denver and Boulder,” Brown said. “So the question is, does the new senator know where rural Colorado is?
“With Michael Bennet, the answer is ‘Yes.’ He did a great job introducing himself, he’s approachable, and he’s genuine,” Brown said. “Hopefully, he’ll use us as a resource.”
Mac Cunningham, a registered Republican and land developer in Mesa County who serves on the state board of Trout Unlimited, said after Bennet’s Mesa State appearance that he was “impressed with him as very, very smart and a very good listener.
“He has Salazar’s team behind him, and they’re on top of things,” Cunningham said.
Susie Alvillar of Grand Junction, who works in the oil and gas industry, said it was a “very good idea’’ for Bennet to come to western Colorado and that she hopes “it’s the first of many (visits) to come. I hope he gets to know us and to know our industry.”
But not everyone was favorably impressed.
“He’s certainly a nice enough guy, but obviously he doesn’t know much about things like federal reserved water rights,” said Kathy Hall, a past Club 20 chairman, former Mesa County commissioner and current oil and gas industry representative.
“His wife is on the Denver Water Board.”