The Aaron Harber Show

The Bennet Appointment: Sometimes Out Of The Box Isn't Best
January 4, 2009
By Aaron Harber

Let's be honest --- everyone was surprised at Governor Bill Ritter's selection of Denver Public Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet to replace Ken Salazar as Colorado's next  U.S. Senator.  Many also marveled that Mark Udall, without having served a single day as a U.S. Senator, would become Colorado's "senior Senator" (actually, Bennet and Salazar will take office at the same time but Bennet won't complain about Udall's nomenclature).

Ritter's selection was based on "out-of-the-box" thinking but the higher profile contestants probably saw it as "out-of-this-world."  There is a reason why out-of-the-box thinking needs to be used selectively.  It is because you're out of the box!  There is no question Michael Bennet is a highly-qualified individual who will bring many talents to the U.S. Senate.  And there is no reason he could not be a great Senator.  Coloradans will find this out very quickly given the enormous challenges Bennet will face in a matter of days.

Ritter wisely lined up a series of great endorsements of his pick from many of the same people seeking the post.  In a show of solidarity, almost every prospect was a good loser and said something nice about Bennet.  There even was a campaign website available by Ritter's announcement to show the newly-selected Senator was off-and-running for his seat in the 2010 election --- just 22 months away.

But we also can imagine what many of the other candidates for the office really were thinking.  Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, the odds-on favorite to be selected, probably was stunned to see a former employee (Bennet was his Chief of Staff from 2003 to 2005) selected over him.  Hickenlooper, who brought unparalleled positive and bipartisan statewide name recognition and a reputation for getting infrastructure projects funded --- exactly what Ritter needs for the entire State --- had to wonder why he wasn't selected.

Colorado Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff just came off a hard --- albeit a losing --- fight for Amendment 59 --- in Ritter's own opinion an effort to save the State financially.  Romanoff championed the successful Referendum C effort and built a positive statewide reputation.  After now being rejected by Ritter for both Secretary of State and U.S. Senate, Romanoff has to question what he has to do to get a gubernatorial appointment.

Congressman Ed Perlmutter was a favorite of many to get the nod from Ritter, especially based on his federal expertise on infrastructure funding and the belief he would do well delivering desperately-needed dollars to the State --- resources Ritter needs to help avoid a collapse of the Colorado Economy.  He, too, has to be shaking his head.

Compared to Bennet, other candidates also brought far greater name recognition, more familiarity with the State, broader foreign affairs experience, their own private wealth, extensive Democratic connections, extraordinary campaign experience and expertise, and/or years of recognized public service to the table.  Most, if not all, of them had to be miffed by Ritter's decision.

One common theme existed with both Ritter's December appointments for U.S. Senate and Secretary of State --- no real selection criteria ever were publicly articulated.  For the Secretary of State's position, Ritter appointed a committee to recommend three names.  It was similar to how judicial nominations are handled but was ill-fitted for the task at hand.  If its purpose was to send three candidates to Ritter so he had two to select other than the most recent Democratic nominee for the office --- Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon (who lost the 2006 race by only two points and who carried extensive election legislation) --- it succeeded.  But no criteria were articulated by the committee.

In the case of the U.S. Senate selection, while there also were no real criteria articulated, at least Ritter didn't appoint another committee.  Hopefully Michael Bennet will surprise everyone and become a great Senator.  Personally, I am confident he can do just that.

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