Saturday, January 3, 2009

Bennet Appointed to U.S. Senate

Surprising many observers, Gov. Bill Ritter today appointed Denver Public Schools superintendent Michael Farrand Bennet to the U.S. Senate.

Bennet, 44, was not among those generally considered the front-runners for the slot, which will open if Sen. Ken Salazar is confirmed, as expected, as secretary of the interior in President-elect Barack Obama's cabinet.

"Uncertain times call for certain leadership, and that’s why Michael Bennet is the right choice to represent all Coloradans in the Senate," Ritter said.

Ritter had been expected to name Denver mayor John Hickenlooper, house speaker Andrew Romanoff, or U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter to replace Salazar through the end of his current term, which would end in early January 2011.

Bennet's tenure at DPS has been widely considered to be successful, but it has not been without controversy. He has fought with the Denver Classroom Teachers Association over merit pay, encountered resistance to decisions to close under-performing schools and wrestled with ongoing low levels of student achievement and faculty attrition.

His achievements while serving the state's largest public school district include winning voter approval and implementing DPS’ ProComp program, the nationally recognized teacher pay-for-performance system; helping to improve graduation rates, enrollment and access to early childhood education opportunities; and playing a vital role in ending a several-years long period of annual multimillion-dollar budget cuts.

Bennet worked with billionaire businessman Phil Anchutz and as chief of staff for Hickenlooper before coming to DPS.

Before coming to Denver in 1997 Bennet worked in the Clinton Administration's Department of Justice and as a law clerk for a federal appellate judge. He earned his law degree from Yale University in 1993 and holds a B.A. in history from Wesleyan University. Bennet is married to another lawyer, Susan Daggett, who specializes in environmental law and used to be employed at the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund (now known as Earthjustice). The couple have three children.

Bennet indicated a willingness to attempt bipartisan solutions to the nation's problems when he arrives in Washington, D.C. at the news conference announcing his appointment this afternoon.

"I have learned from Mayor Hickenlooper that there is no challenge without a solution and no problem too tough to withstand innovative thinking," Bennet said. "My experiences, not only in public service but also in business, have taught me that when people come together, put aside partisan differences, and focus on pragmatic problem-solving, we can accomplish great things.”

Republicans greeted the appointment with a mixture of surprise and some optimism that Bennet could be beaten in 2010 should he choose to run for a full term.

State GOP chair Dick Wadhams told the Associated Press Friday that he thinks Bennet's selection is "perplexing."

“There are some admirable things Bennet did with Denver Public Schools, but he’ll be judged by what he does in the Senate. There are major issues coming up this year, and he’ll have to vote on tax increases and bailouts. Those votes will define Michael Bennet,” Wadhams said.

Democrats, at least publicly, welcomed Ritter's choice, starting with the President-elect.

"Michael Bennet perfectly reflects the qualities of the ruggedly independent state he has been chosen to serve," Obama said. "An innovator in the public and private sectors, he has shown himself willing to challenge old thinking and stale policies. His breakthrough work at the helm of Denver's schools has reflected that commitment, and established Michael as one of the nation's leading education reformers. He will be a breath of fresh air in Washington.”

Speaker-designate Terrance Carroll of Denver pointed to Bennet's history of being bold both in his public and private sector work in lauding the appointment.

“Families across the state are facing tough times, and it will take a proven leader to stand up on their behalf in Washington, D.C.," Carroll said. "Michael has unique experiences, an innovative approach to problem-solving, and the skills to bring people together to find real solutions.”

Some reports, however, indicate that a goodly portion of the state's Democrats might not be pleased with Ritter's decision.

The story in today's Rocky quoted former Denver city council member Susan Barnes-Gelt as saying that the choice of Bennet is "yet another example of Bill Ritter making a strange choice that reflects nothing but the fact that he has not been listening to an overwhelming number of Coloradans."

Here is a link to a recent New Yorker article focusing on Bennet's tenure at DPS. Here is a link to Bennet's official biography.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Kopp to Call for Elimination of Tax on Workers Compensation Premiums

The senate's minority caucus chair says he has found a way to give the state's businesses $300 million in tax relief by repealing an "obsolete" assessment against workers compensation insurance premiums.

Sen. Mike Kopp, R-Littleton, said he thinks remaining beneficiaries after that fund is depleted could be covered from the state's general fund and that, in any event, the fund presents too much of a temptation for legislators interested in avoiding budget cuts in the general fund.

"Shutting it down not only would remove another burden from the businesses that create our jobs, but it also would keep the state's budget process a little more honest," Kopp said.

The programs that have funded by the tax on workers compensation premiums no longer accept new beneficiaries, according to Kopp.

There is about $250 million in the state fund created by the assessment, Kopp said.

Denver Dailies Say Bennet's the One

Both Denver newspapers are reporting today that Gov. Bill Ritter has selected Denver Public Schools superintendent Michael Bennet as the state's next U.S. senator.

Bennet, who has been in charge of DPS for 3 1/2 years, used to work as chief of staff to Denver mayor John Hickenlooper and as a senior attorney in the Clinton administration's Justice Department.

If true, the choice of Bennet obviously means that senate president Peter Groff will not be going anywhere.

Ritter Appoints Jefferson County Judge

Gov. Bill Ritter has appointed an Edgewater city court judge to the Jefferson County bench, according to a press release issued today.

Tammy K. Green of Littleton, a former prosecutor and sole practitioner, will serve a provisional two-year term before standing for retention in the 2010 election. Green earned her law degree from the University of Illinois in 1988. Her B.A. was awarded from the University of Tulsa in 1985.

Greene has been the presiding judge for Edgewater since January 2008. She also has been providing relief judge services to the cities of Aurora, Lakewood, Wheat Ridge, Westminster, Thornton, and Boulder since January 2003.

County court judges are paid $123,067 per year.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Ethics Committee to Look Into Allegations Against Balmer

A bipartisan committee of House members will investigate allegations that assistant minority leader David Balmer, R-Centennial, attempted to improperly influence colleagues' votes in the race to replace Rep. Mike May, R-Parker, as minority leader.

The committee, which was announced by speaker Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver, today, includes five veteran legislators.

Members of the ethics committee, which will consider a complaint filed against Balmer on Dec. 16, include Reps. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, Joel Judd, D-Denver, Claire Levy, D-Boulder, Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, and Ken Summers, R-Lakewood.

The complaint against Balmer, which was filed by May, alleges that Balmer attempted to coordinate a campaign contribution by a professional association in exchange for a vote in his favor in the GOP caucus meeting. It also alleges that Balmer promised a future committee chairmanship to another legislator in exchange for his or her vote for Balmer as the new minority leader.

As a Rocky Mountain News article on the ethics controversy points out, the partisan makeup of this committee is different from the one that investigated Rep. Douglas Bruce, R-Colorado Springs, last session. That committee has three Democrats and three Republicans.

Balmer is accused of violating House Rule 49b, which requires that ethics committees assigned to investigate such allegations "shall be in proportion generally to the relative number of members of the two major political parties in the House."

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

DeGette Takes Name Out of Salazar Replacement Mix

U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette of Denver won't be the state's next U.S. senator.

DeGette, who had earlier expressed interest in being appointed to replace Sen. Ken Salazar, withdrew her name from consideration today.

"After serious deliberation and consultation with my family, supporters, and colleagues in Congress, I have concluded I can best serve the citizens of the 1st Congressional District and Colorado from my current leadership positions in the House of Representatives," DeGette said in a written statement.

DeGette is in her seventh term in Washington, DC. She is a chief deputy whip for House Democrats and is vice chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

She had been considered an outside possibility for the seat due to her status as the state's senior member of Congress.

Ritter applauded DeGette's work in the U.S. House of Representatives after her announcement.

“I am proud that Congresswoman Diana DeGette will continue to serve the 1st Congressional District and all of Colorado with distinction," Ritter said. "As the senior member of the Colorado Delegation and a key member of the Congressional Leadership, Rep. DeGette will continue to be a leader in helping Colorado and our nation on issues such as economic stimulus and recovery, health care, climate change, and energy policy."

Second Part of Education Preview Available

Education News Colorado has its second preview article posted on its website. Again, check this out for an excellent overview of the personalities that will be involved in education policy making under the Golden Dome this coming year.

Johnson Resigns

Sen. Steve Johnson, R-Fort Collins, has resigned from the General Assembly after being elected to the Larimer County Commission in November.

The resignation, which will go into effect Jan. 6, opens the door for the Larimer County GOP to appoint his replacement.

Among the candidates interested in the appointment are Rep. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, Loveland businessman Mike Lynch and Windsor financial planner Deborah Moeck.

Johnson was reelected to the Senate in 2006. His replacement will serve until January 2011 unless reelected.

Johnson previously served for six years in the House of Representatives.

The vacancy committee will make the appointment Jan. 10.