DENVER – Democrat Michael Bennet is hoping for another six years in the U.S. Senate to continue to chip away at the “dysfunction” in Washington, D.C.
It might seem odd for a member of Congress to highlight the gridlock. After all, he is a member of that publicly loathed body.
But the attorney, businessman and former Denver Public Schools superintendent says he has a record that shows he can reach across the aisle, a necessary tool in busting Congressional roadblocks.
“I really believe our office has been more successful than most at navigating the dysfunction of Washington, D.C., and getting bipartisan results,” Bennet recently told The Durango Herald.
Bennet exuded confidence as he spoke of his goals for a second term, perhaps because he lucked out this election, facing an opponent, Republican Darryl Glenn, who has been unable to draw mainstream support and has floundered in the polls. Bennet is up by double digits.
For Bennet to say he is able to work with both sides of the aisle is not just political speak.
The Democrat was instrumental as part of the Gang of Eight, a bipartisan group of lawmakers that brought comprehensive immigration reform forward. The bill passed the Senate but stalled in the House because of procedural moves by Republican leadership.
The Senate version included a compromise conferring legal status on millions of undocumented immigrants while strengthening border security and tightening employment rules through an electronic system to verify residential status, known as e-verify.
“The rhetoric has been completely at war with our history, completely at war with our commitment to the rule of law,” Bennet said of the conversation around immigration, suggesting that Republican Donald Trump has added to that vitriol.
But Bennet also has been criticized for siding with Democrats on protecting the Affordable Care Act, which has caused problems for rural Colorado, where insurance rates have spiked and access to health care has not dramatically improved.
His opponent, Glenn, however, has seemingly refused to work with Democrats. Glenn famously said repeatedly that the problem with Congress is “Republicans wanting to just reach across the aisle.” Bennet believes this is perhaps the clearest distinction.
“It’s possible that Colorado faces the widest choice and the biggest range of differences of any race in the United States,” Bennet said.
He listed other differences between himself and Glenn, underscoring that Glenn is open to transferring ownership of federal public lands to the states and is skeptical of human-made climate change. Bennet would keep management of public lands under federal authority and believes that people are contributing to climate change.
“It is basically summed up by, on the one hand, I have a track record of relentless attempts to work in a bipartisan way ... versus my opponent’s diagnosis, over and over again, that the problem with Washington is that Republicans have been too conciliatory,” Bennet said.
Bennet was appointed to the Senate after former Sen. Ken Salazar was named Interior secretary. Bennet was familiar with politics, having served as chief of staff to then-Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, who is now governor.
Bennet fought a hard battle in 2010 to turn the appointment into a six-year term, defeating Republican Ken Buck in a tight race.
Looking ahead to a second term, Bennet says he wants to invest in infrastructure, finally pass immigration reform, work toward a cleaner environment, make college more affordable and spur better economic growth.
“There’s a lot more for us to do,” Bennet said. “I still meet people all the time in Colorado who are making about what they made 10 years ago, but their cost of housing, their cost of health care, their cost of college, their cost of early childhood education, is all conspiring to put them in a position where they feel like they can’t save or they can’t advance the next generation.”