Bennet hears frustrations during Steamboat visit |

Bennet hears frustrations during Steamboat visit

Senator talks health care, finance, partisan politics

Mike Lawrence

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., spoke about topics including health care and partisan politics Monday morning with about 25 Steamboat residents, including, seated from left, Anna Fields, Myron Fields and Vesna Palmer.

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet heard and voiced a lot of frustration Monday morning.

In an informal meeting with about 25 Steamboat Springs residents at the Blue Spruce Court home of Jack Dysart and Carole Milligan, Bennet unabashedly acknowledged the challenges of legislating in a Congress that he said is broken by special interests, a stalling health care bill marked by "offensive" backroom deals and a health care debate that's "completely unmoored from the facts of what people are dealing with in their daily life."

Bennet is a Democrat and former superintendent of Denver Public Schools. He visited Steamboat while the Sen­ate is on its extended Presidents Day break. His Monday itinerary in the city also included a fundraising luncheon. Bennet, who Gov. Bill Ritter appointed to the Senate, is running for election this year and facing a primary challenge from Denver Democrat Andrew Romanoff, a former Colorado Speaker of the House.

Like Romanoff, who visited Steamboat earlier this month, Bennet strongly criticized the U.S. Supreme Court's Jan. 21 decision giving corporations the same free speech rights as individuals and potentially opening the floodgates for corporate dollars in political campaigns.

Bennet called the ruling "a horrible decision" and cited a bill he is co-sponsoring that he said would improve transparency of campaign spending by large corporations, restrict such spending by foreign corporations, require shareholder votes on campaign spending, require CEOs to claim political ads as their own, and more.

When Steamboat residents Lynn Abbott and Steve Lewis asked whether the bill is "just a Band-Aid" for needed campaign finance reform, Bennet disagreed, working with the analogy to call the bill "a very important suture" and listing its potential benefits.

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But he also acknowledged the nature of today's political system.

"There's no way to compete for this office without raising $12 million," Bennet said about his election campaign, citing fundraising totals from Senate races in recent elections.

Bennet raised more than $1.1 million in the past three months of 2009, compared to about $337,000 for Romanoff. Bennet has about $3.5 million on hand compared to $480,000 for Romanoff.

Regarding the health care debate, Bennet said sticking points such as how to address abortion are holding up progress on legislation that has stalled in Congress. He said Congress temporarily has shifted its focus.

"We've got to get the jobs bill done, then we've got to go back to health care," Bennet said.

Bennet responded quickly to a question about what he took away from Monday's give-and-take with local Democrats.

"An incredible and completely understandable frustration with the Senate," he said. "On the Senate floor, I spend a lot of my time repeating stories I hear in rooms like this."

President Barack Obama is slated to attend a rally and fundraisers for Bennet in Denver on Thursday.


■ Learn about the 2010 campaign of current U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Denver Democrat, at Learn more about U.S. Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff, also a Denver Democrat, on the Web at

■ For information on Republican senatorial candidate and former Colorado lieutenant governor Jane Norton, visit Two other Republican candidates also are vying for Bennet’s seat. They are businessman Tom Wiens ( and Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck (

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