Michael Bennet, Colorado's newest U.S. senator, made a good impression in Durango last weekend. He drew a large crowd at the public library, and with The Durango Herald's Editorial Board (and others) he showed breadth and depth in his understanding of the issues.
He clearly follows current events, and is a reader and a thinker.
Most recently superintendent of Denver Public Schools, Bennet used his experiences in that difficult position to explain his readiness for high office.
How would Bennet get to know Western Slope issues? He would listen, he said. To get to know DPS, he said, he had frequent and regular meetings with principals. Conversations were substantive, and focused on the classroom and learning, as talk about the condition of building boilers was off limits.
When he arrived at DPS, there was 40 percent more space than was needed, he said. Buildings had to be closed - always difficult to do, against neighborhood wishes - and teacher performance pay strengthened. A frustration: Long-serving teachers receive generous benefits when some of those resources could be used to attract top quality new hires.
New teacher dropout rates are too high.
And in a swing at Washington, Bennet said the milestone Leave No Child Behind legislation did not serve to attract teachers.
What could Congress do to improve education? That is largely a local responsibility, Bennet acknowledged, and should be shaped locally, but more funding from Washington for innovative teaching would be very beneficial.
The struggling economy also dominated the conversation at the Herald, for good reason, and with it the resulting slowing of the mobility rate. An extraordinary number of jobs are being lost, jobs that were created more than a decade ago. Will the fact that the economies of the world are so interconnected make it easier or more difficult to bring back a strong economy? No one is certain, he said.
And, we may be entering a period when our children's lives will not be more comfortable than our own. To the students in the room, he said they will have to repay the borrowing that is occurring.
Before leading DPS, Bennet had a different career working in Denver for entrepreneur and industrialist Phil Anschutz.
Bennet was an unusual choice by Gov. Bill Ritter to succeed Ken Salazar. Bennet is not known statewide and has not run for public office. Democrats do not know him. But Bennet would likely say he is a hard worker and a quick learner, and that politics is a part of every job, as it was at DPS.
Michael Bennet certainly has the capacity to be a strong senator for Colorado and for the nation, and we look forward to seeing more of him in this corner of the state.