Denver school superintendent appointed to replace Salazar in Senate

Governor Bill Ritter has selected Denver Public Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet to fill the Senate vacancy created by the promotion of Sen. Ken Salazar to interior secretary in the Obama administration.

Ritter announced Bennet’s appointment at a news conference in Denver last Saturday. If Salazar is confirmed as interior secretary, Bennet will become the youngest serving U.S. Senator.

Salazar, a Democrat, has represented Archuleta County along with the rest of southern and western Colorado. After being elected to the Senate in 2004, Salazar filled the seat vacated by Republican Ben “Nighthorse” Campbell.

Bennet was tapped to be Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper’s chief of staff in 2003. Two years later, Hickenlooper encouraged Bennet to apply for the superintendent job for Denver’s 150-school city system. The Denver Board of Education unanimously appointed him superintendent of Denver Public Schools in June 2005.

According to the Denver Public School’s Web site, under Bennet’s leadership, Denver public schools posted a 6.2 percent increase in reading scores over the three years, more than four times the growth of the state. The district also had a growth rate in math scores that more than doubled the rate statewide, showing a 6 percent gain in those scores.

Prior to serving with Hickenlooper’s administration, Bennet was a corporate turnaround expert for billionaire businessman Philip Anschutz’s investment company. Bennet graduated from Yale Law School in 1993.

When asked how Bennet’s appointment would benefit Pagosa Country, Evan Dreyer, spokesperson for Gov. Ritter’s office said, “Pagosa Springs needs to be concerned with better educational practices. Michael’s experience in education will help Pagosa Springs schools move in a direction to better compete in a twenty-first century global economy.”

Senator Salazar has expressed his support for Bennet and in an interview with SUN staff on Monday, Michael Amodeo, press secretary for Ken Salazar, said, “Senator Salazar is very supportive of Governor Ritter’s choice for his replacement. He (Bennet) will be a senator for all of Colorado, including the Four Corners area and Pagosa Springs.”

Salazar will continue to work in the Senate until he is confirmed as interior secretary. Confirmation hearings for Salazar’s cabinet appointment begin Jan. 15 and although no serious opposition to the appointment is currently apparent, the process could take several weeks before Salazar is confirmed.

jim@pagosasun.com