Bennet to visit today

Local political leaders will have breakfast with Senator-designee

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If you go

What: Community meeting with Senator-designee Michael Bennet and Gov. Bill Ritter.

When: 8 to 9:30 a.m. today

Where: Sheraton Steamboat Resort, 2200 Village Inn Court

Seating is limited and attendees were asked to RSVP.

Routt County political leaders are looking forward to expressing their interests to Senate-designee Michael Bennet during a community gathering this morning at the Sheraton Steamboat Resort.

Bennet, the former superintendent of Denver schools, was selected by Gov. Bill Ritter to replace U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, whom President-elect Barack Obama selected as the next secretary of the interior.

Lynn Abbott, a member of the Routt County Democratic Party, said she plans to quiz Bennet on how he intends to help the Western Slope.

"I want to know how he can help Northwest Colorado with issues that are important to me," she said.

Among those issues are water, oil, gas and health care, she said.

"He can help by bringing our issues to a more visible place. I think a lot of times people think of Colorado, they think Front Range, and they think of the issues that are facing the Front Range," she said. "I think protection of our water and not giving it to the Front Range is critically important."

Former Steamboat Springs City Council President Ken Brenner said he views the meeting as a chance to help Bennet learn about issues facing the Yampa Valley.

"What we want him to do is to come here and have a chance to meet the folks out here and the leadership and learn about the issues in Northwest Colorado that are so important," he said.

Bennet, a Democrat, will become the youngest member of the U.S. Senate, at 44 years old. His resume includes time working for billionaire investor Philip Anschutz in a reorganization of Regal Entertainment Group and as an aide to Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper.

Brenner said he was encouraged by reports of Bennet's success as Hickenlooper's aide, especially in the renegotiation of contracts with Denver International Airport.

"To me, that was something that really caught my attention," Brenner said. "He went in and negotiated a deal that strengthened Frontier, and now we have very competitive fares out of DIA."

Even so, Bennet has no experience as an elected official, and Gov. Ritter's choice in selecting him is "risky," said former City Council President Paul Strong.

"It's an interesting choice for Gov. Ritter. It's a little risky picking someone who has never held elected office, and it's a seat Democrats would certainly like to keep in 2010," said Strong, a Republican.

Strong also said he was wary of Bennet's lack of experience outside of big cities.

"I'm not aware of any experience he has in rural Colorado period, whether it's West Slope or East Slope," he said. "He will certainly have a steep learning curve in learning about our issues and what's important to us."

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