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U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet says ‘it’s kind of like family everywhere I go’

Democrat incumbent discusses previous accomplishments, future goals ahead of midterm elections
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet talks with local fire and forestry agencies in September 2021 at the Lion’s Den in Durango. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

As his third bid for Congress approaches its end in the lead-up to Election Day, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet reflected on what his first campaign for Congress looked like back in 2010.

“The kids were so young – they were 9, 7 and 4 – we could just throw them in the back of the car and it was like we were taking a family vacation,” he said. “For all they knew, we were on vacation for two years, just traveling around the state of Colorado.”

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The Durango Herald has requested an interview with Republican candidate Joe O’Dea about his bid for U.S. Senate, but he has not yet agreed to an interview.

These days, Bennet said, his kids have “other things to do besides hang out with (him),” but they still like to help out with his campaign. He’s looking forward to this weekend, when his two oldest daughters are coming home from college to lend their support.

With the Nov. 8 midterm elections on the horizon, Bennet discussed his biggest legislative priorities for Southwest Colorado in an interview with The Durango Herald.

Economy ‘No. 1’ concern, followed by environment

For Bennet, the “No. 1” issue he has identified in Southwest Colorado is the economy, which he said was causing problems even before recent inflation.

“We’ve had an economy in this country for 50 years that’s worked incredibly well for the top 10% of Americans in Colorado, but it hasn’t worked terribly well for everybody else,” he said. “All over Southwest Colorado, I’ve heard people say, ‘We’re working really hard but we can’t afford housing, can’t afford health care or higher education, early childhood education.”

Bennet said his overarching goal is to help “create an economy in the United States that, when it grows, it grows broadly, not just for the people at the top.” He cited his contributions to the expansion of the Child Tax Credit in the 2021 American Rescue Plan, which increased the child tax credit by up to $1,600 per child and raised the age limit from 16 to 17, as one piece of that agenda.

Beyond expanding federal programs to support working families, he mentioned the CHIPS Act as another economy-related bill he voted for. The legislation, which President Joe Biden signed into law in August, funds increased domestic production of semiconductors.

“We should be bringing industries back to the United States,” Bennet said.

He said climate change is a major concern for Southwest Colorado.

“People are very worried about the effect of a changing climate on their environment, and that has raised concerns around forestry, around the condition of our watersheds and the condition of our rivers,” he said. “And these are all things that I’ve worked to address, working with people in Southwest Colorado.”

For Bennet, creating more jobs centered on clean energy production is a priority in terms of addressing climate change and economic issues. He referenced the Inflation Reduction Act as a step in the right direction, which the White House estimates will bring approximately $13.2 billion of large-scale clean power generation and storage to Colorado by 2030.

“I think over the next quarter of a century, the United States is perfectly positioned to lead that transition (from fossil fuels to renewable energy),” he said. “And I think that Colorado is going to lead the country in making that transition.”

Bennet also acknowledged concerns about forestry among Durango residents, saying he can remember “standing there with a group of people in Durango, looking over Durango and having a conversation about just how worrisome the condition of our forests is.” He said his work to have a $10 billion allocation for forest management and health included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act and the Inflation Reduction Act was part of his plan to address this issue.

To address what he described as the backlog of water infrastructure projects in tribal communities, he pointed to his introduction of the Tribal Access to Clean Water Act of 2021, which would increase funding for the Indian Health Service and other agencies to expand water resource access in tribal communities.

Bennet added that Southwest Colorado residents “really treasure our public lands,” a value that he believes he has promoted through his support for the national monument designations of sites like Browns Canyon, Chimney Rock and most recently Camp Hale.

Finding ‘family everywhere’ on the campaign trail

Bennet’s campaign introduced merchandise for the first time this campaign season. His favorite item: a “Keep Bennet in the Senate” poster that he describes as a nod to the “hippie era,” with a design inspired by an old Gary Hart campaign sign he was recently gifted.

As his third Senate run draws to a close, Bennet said traveling Colorado allows him to “know the state and to feel at home everywhere.”

“That’s how I feel about Durango,” he said. “When I get there, there are people that now I think of as old friends who are showing up to campaign with me or just to have meetings, so it’s kind of like family everywhere I go.”

Kate Corliss is an intern for The Durango Herald and The Journal in Cortez and a student at American University in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at kcorliss@durangoherald.com.

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