Bennet has plan to move America forward
Editor’s Note: This is the first in an ongoing series of stories on 2020 presidential candidates. Additional stories will follow up to New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary on Feb. 11, 2020.
NASHUA – Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet is concerned. He’s concerned about the current political climate in Washington, D.C., he’s concerned about the state of the nation’s education system and he’s concerned about the future of young people.
“I think our democracy is at risk, and I believe that my generation of Americans is at risk of being the first generation to leave less opportunity, not more, to the people coming after us,” Bennet said.
“I think I’ve got a set of experiences and a background and perspective on where we find ourselves at this point that’s different than anyone else in the race,” Bennet added.
Those experiences include time as an aide to former Ohio Gov. Richard Celeste, his time serving as counsel to the deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration and his time in Denver.
In the Centennial State, Bennet served as chief of staff for Mayor John Hickenlooper before officially entering the political arena himself. He was elected the superintendent of Denver Public Schools in 2005. Shortly after that, Bennet began hosting town halls so he could hear first-hand the concerns of his constituents.
“If I had to summarize the last 10 years of my town halls in Colorado and the town halls that I’ve had in Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina, it’s people coming and saying, ‘Michael, we’re working really hard, but we can’t afford some combination of housing, health care, higher education and early childhood education. In other words, we can’t afford a middle-class life,'” Bennet said.
“The parents that I used to work for, and the children I used to work for when I was superintendent of the Denver Public Schools for five years – most of whom are kids of color – most of them are kids living in poverty,” Bennet added. “If they came to my town halls, they would say, ‘we are killing ourselves,’ which they are. And ‘no matter what we do, we can’t get our kids out of poverty.’ Those are anecdotal reflections … over 10 years.”
From Denver, Bennet entered national politics.
In 2009, he was tapped by Colo. Gov. Bill Ritter to fill the state’s U.S. Senate seat left open by the departure of Ken Salazar. Salazar was chosen by President Barack Obama as the U.S. Secretary of the Interior.
Almost immediately, Bennet announced he would seek a full term in the U.S. Senate, and he was subsequently elected in 2010 and reelected in 2016, drawing praise both times from Obama, who said Bennet, “perfectly reflects the qualities of the ruggedly independent state he has been chosen to serve,” and that Bennet was a “gifted Democratic politicians.”
In his 2016 reelection bid, Bennet received 1.36 million votes, more than any other Democrat in a statewide race in Colorado history. He also earned 30,000 more votes than Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
“I’m the only candidate in the race who’s actually won two national elections in a swing state,” Bennet said. “Nobody else has done that.”
“It is a large field (of candidates), and I believe it is completely unconsolidated,” Bennet added. “When you’ve got the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, which is a city that’s got a budget a third the size of the budget I managed at the Denver Public Schools, leading the field in Iowa, that tells you something about how open the field is.”
That said, Bennet has plans – big plans – that date back almost a decade.
“The issues that I’ve run on, from health care, to my tax plan, to the economic plan, to climate, these are not things I had to put together for a presidential campaign,” he said. “They’re what I’ve been working on over the last 10 years. I’m from Colorado, and they’re meant to unify the country, because it’s not enough for us just to win the Democratic base.”
“We’ve got to win back some of the nine million people that voted twice for Barack Obama and once for Donald Trump. And, I think I’m well situated to be able to win some of those folks back,” Bennet added. “But more important than that, I think we’ve got to have an agenda that’s actually going to begin to bring the country back together again.”
The problem the candidate sees, though, is the back and forth between the two major political parties. One example, he says, is health care.
“So, if we accept the world where I put my plan in for two years, the other side rips it out, I put it in for (another) two years, the other side rips it out, it’s not going to work,” Bennet said. “That’s been the story of the last decade of health care.”
“I think we can do a lot better than that, and I don’t believe this is about lazy moderation or lazy bipartisanship,” Bennet added. “Those weren’t the principles that this country was founded on. They (the Founding Fathers) didn’t expect that we would agree with each other. They expected we would disagree with each other, but they thought that out of those disagreements, we would create more durable and imaginative solutions than any king or tyrant could come up with on their own. And, we’ve completely lost that in our national politics, and I still believe in that.”
ON THE DEMOCRATS LOSING TO DONALD TRUMP IN 2016 and CLIMATE CHANGE
Losing to Donald Trump in 2016 is a particular sticking point for Bennet, especially since he connects the lose to a debate on climate change and the economy.
“I think you need to start with an agenda that will be broadly supported by the American people,” Bennet said. “I think it was absurd that we lost an election to Donald Trump, in part, based on the fact that he won an argument about the economy with respect to climate. In other words, he argued, if we contend with climate change, it will destroy our economy. If we ignore climate change, we’ll have a thriving economy. That’s preposterous. It’s ridiculous. And we should never have lost that economic argument to Donald Trump. It’s an argument I would never lose.”
“My climate plan includes the idea that we should be paying farmers and ranchers in this country to sequester carbon in their soil as a way of trying to build a coalition that can be durable so that you can bring together the conservation community and the climate community with our agricultural producers who today feel completely repelled by the climate discussion that we’re having,” Bennet added.
Bennet has his own ideas about health care, noting that Medicare for All plans would be catastrophic and far too expensive to implement. His plan calls for a public options that gives people more of a choice, yet be affordable.
“There’s are a lot of plans (out there),” Bennet said. “I have one point, it’s called Medicare-X. It is a public option. I led the fight for the public option when we passed the Affordable Care Act. I thought it was a fear of failure of the affordable care act that we didn’t include it, and I think it’s turned out that that’s true, because there are millions of Americans who are making too much money to be on Medicaid, but not enough money to comfortably afford private insurance.”
“My plan is a plan that’s administered by Medicare,” Bennet added. “It’s not actually Medicare, because that raises a whole other set of issues. If we had a public option that gave everybody in America the chance to make a choice for their family about whether they wanted to stay in the private insurance they had or go on the public option, that would be the quickest way to begin to get to universal health care. I think in three years, if you had that auto enrolled, everybody’s eligible for Medicaid and every kid who’s eligible for the poor kids health insurance, which is called CHIP, that you’d be done. And by the way, today as we sit here, 85% of Americans are covered. So it’s amazing to me that so much of the discussion is about coverage, because I think the real issue that’s facing the people that I represent is cost of health care. That’s the real issue that’s facing the country. We’re spending twice as much as any other industrialized country in the world is spending on health care and not getting better results. That’s what’s killing families, bankrupting families. We tried to do some of that in the Affordable Care Act, but there’s a lot more for us to do. So, cost is a big issue that you’re not even really hearing about in the national debate.”
“And I have heard Bernie Sanders say he wrote the bill on Medicare for All,” he added. “I’m the person in this field that wrote the bill on a public option. I wrote it long before Bernie wrote Medicare for All. It’s not some compromise position. I think it’s a good position and the likeliest thing that we could do to get us to universal health care coverage, which from an economic and moral point of view we should do as a country.”
FAMILY HISTORY IN POLITICS
Bennet has a family history of public service, as his father, Douglas Bennet Jr., served as the Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs and as the head of the United States Agency for International Development under President Jimmy Carter. He also was the Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs under President Bill Clinton and was an aide to Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, U.S. Sen. Thomas Eagleton (Minnesota) and U.S. Sen. Abraham Ribicoff (Connecticut).
In addition, Bennet’s father was the president and CEO of National Public Radio from 1983-1993 and president of Wesleyan University (Connecticut) from 1995-2007.
Bennet’s grandfather, Douglas Bennet Sr., was an adviser for President Franklin D. Roosevelt.