Sources: DPS Superintendent Bennet to replace Salazar as Colorado senator

Denver Public Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet (Photo/Denver Public Schools)

Denver Public Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet (Photo/Denver Public Schools)

Denver Public Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet is Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter’s choice to take over Democrat Ken Salazar’s seat in the U.S. Senate, sources have told The Denver Post and The Rocky Mountain News. Ritter is expected to name Bennet, who was reportedly a finalist for President-elect Barack Obama’s choice for secretary of education, at a news conference on Saturday, the Rocky Mountain News first reported Friday morning.

The Bennet pick ends weeks of speculation and jockeying among the state’s top Democratic politicians following the Dec. 15 news that Salazar would be named secretary of the interior in the Obama Cabinet. Salazar’s confirmation hearings are scheduled for Jan. 15 before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and his office has said he doesn’t intend to step down from the Senate until he’s been confirmed.

Ritter picked Bennet, 44, on New Year’s Day, the Post reports, after narrowing his choice to Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper or Bennet, who served as Hickenlooper’s chief of staff from 2003 to 2005 before being appointed DPS superintendent.

While Bennet has been mentioned as a possibility to fill Colorado’s Senate vacancy, he wasn’t considered a front-runner. Hickenlooper, outgoing House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, and U.S. Reps. Ed Perlmutter and John Salazar, the senator’s brother, led most lists of possible nominees. U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, former Denver Mayor Federico Peña and State Treasurer Cary Kennedy withdrew their names from consideration over the last couple of weeks.

A Perlmutter representative told the Colorado Independent in an e-mail the 7th District congressman has been informed he won’t be named to fill the Senate vacancy on Saturday. The offices of Hickenlooper, Romanoff, Bennet and Ritter either had no comment or were closed for the holiday.

The appointment fills Salazar’s seat until 2010, when Bennet will have to run for re-election if he intends to serve a full, six-year term.

Bennet’s name earlier in December made the short list to head the Department of Education. His counterpart out of Chicago, Arne Duncan, emerged as Obama’s secretary of education nominee, but the choice reportedly came down to Duncan, Bennet and education reformer John Schnur.

Bennet has never run for office but has deep political and establishment credentials. Prior to serving as Hickenlooper’s chief of staff, the lawyer worked as an investment manager for Denver-based billionaire Phil Anschutz and was counsel to the deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration. Bennet’s father, Douglas, was president of Wesleyan University in Connecticut, president of National Public Radio and an assistant secretary of state in the Clinton years. Bennet’s brother, James, is editor of The Atlantic Monthly.

Bennet graduated from Wesleyan and received a law degree from Yale University, where he also edited the Yale Law Journal, according to his official biography on the DPS Web site.

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Ernest Luning

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