Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet opposes a universal healthcare ballot measure Colorado voters will consider in November.
“Michael does not think that single payer is the right approach to solving our health care problems, and in particular has concerns about putting a complete overhaul of our health care system, including a massive tax increase, into the State Constitution where it can’t be changed,” Bennet’s campaign spokesman Andrew Zucker told The Colorado Independent.
Bennet’s position on the ColoradoCare ballot measure, which if passed would make Colorado the first state in the nation with universal healthcare, has been unclear for months.
In November, he “brushed aside questions when approached in a Senate hallway by a POLITICO reporter,” when asked about the proposal, saying he was focused on a vote he was taking in the U.S. Senate that day.
That led the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee to tie Bennet to the prospect of Colorado having universal healthcare. The group, which supports efforts by Republicans to win U.S. Senate seats around the country, wrote “Based on his strong endorsement and record of support for a public option, a Bennet-backed single-payer health care plan is no stretch for the imagination.”
Back in Colorado, without finding Bennet’s position on the record, the free-market political group Americans for Prosperity had been canvassing the Denver suburbs earlier this month asking voters whether they were familiar with Bennet and also tying him to the ColoradoCare ballot measure, officially known as Amendment 69. AFP’s script stated the group did not know Bennet’s position on the measure. One activist told a voter Bennet was “for the amendment.”
To unseat Bennet, Republican strategists have been framing him as a far-left candidate. Some grassroots Democrats have griped that he cleaves too closely to the center and has formed a cozy relationship with Colorado’s Republican first-term junior U.S. senator, Cory Gardner. Bennet’s stance against ColoradoCare likely takes away a choice talking point from his opponents.
Americans for Prosperity’s state director, Michael Fields, for instance, said he’d have to update his script for canvassing about the issue.
On the other hand, as Denver conservative commentator Kelly Maher of the group Compass Colorado said in a statement, Bennet, a superdelegate who supports Hillary Clinton, might have to “withstand the wrath of grassroots Democrats who are already upset with him for opposing their choice for president, Bernie Sanders.”
On the presidential campaign trail, Sanders has signaled his support for the ballot measure.
“Colorado,” Sanders told The Independent in October, “could lead the nation in moving toward a system to ensure better health care for more people at less cost.”
Hillary Clinton hasn’t been as clear.
“I know you all here in Colorado have a [health care] initiative this year,” she said at one campaign stop in Colorado before the March 1 caucuses. “States can help lead the way.”
Here in the state, support for ColoradoCare from Colorado’s Democratic governor hasn’t been so warm.
In January, Gov. John Hickenlooper told an influential business group behind closed doors that he couldn’t imagine “there’s any chance” that ColoradoCare would pass, and added that “a couple [of] large health care related companies that are looking at moving their headquarters here” saw the possibility of the measure passing “and they paused.”
His remarks, which were published by the libertarian website CompleteColorado’s Todd Shepherd, who had obtained them via an open records request, came as a surprise to Denver Democratic state Sen. Irene Aguilar, a chief champion of ColoradoCare. She told The Colorado Independent at the time that her understanding was that the governor would remain neutral on the measure.
Aguilar declined to comment about Bennet’s opposition to the universal healthcare proposal, but Owen Perkins, a spokesman for the ColoradoCareYES campaign sent this statement:
It’s unfortunate that the billionaire Koch Brothers are attempting to play Amendment 69 and Senator Bennet off each other for their own personal gain. It’s imperative that basic protections like access to health care are written into the Colorado constitution to put these rights outside of the reach of special interests and the state legislature.
We are proud to offer a citizens’ initiative that saves Coloradans over $4.5 billion a year, we are pleased that over 158,000 Coloradans gave their support and signed the petition to put Amendment 69 on the November ballot, and we are focused on continuing to engage directly with Colorado voters.
Bennet faces a field of five Republican primary challengers, two of whom have already made the June GOP primary ballot.
[Photo credit: Jeffrey Beall via Creative Commons on Flickr]