MEEKER I Senior Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet (D-Denver) made a quiet visit to Meeker High School (MHS) last week. Seven MHS seniors who have had considerable experience with concurrent enrollment (CE) courses spent nearly 45 minutes in discussion with the senator and Superintendent Chris Selle.
Bennet arranged his visit and the discussion due to his desire to expand and improve access to dual and concurrent enrollment, especially for career and technical education programs. He feels the country needs to update and modernize our approach to workforce development and higher education, creating a more integrated program with secondary and post-secondary education.
Early in his remarks, Bennet mentioned to the students that he noticed he’d received only 18 percent of the votes cast for U.S. senator in Rio Blanco County last November, but that was better than Hillary Clinton who received only 13 percent of the presidential votes cast in the county (even though she won in Colorado as a whole). Bennet won the statewide 2016 contest with 49 percent of the vote vs. Darryl Glenn’s 45 percent.
The senator’s staff prep stated that MHS has had the sixth highest percentage (52 percent, 100 students) of CE students in the state which he indicated is particularly interesting given our distance from the nearest community college. The staff data also indicated that MHS has 191 ninth through 12th grade students in career and technical education (CTE) courses including agricultural classes, consumer and family science, industrial arts and work experience.
The CNCC Meeker Service Center provides a computer lab, advising, CE coursework and admissions. The senator’s staff credited district counselors for having created a comprehensive website by which students and parents can explore post-secondary and workforce opportunities. Bennet focused on the arrangement whereby the CNCC tuition is covered so long as a given student earns a “C” grade or better in the course. Selle reported “we have such good students in Meeker, the cost to our students is generally $0.” The College Opportunity Fund, created by the State Legislature, pays the tuition.
Bennet’s staff had alerted him to the fact that the Meeker School District has been awarded “Accredited with Distinction” as one of the top 25 districts in the state (out of 179).
CNCC serves nearly 1,000 undergraduate (including high school dual enrollees) students through CTE courses. More than 12 high schools participate with CNCC. The Rangely campus CTE courses specialize in aviation, dental hygiene, National Park Service ranger certification, equine and marine sciences. The Craig campus provides CTE opportunities in massage therapy, nursing, early childhood care, auto mechanics, accounting, cosmetology, mine safety and small business.
Selle told the Herald Times, “We are greatly appreciative Senator Bennet made time to visit our high school. Any time we can get legislators in our schools, and have them see the extraordinary work done on a daily basis by our students and our staff, it helps provide a local context essential in crafting legislation in Denver or Washington, D.C., that will truly benefit the students of the Meeker School District.”
Lori Ann Klinglesmith, one of the MHS seniors who met with Bennet, said, “I appreciated his interest in our school, and I wanted to give him some insight into how a small school works. It was important for him to talk with those of us who had experienced concurrent enrollment classes. Overall, I think it was a cool opportunity to visit with him.”
Another of the seniors who visited with Bennet was Meghan Smith. Smith told the Herald Times, “Senator Bennet was very interested in what we, as students, felt about CE. He asked us questions, but was just as inclined to answer questions for us.”
Smith asked him how he went from being a school superintendent to being a U.S. senator. Bennet’s response was pretty much a “knowing the right person at the right time” story. He came to Colorado to work as a managing director for an investment company where he restructured more than $3 billion in corporate debt. From there, he was tapped to be chief of staff for then Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper. Then, in 2005, he became superintendent of Denver Public Schools, a job he said he really wanted and really enjoyed.
Bennet told Smith when Colorado U.S. Senator Ken Salazar was appointed secretary of interior by President Barack Obama in January, 2009, his old boss, now Governor Hickenlooper, called him “out of the blue” about his being appointed to Salazar’s U.S. Senate vacancy.
Bennet had to run for election then in 2010, beating Weld County district attorney, Ken Buck, now Colorado’s 4th District Congressman, by two points, 48 to 46 percent.
After his discussion with the seniors, Principal Amy Chinn escorted Bennet to teacher John Strate’s classroom where he spoke to the juniors. Strate reports, “Senator Bennet did a great job with my U.S. history class. He happened to come in when we were just about to start talking about Syria. I asked the senator to fill us in. He talked about the historic backdrop, which was basically that nearly 100 years ago, after World War I, the boundaries were rather arbitrarily redrawn and things still aren’t settled. He then added that he supports President Trump’s decision to carry out air strikes. The students were very impressed with the idea that they had a U.S. senator in their classroom, talking to them about such an important issue and they got a straight answer.”
On his website on April 7, Bennet stated, “The situation in Syria is complicated by Russian and Iranian involvement, and cannot be addressed in isolation from efforts to counter ISIS. Military options alone will not produce a stable political solution. Moving forward, the administration must explain the determination of legal authority it has for such [air strikes], articulate a comprehensive strategy, and consult with Congress prior to future military action.”
When asked about his vote April 7 against the confirmation of President Donald Trump’s nomination of Colorado’s 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, Bennet pointed out that he was one of four Senate Democrats who spoke out against the Democrats trying to filibuster against the confirmation vote. Bennet was also actively opposed to the Senate invoking the “nuclear option”—changing the rules so that a Supreme Court justice could be confirmed by only 51 (vs. 60) votes. Since the Senate did proceed to make that rule change, he said he felt it was important to vote against Gorsuch in response. He had warned that a “no” vote on Gorsuch would probably be his response to “going nuclear.”
Bennet also cautioned, prior to the confirmation vote, that while Gorsuch was a very well qualified nominee who would importantly be a western voice on the court with a grip on western issues, “He is a very conservative judge—not one I would have chosen. I have concerns about his approach to the law.”
The senator referred to relevant statements he’s made on the Supreme Court situation which are posted on his website. The Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission Supreme Court decision in 2010 held that corporations are persons and, therefore, cannot be restricted in exercising their First Amendment rights of unlimited free speech. Bennet stated that decision was misguided and “led to out-of-control spending in political campaigns in ways that overwhelm the airwaves, and under the decision, this spending can be by anonymous Super PACs (political action committees). Eighty percent of the ads,” he wrote, “run in last year’s GOP presidential primary before mid-January, 2016, were placed by such groups at a rate that was 12,000 percent higher than in the equivalent period for the 2008 election.”
“Coloradans want to see commonsense changes to campaign finance—the restoration of Congress’, the states’ and the American people’s authority to regulate campaign spending. Many of my constituents want to see Citizen’s United reversed and from what I’ve learned, that cannot be expected of Judge Gorsuch.”