Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter (D) will appoint Denver Public Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet to the Senate seat being vacated by Interior Secretary-designate Ken Salazar, a Senate Democratic official told Politico Friday.
Bennet, who has served as superintendent since 2005, was drawn from a large field of possible Democratic Senate appointees, including Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, former Colorado Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald and Reps. Ed Perlmutter and John Salazar, the brother of the outgoing senator.
Also mentioned as a possible appointee for the seat was Colorado’s current state Senate president, Peter Groff, who would have become the only African-American member of the United States Senate.
According to his official biography, Bennet served as chief of staff to Hickenlooper before assuming his current position. Following the November election, Bennet was considered a possible candidate for secretary of education in the Obama administration, a position which ultimately went to Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan.
As superintendent, Bennet has dealt with controversial education-related issues including merit pay for teachers, a proposal for which President-elect Barack Obama has voiced support in the past.
Denver’s merit pay structure, known as the Professional Compensation Plan, enhances teacher salaries based on student performance and awards bonuses to teachers who elect to work in tougher schools. Initially run as a small-scale experiment, it now includes the whole city of Denver and attracted support from city teachers in a compromise proposal that attracted national attention.
Though Bennet is mentioned in the ranks of public-school reformers like New York City Public Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and Washington, D.C., Chancellor Michelle Rhee, his background is in law, rather than education.
A Yale-educated attorney who served as editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal, Bennet worked in President Bill Clinton’s Justice Department and worked as a lawyer for Colorado billionaire Phillip Anschutz’s entertainment and investment companies. His father, Douglas Bennet, was the president of Wesleyan University. His brother, James Bennet, edits The Atlantic magazine.
Salazar has not yet resigned his Senate seat, and Bennet will not take office until after the state’s senior senator leaves his post for the Obama Cabinet.