Michael Bennet vs. Joe ODea Endorsement: We pick Bennet for Senate

Editor’s note: This represents the opinion of The Denver Post editorial board, which is separate from the paper’s news operation. Read more endorsements here

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet can be forgiven for taking a victory lap last week after his years of advocacy for the protection of Colorado’s public lands paid off with President Joe Biden creating a new national monument on 53,804 acres of federal land in the 10 Mile Range, including the historic Camp Hale Army training facility.

The preservation of public land is crucial for Colorado, and Bennet, a Democrat, has become a trusted leader who can work with local communities to get consensus among ranchers and water rights holders, environmentalists and recreation enthusiasts, backpackers and OHV (off-highway vehicle) explorers.

In fact, Bennet has become a trusted leader on many issues — the crisis on the southern border, Russia’s deadly aggressions in Ukraine, America’s booming inflation and looming recession – and it is because of our faith that he will continue to advocate for America’s and Colorado’s best interests that we recommend Colorado voters give him another six years in office.

We appreciate the intellectual heft Bennet brings to the U.S. Senate with his focus on sound policy not sound bites.

That is not to say that Bennet’s opponent – Republican candidate Joe O’Dea – would be a self-aggrandizing politician either. On the contrary, O’Dea strikes us as a solid individual who shares our low tolerance for political bull.

But when two moderate candidates meet in an election, the parsing of policy comes down to the minutia, and Bennet has a 13-year record to stand on.

O’Dea supports Trump’s policy to force refugees and asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while they await the U.S.’s decision on their case.

Bennet has been a vocal critic of both the Trump administration’s and the Biden administration’s inhumane handling of millions of refugees who have arrived on the southern border in the past 6 years.

“They have no plan for how to make a transition, and … our current asylum system is broken,” Bennet told us. “It’s set up for people arriving in ones and twos, not in the numbers people are arriving today.”

O’Dea said he will vote for a bill to protect a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy up to about five months of gestation and, after that, protect the right based on medical emergency or necessity.

Bennet, long an advocate for reproductive freedom, has drawn no line in the sand for what he would require of a bill returning the decision on abortion to women rather than federal or state governments. But he has made it clear the Senate must act to protect women.

O’Dea, the owner of a multi-million dollar construction company, has said he will vote to renew Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act when key tax breaks in the legislation expire in coming years. O’Dea said those tax breaks enabled him to offer raises to his employees and reinvest in the company.

Bennet, who made his millions working for Phil Anschutz, points out that the tax cuts blew a trillion-dollar hole in the budget while offering more tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans.

And this is perhaps the epitome of the difference between O’Dea and Bennet. Both are multi-millionaires who likely fall in the upper 1% to 5% of society’s economic strata. But O’Dea believes in the economics of low taxes to spur big economic growth to create good-paying jobs for working-class Americans, while Bennet believes in taxing the wealthy to fund targeted tax cuts to lower-income Americans through expansion tax reforms like the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit.

“I’m a little bit of a maniac about this stuff,” Bennet says, teeing up his fevered tax policy critique that stretches back to his votes against keeping the Bush-era tax cuts where “once again the wealthy were the ones benefiting.”

Bennet says, of course, we need to be worried about the economy and the budget deficit, but he said when you look at how America has been spending money, the pendulum needs to swing back to middle-class Americans.

Neither worldview is necessarily wrong, but when viewed from the prism of widening income inequality and decades of receptionists paying a greater percentage of their take-home pay to Uncle Sam than their bosses, we squarely see the world colored from Bennet’s perspective.

Ideally, the preservation of Camp Hale would not have required a presidential visit and use of the Antiquities Act to make the land a national monument. There was a better way, and it’s the way Bennet has been pursuing for years in the Senate – the thoughtful addition of protections to federal land in Colorado via local ground-up advocacy and federal legislation.

Camp Hale would have become the first-ever National Historic Landscape in the CORE Act that he authored with Rep. Joe Neguse. And just because obstructionists loyal to the extractive industries were able to prevent the CORE Act from passing doesn’t mean there isn’t still value in pursuing it.

O’Dea, said would like to encourage better federal management of the land, including not designating unhealthy forests as wilderness which can prevent logging equipment from being used to extract beetle kill trees. O’Dea said he would support adding protections to healthy, pristine forests that are important for wildlife habitats.

“The method there that I would use is we need to make sure that we involve the locals that are a part of those areas to make sure we address their concerns as well, whether there is a road designation going through that area, or certain mineral rights they want to preserve,” O’Dea said. “I’ve been disappointed with the Camp Hale designation by President Biden. I think that’s excessive.”

We disagree.

Bennet did the groundwork for local buy-in for the CORE Act but was stymied by obstructionists who were unable to articulate their specific objection to any of the lands up for protection. It is another fundamental difference in opinion. Bennet advocated for $5 billion in the Inflation Reduction Act and $5 billion in the bipartisan infrastructure bill in the past year alone to help improve the health of our forests.

“That is a record investment in the nation’s forests, and evidence that I may have been actually able to demonstrate to Chuck Schumer that those forests are more important to us than the Lincoln Tunnel is to New York,” Bennet said.

He gets it.

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