U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet was the keynote speaker for the El Paso County Democratic Party’s annual “Everybody Welcome Gala” fundraiser event Saturday evening at the Antlers Hotel. Bennet’s speech, which touched on gun violence, the Russia-Ukraine War, and economic disparities in the U.S., drove home the stakes in this year’s election.

“We have an important obligation here to make this democracy as strong as it can be,” said Bennet. “There are candidates on the ballot this year — I’m telling you, what’s really on the ballot is democracy in 2022.” 

Bennet began his remarks with a moment of silence for victims of the Buffalo, New York mass shooting, which he said illustrated the need to eliminate the filibuster. “My oldest daughter, Caroline, who is now 22 years old, was born the year after Columbine,” he said. “She and her sisters, like so many kids across the country, and across our state have grown up in a world where we have nothing but worse gun violence every single year, and yet Congres has done nothing to address this, in part because of the way the Senate rules work, and that’s one of the reasons why we need to change the rules in the United States Senate.”

Bennet took aim not just at Senate rules, but also Senate Democrats like Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), who blocked multiple proposed laws. “I’ve been fighting so hard to expand the child tax credit, to cut childhood poverty in this country by almost 50% last year,” he said. “To cut hunger in the United States by 25%, I have to overcome Joe Manchin’s objection. … I have to overcome Kyrsten Sinema’s objections to make sure we reverse the Trump tax cuts for the wealthy so we can create this infrastructure bill and investments we’re trying to make.”

Manchin voted with Senate Republicans to block the Women’s Health Protection Act last week, after the leak of the Supreme Court draft ruling that would potentially overturn Roe v. Wade. “It’s shocking that this draft opinion has leaked and that it seems that five of the justices are going to vote to overturn Roe v. Wade,” said Bennet. “I think it’s very important for us to make sure that we elect a national legislature that’s pro-choice. We’re going to have to have a pro-choice Senate, we’re going to have to have a pro-choice house, and states across the country, I think, are going to be following Colorado’s lead. We’ve enshrined that fundamental right as a fundamental right. I think what you’ll see in the coming years is the people of Colorado will adopt it into our constitution. This has been a 50-year effort by the right-wing in this country to overturn Roe v. Wade and now we need to do everything we absolutely can do to secure the right in this political process.”

Colorado Springs City Councilor and Colorado Senate District 11 candidate Yolanda Avila (left) spoke with U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) during a May 14 fundraiser event.

Gridlock in the Senate has not just hampered attempts at gun control and reproductive justice legislation, but efforts at addressing climate change as well, as Colorado continues to experience extreme drought and wildfire conditions.

“Our quality of life in Colorado is being affected dramatically because of climate change,” said Bennet. “I spend a lot of time working with communities that have suffered through the worst wildfires that they have ever seen, or through the worst floods that they’ve ever seen, caused by climate change. It’s certainly been true in El Paso County. We have to get to net zero carbon by 2050. What we’ve got to do is figure out how to build a transition from where we are today to where we need to be in 2050. I think it’s a mistake to say that we’re going to be able to go from A to Z. We’re going to have to go from A to B to C to D to E to Z to get to a place where we’re at net zero in 2050. I think Colorado can lead that. I think Colorado is transitioning from fossil fuels in a way that demonstrates that you can continue to grow your economy, but we’re going to have work with communities that are transitioning here, like in Northwest Colorado where they’re losing their coal plants, they’re losing their power plants, and we’ve got to find ways to replace the revenue base there. I think it’s very important to do that, because if we don’t do that we’re not going to be able to have the transition. This transition should have started 20 years ago. What’s coming now in congress is this reconciliation package that hopefully we’re going to be able to pass. It’s go $500 billion in funding for climate, but I don’t know whether we’re going to get to finish that or not.”

In addition to emphasizing the need to elect pro-choice legislators, Bennet addressed the importance of expanding voting access.

Colorado Rep. Ron Hanks (R-Cañon City), an outspoken election conspiracy theorist, is competing against businessman and businessman Joe O’Dea, who’s a former Bennet donor, to challenge Bennet during the November election. 

“Part of what we need to do is make sure that every single citizen of this country, no matter what state they live in, has access to the ballot the way people right here in Colorado do,” said Bennet. “We need to do more than that, we need to make sure that we have an economy that when it grows, it grows for everybody, not just the top 10%, which is what we’ve seen over the last 50 years in America. … That is the reflection of an economy that does not work well for everybody. The reason that’s important is not just for people, it’s important for the democracy because If people don’t think there’s an opportunity, that’s when a tyrant shows up and says, ‘I alone can fix it. You don’t need the rule of law, you don’t need democracy, you should expect your public sector and your private sector to be hopelessly corrupt.’ That is Trumpism. That is tyranny, and that is what we have to defeat in 2022.”

Bennet ended his comments to the El Paso County Democrats with a reminder of what is at stake in upcoming elections.

“If you work a little bit harder between now and election day, we may not win every single race, but I can tell you what we will win,” Bennet said. “We will save this democracy, and that is a fight worth having, that is a fight worth winning.”