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UPDATED Panorama: In With the New

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Mile-High Headlines for Friday, January 2

It’s Bennet for Senate

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The Denver Post is reporting that Governor Bill Ritter has selected Denver Public Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet to replace U.S. Senator Ken Salazar, who’s been tapped to head up President-elect Barack Obama’s Interior Department.

“Stung that she was not considered a top contender” to replace Ken Salazar in the U.S. Senate, Representative Diana DeGette played the gender card, as Campaign Diaries writes. Colorado, after all, has never had a female senator, DeGette noted before suddenly withdrawing herself from consideration. In a statement, the Denver Democrat said she could do the most for the state by continuing to represent the First Congressional District, according to the Rocky Mountain News.

Lieutenant Governor Barbara O’Brien and State Treasurer Cary Kennedy also withdrew their names, as Bennet pulled ahead of Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper as the favorite to be appointed by Governor Bill Ritter, according to another Rocky article.

Public Policy Polling did a bit of number crunching and found that female voters didn’t indicate high levels of support for female candidates. Of those polled, DeGette got 9 percent and Kennedy 3 percent among women voters, who back Hickenlooper by 22 percent and outgoing House Speaker Andrew Romanoff at 11 percent. Unfortunately, three women, former state senators Polly Baca and Joan Fitz-Gerald and oil heiress Swanee Hunt, weren’t included in the poll.

Ritter recently met with Baca, reports The Huffington Post, indicating that when it comes to the issue of gender, “the square state executive gets it.”

The Economic Crunch
As other lenders backed away from financing cars, credit unions stepped up to fill the gap, according to The Denver Post, which quotes one Ford dealership as saying that about half the loans consumers use are from credit unions, up from about a fifth.

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The economy is struggling, though, as even lottery ticket sales indicate. Colorado lottery sales have dropped 2.3 percent in the last year, according to The Wall Street Journal. Businesses that pave roads and highways are preparing for job cuts and “another 20 percent decline in the volume of work next year,” according to the Rocky Mountain News.

The state’s universities, meanwhile, want to chart their own economic course, including the ability to raise in-state tuition without getting permission from state lawmakers, according to the Post.

At least there was good news for Colorado workers making minimum wage. They got a cost-of-living raise yesterday, up to $7.28 an hour from $7.02, according to the Denver Business Journal.

An Innovative Year (Especially for Boulder)
When the wind blows strongest, people aren’t necessarily using much electricity. So Xcel Energy Inc. has installed a gigantic battery system to store the power for later, according to Scientific American, which reports that utility bills could go down in several states, including Colorado, because of the effort. Xcel is also working with the City of Boulder to test plug-in hybrid electric cars.

Meanwhile, PSFK.com reports that Boulder-based Newton Running, which produces environmentally friendly shoes, has joined with TDA Advertising and Design to build a greener shoe box, one made entirely from recycled materials.

And Alexis Baile and Judy Godec, who run Boulder-based CUBS Bag, are taking fabric samples and similar materials that would otherwise wind up in the trash and turning them into backpacks, purses, and other totes, according to the Denver Business Journal.

Holiday Violence
The holidays struck fear, at times, as violence erupted around the state. Five people were wounded in gunfire outside of Vinyl nightclub on December 27, according to The Denver Post.

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In Aspen, 72-year-old Jim Blanning, who was suspected of planting four bombs around the city and causing New Year’s Eve festivities to be canceled, shot himself, according to The Los Angeles Times. He had reportedly demanded money and had feuded with city officials angry that Aspen had become a destination for the wealthy. Blanning’s body was found in his Jeep near Aspen, and residents, according to 9News, rung in the New Year a day late.

Twenty-two-year-old Sean Kennedy was shot to death in Colorado Springs after he tried to enter a home he mistook for his own, according to The Associated Press. Now prosecutors are considering whether Colorado’s “Make My Day” law applies to the case. The shooting happened Sunday, and Kennedy had been drinking at a friend’s house just prior.

Tragedy also struck at Eldora Mountain Resort on Tuesday (see In Memoriam, below).

Another Look at JonBenet
Incoming Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett will decide how to proceed with the roller-coaster investigation surrounding the 1996 murder of JonBenet Ramsey. That’s according to The Associated Press, which notes that Garnett’s predecessor, Mary Lacy, exonerated the Ramsey family in 2008. Garnett could send the investigation, which the DA’s office took over in 2002–a time when police were facing criticism–back to police.

CNN calls the strangulation of six-year-old Ramsey, “a child of beauty and privilege,” one of the most notorious cold cases in recent memory.

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Milliken: All Tapped Out
Earlier this week, about 6,000 people in Milliken, which lies between Greeley and Loveland, were left without water. And town officials were unable to say why–at least initially. Greg Ziegler, owner of Hill Street Cafe, resorted to serving food to customers on paper plates, according to the Loveland Reporter-Herald.

Finally, after two days of “methodical, around-the-clock efforts” by public works crews, including some “late-night fence climbing,” Mayor Janie Lichtfuss told The Johnstown Breeze that a fire suppression line behind the All American Homes factory off Colorado Highway 60 had burst, resulting in a small geyser. All said, one million gallons of water were lost.

Among the Beetles, the Worms, and the Weeds
In the 1930s, tree planting became a popular way to fight soil erosion in the West, and the hardy tamarisk, or salt cedar, an Asian tree, took root. Now tamarisks are everywhere, “choking out native trees” like willow and cottonwood, according to The New York Times, which reports on the efforts to get the problem under control.

It’s too bad mountain pine beetles don’t have an appetite for tamarisk. The tiny bugs have killed tens of millions of trees in Colorado and are expected to kill “virtually every mature” lodgepole pine tree in the state.That’s five million of Colorado’s 22 million acres of forest, according to The Wall Street Journal, which notes lawmakers hope to help. While the beetles are laying a path of devastation, at least worms are pitching in and trying to help the environment.

A group of Colorado State University researchers is studying roundworms in Antarctica to learn about soil quality and the effects of climate change, according to The Associated Press.

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More Bad News for Newspapers
Difficult times continue for the newspaper business. The Aspen Times has cut its staff by 20 percent in the last two months and will no longer publish on Sundays. The Valley Journal in Carbondale, the Leadville Chronicle, and La Tribuna, a Spanish-language weekly, have all been shut down by the Nevada-based Swift Communications. And the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, another Swift paper, has cut its staff and is restructuring.

That’s according to The Denver Post, which, like other newspapers around the country, is facing troubles of its own as ad revenues plunge, in part because readers are turning to the Internet. MediaNews Group, which owns the Post, has now frozen pensions and suspended its 401(k) match for nonunion employees.

The move comes as MediaNews aims to cut $18 million in costs, including $2 million from the Post. Meanwhile, nobody has stepped up to buy the Rocky Mountain News, which might be shut down by the E.W. Scripps Co. later this month if a buyer isn’t found.

But there’s still some money in journalism, as recently laid-off Colorado Independent reporter Erin Rosa discovered thanks to Narco News, which is sending her to Bolivia to write about the fledgling democracy there.

Four Times a Daddy
Tour de France king Lance Armstrong is expecting a baby with his girlfriend, Anna Hansen. That’s according to myriad sources, including Yahoo News, which reports that Armstrong, who overcame testicular cancer, and his Colorado gal are thrilled.

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Hansen was a waitress at the Rio Grande in Boulder, where she attended the University of Colorado. She later worked for a Vail nonprofit, according to Westword. She also took up competitive mountain biking, which is how she met Armstrong. After the pregnancy announcement, Armstrong’s publicist forced Hansen to take down her Facebook and MySpace profiles, “to the dismay of her many online fans,” writes Westword. Armstrong and his former wife, Kristin, have three children.

Goodbye, Shanahan
Former Denver Broncos Coach Mike Shanahan and the guy who fired him, team owner Pat Bowlen, fought back tears during a press conference yesterday. “I guess nothing is forever,” Bowlen said (via The Denver Post). The team is preparing to replace the man who led it for 14 years, claiming two Super Bowl victories.

The Broncos are looking at several candidates, according to the Rocky Mountain News, including University of Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops. The team also plans meetings with New York Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and Tampa Bay defensive-backs coach Raheem Morris in coming days, according to the Post.

Greening the Black and Gold

Although the University of Colorado Buffaloes failed to make a bowl game this season, there was reason to celebrate in Boulder. The university found success in its “zero waste” campaign, according to The New York Times’ Green Inc. blog. Over eighty percent of the garbage from Folsom Field was composted or recycled during the last four games by taking the trash cans out of the stadium and replacing them with recycling and composting bins.

Videodose: One insane way to welcome the New Year: Hop into the freezing water at the Boulder Res during the 26th Annual Polar Plunge. See the video, via Boulder’s Daily Camera, here.

In Memoriam: Panorama sends our thoughts and prayers to the staff of Eldora Mountain Resort and the family of general manager Brian Mahon, who was fatally shot at random Tuesday morning at the ski area. Details of the tragedy can be found via Boulder’s Daily Camera (here and here) and The Denver Post.

Cheapest Gallon of Gas ‘Round Here: $1.22, Bradley, 5160 W. 65th Ave. (via www.gasbuddy.com).

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