Dems look to gay man for speaker of House

DENVER — Democrats in the Colorado House made history Thursday when they nominated House Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino to be the state’s first openly gay speaker of the House.

That became possible when the Democrats regained a majority in the 65-member chamber after Tuesday’s elections, winning 37 seats to the Republicans’ 28.

Currently, the GOP holds a 33-32 majority in the House.

“Now that we’ve gotten through what felt like a couple years on the campaign trail ... it’s time to do what we were elected to do,” the Denver lawmaker told other Democrats at legislative leadership elections in the Capitol. “That is an important responsibility that we should take seriously. In this building, your job is to build consensus. Your job is to reach across the aisle, find partners and come up with the best policy for the people of Colorado.”

Currently, there are four openly gay lawmakers in the Legislature, but four more will join them in January. All of them are Democrats.

Meanwhile, the Democrats retained their majority in the Senate, giving the party control of both chambers and the governor’s office.

While Democrats were crowning new leaders, the House Republicans were replacing old ones.

In January, when the Legislature starts the 2013 session, current House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, and current Majority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Colorado Springs, will simply be known as state representatives.

Both are remaining in the House, but neither will be in leadership positions.

That’s because the caucus decided, given its defeat on Tuesday, that new leaders were in order.

As a result, Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, will serve as minority leader while Rep. Libby Szabo, R-Arvada, will be his deputy.

“Every time we turned on the television to listen to all the pundits ... they talked about two groups of people that the Republicans are having difficulty with; that’s women and Latinos,” Szabo told fellow Republicans in vying for that assistant post. “I am a woman Latina, and I think it would speak big if we didn’t just talk about reaching out to them, that we are going to put someone in leadership who is actually one of them.”

While there are only two Latinos and no blacks among Republicans in the House, the Democrats have five blacks and six Hispanics. In the Senate, there are four Hispanics, all of whom are Democrats.

Though there was speculation McNulty was planning to resign his seat after holding the most prominent position in the House, the Republican said that was never on his mind.

McNulty said no matter who leads his party’s caucus, Republicans would continue to put pressure on the rest of the Legislature to do whatever is needed to help the state’s economy recover.

“I don’t think anybody has any mandate,” McNulty said. “I do give credit to the Obama machine. It was devastatingly effective. Credit is due to them. They were good.”

Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, said the party’s efforts to push its agenda forward was greatly diminished, but not gone entirely.

He said the GOP will only have to work harder to reach compromises with Democrats if the state’s economy is to improve.

“I’ll remind them that we’re still in a recession on the Western Slope,” Coram said.

In the Senate, Democrats also chose new leaders, picking Sen. John Morse of Colorado Springs as president and Sen. Morgan Carroll of Aurora as majority leader.

Of all of those leaders in both chambers, however, none hail from the Western Slope.

So when the Senate Democrats twice deadlocked on who would be their assistant majority leader, and created a new position — that of majority whip — in an effort to break that tie, Sen. Gail Schwartz decided to vie for it.

The Snowmass Village Democrat said it just wouldn’t do not to have someone from the west side of the Continental Divide in some sort of leadership role.

“Having a caucus leadership that’s dominated by a Front Range perspective when 80 percent of this state is in rural communities, it is important to have a voice at the table,” Schwartz said. “Broadband connectivity, methane capture, energy issues, water. These are not the conversations folks in the metro areas have, but these are the conversations I have on the Western Slope.”


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