In what could be a first in the history of the Colorado Legislature, a member of the minority party was chosen vice chairman of a standing committee on Wednesday.
That happened when House Speaker Alec Garnett, a Denver Democrat, named Montrose Republican Rep. Marc Catlin as vice chairman of the House Agriculture, Livestock & Water Committee.
Traditionally, the chair and vice chair of most committees in both the Colorado House and Senate go to members of the majority party, in this case the Democrats. House speakers appoint members of their own party to committees, and decide who is chair and vice chair, while minority leaders do the same for their party members.
That’s particularly true for what the Legislature calls “standing committees,” major panels that focus on specific subjects, such as business and labor, local governments or judicial/legal matters. The House has 11 standing committees, while the Senate has 10. They handle all the bills that are introduced during any given legislative session.
Catlin was considered an exception to the normal rule not because of his party affiliation, but his background and knowledge about all things agriculture and water.
“No, he didn’t change parties,” quipped Catlin’s Senate colleague, Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose. “Kudos to Marc and kudos to the speaker. I’ve never heard of this happening before, but kudos to Alec because he recognized that Marc is probably the most agricultural person on the committee.”
Coram said that it all started when former Rep. Jeni Arndt, a Democrat who resigned her seat on Friday after being elected mayor of Fort Collins, tried to persuade Garnett to name Catlin chairman.
Prior to all this, Catlin was considered the ranking Republican representative on the 11-member committee. That panel also includes Reps. Perry Will, R-New Castle, and Dylan Roberts, D-Avon.
“When Jeni Arndt left, she said she wanted me to be chair,” Catlin said. “I really can’t tell you how this happened other than the speaker and everybody decided that I would work for that. When they approached me, I said I never thought about it. I thought it was quite an honor just being the ranking member.”
The vice chair doesn’t come with a lot of authority except to preside over a committee when the chairman or chairwoman isn’t there or is presenting a bill to that committee.
Catlin said he didn’t ask for this, and has faced a bit of razzing from his Republican colleagues on the panel.
“I didn’t politic for this, and I hope they don’t try to count coup on me or something,” Catlin joked. “I talked to many of the guys on the ag committee, and they were upset I didn’t get chair, so...”
Freshman Rep. Karen McCormick, a Longmont Democrat and veterinarian, was named chairwoman, saying Wednesday that she’s thrilled to work with Catlin as vice chair “to continue its bipartisan legacy.”
Ironically, Catlin wasn’t named to the House agriculture panel right away when he was appointed to represent House District 58 in 2017. That happened when Coram left the House for the Senate to fill a vacancy created when then Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, resigned. Catlin was selected to replace Coram.
But even though Coram had been on House Agricultural Committee, his seat on that panel was filled by then Rep. Yeulin Willett, R-Grand Junction, who said he deserved the spot on the coveted committee because he had more seniority in the House.
An opening became available the very next year after Willett decided not to run for re-election in 2018, and dropped off that panel during his final year in office, allowing Catlin to win a seat on the committee.