State’s legislative leadership changing; more diverse

DENVER — Less than six months after the state House’s Republican leaders shut down the chamber to thwart a bill for civil unions for gays and lesbians, the sponsor of that bill was elected Speaker of the House.

Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, will be the first openly gay person to serve in the top spot in Colorado’s House. Democrats picked up five seats in Tuesday’s election and now command a 37-28 majority.

Ferrandino’s voice wavered when he told fellow Democrats about his New York childhood in special education classes.

“As a kid who was picked on, called names, to be where I am and have your support to do that is awesome. It’s humbling. I couldn’t dream when I was in elementary school and high school that I’d be standing here doing this,” Ferrandino said.

The rest of the Legislature got more diverse, too, in terms of race, gender and geography.

House Democrats now have five black members, after their numbers had dwindled to one just a few years ago. House Republicans added five women to their caucus, doubling the previous number.

And Rep. Mike McLachlan, D-Durango, becomes the third House Democrat from the Western Slope. In recent years, Democrats have held just two seats west of the Continental Divide.

McLachlan joins Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, who represents Montezuma County, as the Southwest Colorado contingent in the House.

Coram said he and McLachlan planned to talk this week.

He doesn’t expect many changes personally now that his party is in the minority.

“I tend to vote my district. Sometimes that takes a Democratic coalition, sometimes it takes a Republican coalition, and sometimes it takes both,” he said.

In his first two years, he was a favorite partner of Democrats when they needed a sponsor for their bills.

Republicans cleaned house and elected new leaders after losing their majority. Speaker of the House Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, and Majority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Monument, declined to run for leadership.

Instead, Colorado Springs Rep. Mark Waller will serve as the new Republican leader.

The only public hints of discontent among House Republicans came from Rep. Libby Szabo of Arvada, who said when teams aren’t doing well, they bring in fresh faces as coaches. She was elected assistant minority leader.

“That is No. 1 goal of mine, is to get us back into the majority, because that is where we can be most effective,” Szabo said.

She also pointed out that Republicans had problems in swaying women and Latinos to their side.

“I am a woman Latino, and I think it would speak big if we didn’t just talk about reaching out to them, but we said we are going to put someone in leadership who is actually one of them,” Szabo said.

Colorado almost became the first state with gay leaders in each legislative chamber. But Senate Majority Leader John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, beat out Denver Democrat Pat Steadman for the Senate president’s post.