A big blue freight train will be riding the rails at the Colorado Statehouse in January as Democrats, aided by two key wins in El Paso County, now will control both chambers in the Legislature.
Returns around the state were not final late Tuesday but it appeared that Democrats, who have held 32 seats in the 65-seat House for the past two years, now will have a 38-27 voting advantage. Because they already control the State Senate and the governor’s office, Tuesday’s results mean Democrats will call the tune on the budget and many other matters.
And two of those Democrats will be incumbent District 18 Rep. Pete Lee, who defeated challenger Jennifer George, and newcomer Tony Exum, who beat incumbent Republican Mark Barker in House District 17.
Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, the House minority leader, is now the presumptive speaker of the House — the second-most powerful post in state government. He said the Democrats’ success came in part because Coloradans blamed Republicans for the awkward way the civil unions bill was handled. “People were concerned with the way the House was being run.”
The civil unions issue, which proved so divisive that it resulted in a special session this year, is sure to return, but without the votes to stop it, Republicans will be relegated to roles as spectators. Ferrandino, an openly gay man, was the House sponsor of the civil unions bill this year.
Republican Rep. Mark Waller of Colorado Springs, who has served as assistant majority leader, acknowledged that the Democrats had made an impressive sweep.
“The Obama wave has continued since 2008,” Waller said. “What it comes down to is turnout. I think that is attributable to the presidential election.”
Waller’s wit and his ability to find something good to say didn’t desert him, though.
“It’s good we’re not in a country where they take you out and shoot you when you lose,” he said. “We have fair, transparent elections. You can’t be angry about the process.”
Because Republicans won’t be in position to stop many of the Democratic proposals, that job may fall to Gov. John Hickenlooper. We’ll see if the business-friendly governor must strain at times to keep the Legislature from straying farther to the left than he would like.
But Ferrandino added that “I really want to see us invest in pre-school and kindergarten. We’re still a billion dollars short on K-12 education.”
Ferrandino called Hickenlooper’s proposed budget “a good first step.” But in Colorado it’s the Legislature, not the governor, that writes the budget.
And the next budget will take on a blue hue.