Colorado Lawmakers Go Back To Work In A Democrat-Controlled Capitol

<p>Hart Van Denburg/CPR News</p>
<p>Incoming state House Speaker KC Becker, right, hugs Rep. Daneya Esgar on the House floor Friday Jan. 4, 2018.</p>
Photo: Legislature Opens 2019 1 HV
Incoming state House Speaker KC Becker, right, hugs Rep. Daneya Esgar on the House floor Friday Jan. 4, 2018.

Colorado lawmakers are back at work.

The 2019 legislative session opened Friday morning with plenty of new faces at the Capitol and Democrats in complete control. The party now holds both chambers of the legislature and the governor's office, meaning there's little resistance between Democrats and their agenda.

In the Senate, outgoing president Republican state Sen. Kevin Grantham passed the gavel to a new leader, Democratic state Sen. Leroy Garcia, a marine veteran representing Pueblo, made history as the state’s first Latino Senate President.

In his opening speech, Garcia called for action on the student debt and the opioid crises. The senator took a bipartisan tone, and said no party has a monopoly on good ideas.

“For too long we have allowed a political party to divide us and as a result of ego and politics, that has helped determine which bills moved forward. Not the merits of the policy,” Garcia said.

Garcia is seen as more moderate than some of his peers. That could be why the new Senate Minority Leader, Republican state Sen. Chris Holbert, gave Garcia a cautious level of support. Holbert said that with Garcia leading of the Senate, the upper chamber would continue to be home the “adults in the room.”

“Mr. President, the minority caucus looks to you — your even hand, and your experience — to be the gauge of how far left or right we might journey over the next two years,” Holbert said.

The opening day of the Colorado legislature wasn’t all gavel-tossing and podium-taking. Lawmakers mingled with their families and planned lunch on the big first day. And with dozens of bills to consider over the next few weeks, a lighter work day could be welcome.

Across the hall in the state House, the new Democratic Speaker, state Rep. KC Becker of Boulder, outlined a bold agenda.

“Together we are driven to build a fair economy that expands opportunity for all, to invest in our future and to protect the Colorado way of life,” Becker said.

Becker fit a towering set of Democratic priorities under that broad umbrella: Gun control, education funding, paid family leave, crumbling infrastructure and new action on climate change.

Not only that, Becker also said the state had to do more to address the local impacts of the oil and gas industry.

“That means we must ensure communities feel more confident that the oil and gas happening nearby isn’t negatively impacting their air and water quality or their quality of life,” Becker said.

Becker’s commitment to oil and gas regulations could signal that Democrats are ready to propose new legislation even after Prop. 112, which would have increased setbacks between wells and occupied structures, failed in November.

Minority Republicans vow to oppose legislation they say will increase the cost of living for families.

The new state House Speaker also celebrated the diversity in the freshman lawmaker class.

“We made history by electing a record number of people of color to our state legislature. We made history by electing 33 women — a majority — to the House. And the first transgender representative in our state made ‘Herstory,’” Becker said.

That first transgender representative, Democratic state Rep. Brianna Titone of Arvada, hopes her place in the legislature helps other trans people feel represented, but also sends a broader message.

“I want to make sure that people realize that trans people are just like regular people, and we’re just trying to get work done just like everyone else. And I have a lot to contribute and I'm gonna have a couple of years here to prove that,” Titone said.

One of Titone’s first proposals? Expanded access to broadband internet.

The swearing-in Friday marked other demographic milestones for Colorado. A record number of Latino lawmakers will serve in the state assembly. Voters also elected a female majority to the Colorado House for the first time in state history, but it’s not clear if the chamber will end up being mostly women. Existing or potential vacancies have shuffled the math.

In the State Senate, a group of women dubbed “the Fab Five” earned credit for flipping from the chamber from red to blue. They include Sen. Tammy Story, Sen. Kerry Donovan, Sen. Brittany Pettersen and Sen. Jessi Danielson. Each won their races by more than 10 points.

The sexual harassment investigations that headlined the 2018 legislative session still haunt Colorado lawmakers in the new year. Republican state Sen. Randy Baumgardner, the subject of multiple misconduct allegations, was listed as "excused" Friday.

In December, Baumgardner announced he would resign effective Jan. 21. A vacancy committee chose GOP Rep. Bob Rankin of Carbondale to replace Baumgardner.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.