From Pueblo to the nation's Capitol — Colorado’s Democratic Senate President Leroy Garcia is stepping down from the state legislature to take a Defense job at the Pentagon.
Garcia, a Marine Corps veteran, is the first Latino to serve as Senate President. He took the helm of that chamber three years ago, after Democrats regained control of the chamber in the 2018 "blue wave." Because of term limits, Garcia was already slated to leave the legislature at the end of the year.
Now, his resignation will go into effect on Feb. 23. In his new job, Garcia will serve as the Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Manpower and Reserve Affairs.
“While my time in the Senate is coming to a close, I am proud of all that we’ve accomplished together to move Colorado forward, and I am confident that whomever is selected to fill these vacancies will serve with the integrity and tenacity that Coloradans deserve,” wrote Garcia in a press release announcing his decision.
Senate Democrats are expected to meet soon to select his replacement as President. His Senate seat will be filled by a Democratic vacancy committee in District three, the Pueblo-based seat he represents.
Gov. Jared Polis praised Garcia for his “unwavering commitment” to southern Colorado and Pueblo.
“Under President Garcia’s leadership we have led trailblazing health care reforms to save Coloradans money, created a state park at Fishers Peak and we are poised to move forward in making front range rail a reality,” Polis said. “President Garcia’s experience as a paramedic and Marine Corps veteran will be a huge asset to President Biden’s administration. On behalf of a grateful state, I congratulate him on his appointment.”
Garcia worked in Pueblo politics before heading to the state Capitol
Garcia’s family has deep roots in Southern Colorado. Before being elected to the state Senate, he represented Pueblo in the House and served on the city council.
A working paramedic, Garcia’s website notes he also served six years in the Marine Corps, deploying to Iraq as a mortuary specialist. He has two sons.
When it comes to legislation, Garcia has generally taken a more moderate stance compared to most Democrats, for instance on issues such as gun control. He voted against a so-called ‘red flag’ gun law and also opposed the idea of an assault-style weapons ban, a proposal which was briefly floated after the mass shooting in Boulder last year. He argued at the time that those types of policies don’t respect the "rights of responsible gun owners."
In 2019, Garcia was the target of a recall campaign for allegedly moving too far to the left on gun policies, as well as his support for stricter oil and gas regulations and a new law that joined Colorado to the National Popular Vote compact.
However, recall organizers failed to gather enough valid signatures to put the question on the ballot.
An at-times tumultuous relationship with state GOP
Garcia’s early tenure as Senate President was marked by a somewhat tumultuous relationship with the chamber’s Republican members that eventually ended up in court.
When a GOP senator requested an extremely long bill be read at length, as a stalling tactic to protest the Democratic agenda, Garcia used computers to read the bill at unintelligible speeds.
Republican lawmakers sued, and the courts agreed, concluding the practice was unconstitutional.
At the time, Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert, one of the Republicans who filed the lawsuit, said he hoped the decision would mark the beginning of a new discourse with Garcia, who he called ”a good man and thoughtful leader.”
Other state lawmakers react
As news of Garcia’s departure broke, Holbert said he appreciated that Garcia had given him a heads up on his decision before announcing it publicly.
“...that is a clear indication of how we’ve come to trust each other and communicate over the last three years as part of Senate leadership. I wish him the very best in his career and life after the General Assembly,” said Holbert in a written statement.
Other lawmakers also weighed in with words of praise. Democratic state Sen. Julie Gonzales called Garcia a "trailblazer," and said she learned a lot from him.
“I am incredibly proud to have had the opportunity to serve alongside and learn from Presidente, and I will miss his mentorship and his guidance,” she said.
Garcia is not the first member of the Colorado legislature to be tapped by the Biden administration. State Rep. Dominique Jackson resigned her position late last year to become the regional administrator for the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
You want to know what is really going on these days, especially in Colorado. We can help you keep up. The Lookout is a free, daily email newsletter with news and happenings from all over Colorado. Sign up here and we will see you in the morning!