As the Colorado Senate majority leader steps down, others eye the powerful leadership role

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
The Colorado state Senate on the last day of the legislative session. May 8, 2023.

Several Democrats are vying to be the number two leader in the Colorado State Senate after Majority Leader Dominick Moreno announced last week that he was stepping down to become Denver Mayor Mike Johnston’s deputy chief of staff.

The 2024 legislative session would have been Moreno’s last due to term limits. 

The majority leader holds considerable power — setting the agenda and timing for floor work in the Senate, including when bills are debated. The majority leader determines each committee’s size and split and also works with each caucus to appoint lawmakers to the panels. 

Democratic state Sen. Faith Winter said she's running for the job. State Sen. Robert Rodriguez, the current assistant majority leader, and state Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, the chair of the Joint Budget Committee, are also competing for the position, according to three Democratic Senators. 

Zenzinger will be term-limited after the next session. She and Rodriguez didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about their candidacies, but Winter said if elected she would change the committee structure to give Democrats a wider margin of votes. 

There is still time for others to jump into the leadership race. The party is expected to select a new majority leader in September.

During the last session, the makeup of the Senate committees was a sore spot for progressive members of the legislature. Even as Democrats held a near supermajority under the Gold Dome, the closely divided Senate committees frequently blocked or watered down some progressive priorities. 

In seven out of the state Senate’s 10 committees last session, Democrats only had a one-vote advantage. Those narrow margins made it possible for a single moderate member to side with Republicans to vote down a bill, or to demand significant changes in order to pass a bill.

At the time Moreno said a lawmaker’s area of expertise was a determining factor in committee assignments, as well as making sure each member wasn’t stretched too thin by serving on too many committees. He also said he believed that the committee structure was an accurate representation of the Senate as a whole and said the statehouse had a Democratic — not necessarily progressive —majority. 

Democrats hold a 23-12 advantage in the Senate after gaining seats in the 2022 election.