Sen. Robert Rodriguez is Colorado’s new Senate majority leader

Bente Birkeland/CPR News
New Senate Majority Leader Robert Rodriguez of Denver (left), stands with Assistant Majority Leader Faith Winter and Senate President Steve Fenberg, Sept. 8, 2023.

Democratic state Sen. Robert Rodriguez from Denver will be Colorado’s next Senate majority leader. He was selected by his colleagues at a caucus meeting Friday.

Rodriguez beat out state Sen. Rachel Zenzinger who chairs the powerful joint budget committee and is in her last year at the statehouse. Voting was done by secret ballot.

Rodriguez previously served as the assistant majority leader.

“I look forward to elevating your voices and our common goals as a team. Know that I will be here for you and will strive to make the goals of the caucus my priority,” said Rodriguez in his speech ahead of the vote. 

Democrats hold a 23-12 advantage in the state Senate after gaining seats in the 2022 election. He said he thinks the caucus will be more settled when the legislature convenes next January, now that they’ve had a year under their belts of getting used to a wider majority. 

Rodiguez was largely backed by the more progressive wing of the caucus but declined to define himself that way when asked.

“I think I always get conflicted of what progressive means, because what I consider progressive might not be considered by another person," Rodriguez said. "We're all different in that point.”

He pointed out that during his Senate race last year, he was endorsed by the Chamber of Commerce, AFL-CIO and the Working Families Party.

As for how he sees his role as the chamber’s number two Democrat, Rodriguez said he believes in communication.

“I always look to listen and there's always going to be times when we agree to disagree. As long as you do it respectfully and you have debate, that's what the process is about.” 

Rodriquez said there are sometimes things to be learned from the minority party and he will be open to their amendments on bills; “If there's something we missed that’s not a terrible idea, then why not accept it?”

Bente Birkeland/CPR News
Democratic senators rise to congratulate state Sen. Robert Rodriguez (center), after his election to Majority Leader, Sept. 8, 2023.

The majority leader position opened up after former state Sen. Dominick Moreno stepped down to become Denver Mayor Mike Johnston’s deputy chief of staff. The Senate job comes with considerable power — setting the agenda and timing for floor work in the Senate, including when bills are debated. The majority leader also determines each committee’s size and its partisan split and works with each caucus to appoint lawmakers to the panels.

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

On Friday, Rodriguez would not specify any changes he intends to make and said he would talk to the caucus and figure it out as a team. He noted that committee assignments are complicated.

Once Rodriguez was chosen as majority leader, Democrats moved to fill the assistant majority leader position — although some pushed to delay that vote to another day. The position went to state Sen. Faith Winter of Broomfield. Winter had previously said she wanted the majority leader job, but on Friday she ended up nominating Rodriquez for the position. He then nominated her to be the assistant.

That arrangement — where Winter appeared to give up her pursuit of the higher position in return for Rodriguez’s backing to become assistant majority leader — appeared to bother some in the Democratic caucus. Aurora state Sen. Rhonda Fields who was also nominated for the assistant majority position said, “Voting should not be based on deals.”

However, Rodriguez defended Winter’s selection and said he did not nominate Winter in exchange for her support.

“Sen. Winter nominated me and she asked if I would support her for assistant majority leader. That's how it rolled out," Rodriguez said. A lot of us have been in the legislature the same amount of time and the positions were open.”

“I’ve watched her work through many bills, so many bills,” said Rodriguez. “And having tough fights for Colorado. I’ve watched her work on bills and build coalitions. I’ve shared an office with Faith.” Rodriguez said Winter has a great ability to work through politics and policy.

Winter said she believes in the politics of abundance. “Whether we agree on every bill or not, we all do better together as a team. I am committed to ensuring the success of every single member of the team. It’s being transparent and I see leadership in all of you and what you can contribute.”