STATE-ASSEMBLY-01132021-KS-531

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 13: Representatives are asked to stand on the floor of the House during the first legislative day of the 73rd General Assembly at the Colorado State Capitol on January 13, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. 

The House Democratic caucus postponed its scheduled leadership elections Thursday after the race for Speaker of the House became dependent upon the votes of candidates who haven't officially won their races yet. 

The caucus convened with 46 members who are all currently winning their House races. However, House Speaker Alec Garnett, D-Denver, said three of the members have not officially been declared the winners in their respective races. 

Those members were still allowed to vote, though Garnett said if a leadership race is determined by fewer than the margin of those provisional voters, then the leadership race cannot be called. 

The first round of voting for the new House speaker ended with a result within the margin, meaning three votes or fewer separated the candidates. 

The three candidates for speaker were Rep. Julie McCluskie of Dillion, Rep. Chris Kennedy of Lakewood and Rep. Adrienne Benavidez of Adams County. Garnett did not reveal which candidate won the vote. The voting is anonymous, so it is impossible to know who the three provisional members voted for. 

A new date will be selected for the House Democratic leadership elections after the three ongoing races have been called. 

If all three Democratic candidates win their races, the results from Thursday's vote will be official and will determine the next speaker of the House. If any of the three candidates lose their race, the voting will be held again without the losing candidate. 

According to the Colorado House Majority Project, the three provisional Democratic candidates are Stephanie Vigil in District 16 (Colorado Springs), Bob Marshall in District 43 (Highlands Ranch) and Eliza Hamrick in District 61 (Centennial). 

However, the Associated Press has yet to call five Colorado House races, with the other two being Rep. Marc Snyder in District 18 (Colorado Springs) and Jennifer Parenti in District 19 (Boulder and Weld counties).  

While Garnett said he is confident all Democratic candidates will win their races, the current splits are too tight. 

In District 19, Parenti is winning her race against Republican Rep. Dan Woog by only 56 votes, according to results from the Secretary of State's Office as of 4:20 p.m. Thursday.

In Districts 16, 43 and 61, the Democratic candidates are leading by 596, 669 and 947 votes, respectively. Snyder has the biggest lead among the uncalled elections, winning his race for District 18 by just under 2,300 votes. 

Delaying the election, however, has other, more immediate consequences.

McCluskie, who’s among the trio running for House Speaker, is currently the chair of the Joint Budget Committee, or she is until Monday, when the JBC begins its work on the 2023-24 state budget. At that time, Sen. Rachel Zenzinger of Arvada will become the next chair, since that position rotates between chambers every year. But McCluskie will remain on the committee so long as the leadership elections remain unresolved. 

There’s also a question of whether Rep. Leslie Herod, the other House Democrat on JBC, will want to continue on that panel, given that she’s running for Denver Mayor. That means the committee could have two new members from the House Democratic caucus.

JBC members have said in the past that it takes a year, and often longer, to get up to speed on the budget process.

McCluskie acknowledged the learning curve for JBC can be steep. She said she encourages lawmakers to attend the JBC hearings and briefings so that they can be knowledgeable about the budget, but also acknowledged there’s a difference between attending hearings and being a member of the committee on a daily basis.

“I think all members should be engaged and present in understanding the budget and what it looks like” and she’d be happy if more lawmakers attended anyway, McCluskie said. 

“Certainly [this situation] is not ideal,” McCluskie said. “We wish all of the races were resolved.”

She added that several members have expressed an interest in committees, including the JBC, and that the three speaker candidates have talked among themselves about the urgency of making committee appointments.

She’s hoping that the delay on results would be resolved within the next 24 to 48 hours but added that she would put “steps in place” in the event the races are not resolved by Monday.

“One day at a time,” she said.

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