House Democrats on Thursday elevated veteran Reps. Alec Garnett and Daneya Esgar to lead the 73rd Colorado legislative session as speaker and majority leader, respectively.
“Once you enter the chamber and start working with Alec, what we all, I think, feel about Alec is that he genuinely cares about every single member,” said Rep. Kerry Tipper, D-Lakewood, in nominating Garnett on a virtual call of Democratic representatives. “I think he loses more sleep than probably anyone in the House, worrying about how they're doing.”
The first male speaker in six years, Garnett, D-Denver, referenced the high level of diverse gender and racial representation within his 41-member caucus.
“Nearly 70% of our caucus are strong, powerful women,” he said after no other candidate contested the position. “We’ve managed to turn this diversity into unity and strength.”
Garnett, 37, will enter his fourth and final term beginning in 2021. He represents central Denver, which he labeled the youngest and “hippest” district in the state. His Democratic predecessor, Mark Ferrandino, also was House speaker from 2013-2014. Garnett served as the majority leader in the past legislative session under term-limited Speaker K.C. Becker, D-Boulder.
Referencing his first election in 2014, he recalled not knowing whether Democrats held the majority on election night. Now, the Democratic caucus will be just as large as in the previous session, with 41 members out of the 65-representative body. Although first-term Rep. Bri Buentello appears to have lost her seat in Pueblo, Rep.-elect David Ortiz defeated an incumbent Republican in a Littleton-centered district.
The contest for majority leader took substantially more time due to the large number of candidates — four — and a procedure that required the winner to receive at least 21 votes. If no individual won an outright majority, the candidate with the fewest votes would be eliminated and further rounds of voting would commence through a runoff system.
Candidates for the majority leader position included Reps. Esgar of Pueblo; Adrienne Benavidez of Denver; Chris Kennedy of Lakewood; and Leslie Herod of Denver.
Esgar, in her pitch to colleagues, emphasized the importance of geographic diversity from outside of the Denver metro area in leadership and the respect she said she gained during her time in the Capitol. She also referenced her past fundraising activity on behalf of Democratic candidates.
“People ask me if I’m standing in the way of people running for speaker in ‘22. I say, absolutely not,” argued Esgar, who is also entering her fourth and final term.
“This isn’t a stepping stone for me,” she added. “I’m not trying to be your next speaker.”
Reps. Kyle Mullica, D-Northglenn, and Marc Snyder, D-Manitou Springs, nominated Esgar. The chair of the Joint Budget Committee and a member of the LGBTQ caucus, she indicated she would like to discuss mentorship among legislators if chosen.
Representatives voted through an anonymous survey sent over email, and Garnett, who ran the meeting, did not disclose vote totals. Following the first round, Benavidez was eliminated.
Rep. Edie Hooton, D-Boulder, in nominating Benavidez, called the majority leader the “bulldog” of the caucus who argues for their party’s political positions and backs up members when challenged on issues. Tipper, in seconding the nomination, said Benavidez provided an exceptional level of attention to the detail of bills, thinking critically and anticipating consequences.
During the next round, Kennedy, the current assistant majority leader, dropped from the list of candidates.
Rep. Lisa Cutter, D-Jefferson County, described Kennedy as thoughtful and generous, and someone who could turn over “fully developed bills to colleagues who need a win.” Kennedy acknowledged a blind spot on understanding the experiences of people of color, but explained he was working on his own anti-racism training.
“Putting others’ needs above our own is being what a Democrat is all about,” he said.
Representatives were then left with the choice of Esgar and Herod. Supporters of Herod pointed to her track record in passing the state’s major police accountability bill in June and the need for the General Assembly’s leadership to reflect the state’s diversity.
“I will be a mentor to those who want it,” Herod told members, and “a strategist when we are stuck in a bind.”
“I think it's about a difference in leadership style,” Rep. Susan Lontine, D-Denver, told Colorado Politics during the vote. “At least it is for me.”
Rep.-elect Judy Amabile, D-Boulder, said she received calls from every candidate seeking a leadership position.
“It was really helpful because, as a new member, it is hard to know the candidates’ strengths,” she said. “With COVID it has been challenging to meet people so the calls have been helpful.”
Filling other leadership roles, Democrats selected Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez of Denver as assistant majority leader and Reps. Meg Froelich of Englewood and Cutter as caucus co-chairs.
Mullica and Rep. Monica Duran, D-Wheat Ridge, are the new caucus co-whips.