What do the assignments for committees and their leadership tell us about the 2019 Colorado General Assembly? Colorado Politics takes a look at who got what and why.
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Seven Hispanics, all Democrats, were elected to the state House of Representatives in November. The 2019 House will have nine Hispanic members and five black members in the Democratic caucus. The Republican House caucus has one minority member, Rep. Dave Williams of Colorado Springs.
With 14 minorities in the 41-member Democratic House caucus, Speaker-designee KC Becker of Boulder has ensured that committee leadership will reflect that diversity, selecting minority members as chairs or vice-chairs of nine of the 11 "committees of reference" -- committees that meet during the session to consider legislation and provide agency oversight.
Business Affairs will be chaired by Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp of Arvada, who has been at that committee’s helm for the past two sessions. Aiding her as vice-chair: Rep. James Coleman of Denver, who is African American.
Rep. Barbara McLachlan of Durango will chair Education, with Rep.-elect Bri Buentello, who is Hispanic, as vice-chair.
Energy and Environment will be chaired by Rep. Dominique Jackson of Aurora, who is black.
Rep. Leslie Herod of Denver, who is African American, has been tagged with two committee leadership positions. She will chair the Finance Committee and will be vice-chair of the Judiciary Committee. Rep.-elect Kerry Tipper of Lakewood, who is Hispanic, will serve on Finance.
Health and Insurance will be chaired by Rep. Susan Lontine of Denver, with Rep.-elect Yadira Caraveo of Thornton, who is Hispanic, as vice-chair.
Rep. Donald Valdez of La Jara will be vice-chair of the Rural Affairs Committee. Rep. Tony Exum of Colorado Springs, who is African American, will be vice-chair of Transportation and Local Government. And Rep.-elect Sonya Jaquez Lewis of Longmont, who is Hispanic, will be vice-chair of State, Veterans and Military Affairs.
Meanwhile, Rep. Adrienne Benavidez of Commerce City, who briefly challenged Becker’s ascension to speaker based on concerns over diversity, wasn’t chosen for a leadership post, either on a committee or other caucus position. However, her point about diversity was made, based on Becker's choices for committee leadership.
As for GOP picks for the House Energy & Environment Committee, there are roughly 10 Republican lawmakers whose districts are home to coal, oil and/or gas activity. But three of the four Republicans on the energy committee are from El Paso County, where the closest you get to gas is what they put in their cars.
Denver has already started down the path toward designating a supervised site for drug injection, assuming it can overcome federal opposition, and the city is likely to find stronger allies at the state Capitol in 2019 than in 2018.
Sen.-elect Brittany Pettersen, named vice-chair of Health and Human Services, brings her passion for combating the opioid epidemic. In 2018, the one that got away from her was a bill on needle exchanges and a supervised injection site pilot.
Pettersen was the chair of the 2017 summer interim committee that came up with the measure and was a co-sponsor in the House. But the bill never made it that far: It died in the Republican-controlled State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee.
The 2019 version is already in the planning stages (Reps. Leslie Herod of Denver and Jonathan Singer of Longmont are working on it) and likely to gain a powerful ally in Pettersen in the Senate.
As for fossil fuels: Now that Rep. Mike Foote of Lafayette, a strong supporter of anti-fracking legislation, has been named to the state Senate, he’s an ideological replacement for his Senate predecessor, Sen. Matt Jones, also an anti-fracking advocate, on the Transportation and Energy Committee.
Foote lost a primary for Boulder County DA but got a second wind after being elected by a Senate District 17 vacancy committee on Dec. 15 as Jones’ replacement (Jones was elected to the Boulder County Commission).
TO BE DETERMINED
The membership of the Senate's State, Veterans and Military Affairs, also known as the “kill” committee, and the chamber's Senate Local Government Committee has been determined but not who will run them (as of press time.)
Two of the three Democrats on the 2019 Local Government Committee announced resignations before the session even started -- Jones and Sen. Daniel Kagan -- and Jones was also tagged to be on State Affairs. Appointments to the kill committee are generally members who are in the safest possible seats.
Also up in the air at press time: The choice of education chairs in both the House and Senate. Those choices may send a message about where Democratic leadership stands in the battle between those who advocate charter schools and school choice -- causes backed by Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) -- versus teachers’ unions and public education advocates. The issue of school choice has divided statehouse Democrats (and outside the Capitol, too) like no other.
Both McLachlan and Sen. Nancy Todd are retired teachers. Todd wasn’t up for re-election in 2018, and she was a signatory to an anti-DFER petition approved by Democrats at the party’s state assembly last April that demanded the group drop “Democrat” from its name.
Sen.-elect Tammy Story of Conifer, the committee’s vice-chair, was a major player in the 2015 effort to recall three conservative reform members of the Jefferson County school board. Story took in more than two dozen donations during the 2018 campaign from teachers’ unions all over the Front Range, from St. Vrain to Pueblo.
On the House side, McLachlan, a lifetime member of both her local teachers’ union and the Colorado Education Association, won re-election to her second term in November.
Our Colorado Values, an independent expenditure committee (IEC) that backed Democrats for the House, paid for advertising to back McLachlan. The committee took in $551,000 from Education Reform Now out of its total spending of $3.3 million. But in what points to the conundrum over DFER, McLachlan was endorsed by both DFER and the Colorado Education Association.