Updated with comments from Catlin.
Rep. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose, has been named vice chair of the House Agriculture, Livestock and Water Committee.
The announcement was made in a letter to Legislative Council on Wednesday by Speaker of the House Alec Garnett, D-Denver. It's unprecedented for a member of the minority party to be named to a leadership role of any kind in a Democrat-controlled committee.
"I took it for the benefit of the committee, to make sure that committee continues to run right, and for the state, the water and for ag," Catlin told Colorado Politics. "It's not about me; it's about keeping up the good work we've been doing on the committee."
Catlin said he's heard nothing but good things about the announcement from his caucus Wednesday. He said he doesn't know well his committee chair, Rep. Karen McCormick, D-Longmont, but that she cares about the issues. "We're all new, and you know how it works when you're new... . I like her; she seems to like me. Honestly, I can work with just about anybody if they're trying to do the job. I want her to be successful and for the committee to be successful."
The House Ag committee is made up of 11 members: seven Democrats, usually, and four Republicans. But committee Chair Rep. Jeni Arndt, D-Fort Collins, resigned her seat last week to become mayor of Fort Collins.
That opened up a vacancy in the committee leadership. McCormick was a natural pick for chair as she was already vice chair. So who would succeed her?
As it turns out, Arndt and Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, were behind the push to put Catlin in the leadership role, according to multiple sources.
"The vice chair is someone who works across the aisle well, is definitely qualified to lead the ag committee. I'm proud of the work he's done and will do great things as vice chair," Sonnenberg told Colorado Politics.
Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, applauded the decision. "It's a very good move," he said. Catlin is the most knowledgeable person on ag in the House, he added.
Reaction to Catlin's appointment, and Garnett's decision, has so far been universally lauded.
It's the best decision the Speaker has made all year, said Rep. Richard Holtorf, R-Akron, and an ag committee member.
Carlyle Currier, rancher and president of Colorado Farm Bureau, also saluted the decision.
“We applaud House Speaker Garnett for his decision to name a bipartisan leadership team to lead the House Agriculture, Livestock and Water Committee. The move underscores Farm Bureau’s long-held position that food production isn’t a partisan issue," Currier said.
With ag and rural Colorado under unprecedented pressure, a nod toward cooperative leadership within the committee will certainly help the people in ag "feel heard by leadership in Denver and across Colorado. "
"Kudos to Alec for recognizing that agriculture is more important than politics," Coram said.
"It's a more accurate reflection of what we do here," said Rep. Kerry Tipper, D-Lakewood. Most of what happens is bipartisan, although the headlines usually go to the partisan issues, she explained. "As a body, we work in a very collaborative way and that appointment demonstrates it."
Rep. Brianna Titone, D-Arvada, served on the House Ag committee for several years with Catlin. She said he's a level-headed, thoughtful and reasonable person. "I think he'll be just fine in role of vice chair."
When it comes to ag, being the state's biggest industry, Catlin is very in-tune with agriculture, Titone said. "When it comes to protecting the interests of the ag industry, it's what he wants to do," a view Titone said he shared with Arndt. "That's the job of the ag committee, to make sure the direction we go with agriculture issues is in the best interest of Colorado."
Minority Leader Hugh McKean, R-Loveland, said Catlin is the most qualified person to be in that role. "I think it says that part of the conversations we have, that the most qualified people should shepherd legislation in this institution. What's great is that [with Catlin] in the role of vice chair, there's continuity in the committee."
Catlin represents House District 58, which includes Dolores, Montezuma, Montrose and San Miguel counties. A native of Montrose County, Catlin is in his third* term in the House. Currently a water rights development coordinator for Montrose County, Catlin grew up growing sugar beets and barley for Coors Brewing, as well as sweet corn and beans. He also has worked as a real estate agent and an ag lender for United Banks of Colorado.
Correction: Catlin is in his third term; his first term began after being appointed by a vacancy committee in January 2017.