New Democratic leaders emerge in Colorado House

Women will make up the majority of lawmakers, and more people of color will serve in Colorado’s statehouse next year, but top leadership will remain largely white and male.

Executive leadership is made up of the House speaker, majority leader and minority leader as well as Senate president, majority leader and minority leader. On Thursday, the chambers held caucus elections for these and other leadership positions.

In the House Democratic caucus, House Majority Leader Alec Garnett of Denver was elected to replace House Speaker KC Becker of Boulder who is term-limited. Garnett was unopposed.

The House Democratic caucus looks very different than when Garnett first started six years ago than with 34 Democrats, he noted. Now, the 41 Democrats make up a “very diverse caucus,” he said.

“I believe our greatest challenges lie ahead, and we’ll need to come together again to deliver results for our state,” he said. “As a new caucus, we’ll have to reestablish that trust and empower each other to govern each other. At a time in a global pandemic and economic crisis, racial turmoil and a chaotic presidency has upended the lives of so many, the people of Colorado have entrusted us yet again with a large majority.”

The leadership spot with the most competition was that of majority leader. Three women and this year’s assistant majority leader ran for the seat.

After two runoff elections, the caucus elected Rep. Daneya Esgar of Pueblo to the seat. Esgar was credited for her leadership on the Joint Budget Committee, and nominators said she brings a perspective outside of Denver to caucus priorities. She is from Pueblo and is openly lesbian. Esgar said she wants to make sure the caucus is more inclusive and does more mentorship.

“This isn’t a stepping stone for me. … I truly just want to be able to give back and take all of the experience I’ve garnered in six years and the leadership skills I’ve been able to grow to help all of us,” Esgar said.

She bested Rep. Leslie Herod of Denver, the first Black and openly LGBTQ lawmaker elected to the statehouse; Rep. Adrienne Benavidez of Commerce City, a Latina; and Assistant Majority Leader Chris Kennedy of Denver.

Esgar is currently the chair of the powerful Joint Budget Committee, which she will have to leave in January. The new speaker, Garnett, will appoint her replacement and one other member to the committee at a later date.

Rep. Serena Gonzales-Guiterrez, a Denver Democrat, was elected assistant majority leader to replace Kennedy. Also vying for the seat was Rep. Yadira Caraveo, a Thornton Democrat.

Rep. Meg Froelich of Englewood and Rep. Lisa Cutter of Littleton were named co-caucus chairs, and Rep. Monica Duran of Wheat Ridge and Rep. Kyle Mullica of Northglenn co-whips.

House Republicans are expected to meet Monday to elect their top leaders for the 2021 session. House Minority Leader Patrick Neville has announced he won’t be seeking re-election, and Rep. Hugh McKean of Loveland is widely expected to get the job.

Little changed in the Senate, on either side of the aisle.

In the Democratic caucus, Sen. Leroy Garcia of Pueblo returns as president. Sen. Steve Fenberg of Boulder returns as majority leader, with Aurora’s Rhonda Fields returning as assistant majority leader. Sen. Kerry Donovan of Vail was named president pro tempore, replacing the term-limited Sen. Nancy Todd in that role. Sen. Jeff Bridges of Greenwood Village beat out Denver Sen. Robert Rodriguez for the position of majority whip. Sen. Julie Gonzales of Denver was named caucus chair.

In the Republican caucus, Sen. Chris Holbert of Parker returns as minority leader and Sen. John Cooke of Greeley returns as assistant minority leader. Sen. Paul Lundeen of Monument returns as minority whip, and Sen. Jim Smallwood of Parker will serve as minority caucus chair, replacing the term-limited Vicki Marble in that role.

The Senate sends three people to the Joint Budget Committee: Democrat and current committee Vice Chair Sen. Dominick Moreno of Commerce City, Democrat Sen. Chris Hansen of Denver, and Sen. Republican Bob Rankin of Carbondale, who eked out an election win in northwest Colorado this week.

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