DENVER — On Thursday, the newly elected members of the Colorado House of Representatives and Senate picked the lawmakers they want to serve in key leadership roles.
In the Colorado Senate, the Democratic leadership will largely remain the same. Sen. Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, will serve once again as the Senate president, and Sen. Dominick Moreno, D-Adams, will remain the Senate majority leader.
On the Republican side, Sen. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument, will take the reins as the new minority leader since Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Douglas, was term-limited. Meanwhile, Sen. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, will serve as the assistant minority leader.
The Senate was the chamber Republicans were most hoping to recapture in the 2022 midterms. However, the election divided the chamber even more, giving larger numbers to Democrats.
“The election result caught pretty much everyone by surprise around the state of Colorado and across the nation. It wasn't the election that people were anticipating,” Lundeen said.
He said while Democrats ran their campaigns on emotional topics like abortion rights and climate change, Republicans ran on kitchen table issues like affordability and crime.
“The Democrats will need to pivot and come back to the persistent issues that we've been talking about all along,” Lundeen said.
He blames national influences at the top of the ticket as part of the reason for Republicans' bigger losses this year, but said he doesn’t believe Colorado is a blue state. Instead, he insists unaffiliated voters are the ones determining the state’s future.
Both parties will see new leadership in the House, meanwhile. On the Democratic side, Rep. Alec Garnett, D-Denver, and Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, were term-limited and will need to be replaced.
However, voting for the new speaker and other positions was brought to an abrupt halt Thursday after the caucus could not agree on who to represent them and needed the final races in the 2022 election to be decided so that the final few members could vote.
Representatives Chris Kennedy, D-Jefferson, Julie McCluskie, D-Summit, and Adrienne Benavidez, D-Adams, were all nominated for the speaker position, but none garnered enough votes to win a clear majority, so the caucus will wait until the final races have been called.
On the Republican side, meanwhile, the caucus unexpectedly had to elect a new minority leader after Rep. Hugh McKean, R-Loveland, passed away suddenly from a heart attack just days before the election.
“The fact that it is not him today saddens me. We had a plan, and he was that plan. So now, we are picking up and going on from there,” said Rep. Mike Lynch, R-Larimer.
Lynch was elected to be the House minority leader, and Rep.-elect Rose Pugliese was elected by the caucus to serve as the assistant minority leader.
One of Lynch's biggest tasks will be to bring the caucus together under a unified message. In recent sessions, there has been notable infighting, which led to an attempt to kick McKean out as the minority leader and disagreements about how to handle Democratic legislation.
During Thursday’s caucus meeting, some of that tension was brought up when Rep. Stephanie Luck, R-Fremont, nominated herself for minority leader and apologized to members of the caucus publicly for phone calls, emails and text messages that were sent to them from some of her supporters.
“I apologize for some of the threats that were made to you. That was not from me,” Luck said. “But needless to say, those are communication streams and networks that I have access to in order to rally the troops, to speak into bills that you are advancing, to speak into bills that we are opposing as a caucus.”
This upcoming session, some of the furthest right Republicans will not be in the chamber because they were term-limited or ran for other seats.
Now, Lynch said he will begin the work of bringing new and old members together.
“We're already working towards cohesion and moving forward as one voice, which is, which has quite frankly been difficult in the past,” Lynch said. “We are starting from ground zero here. I believe this is the lowest number we've had. So there's nowhere to go but up, and we're going to do that.”
While Lynch insists that members of his caucus will stand by their principles, he understand that this is a game of compromise since Democrats hold the majority. He plans to stick with the kitchen table issues as the priorities Republicans will try to tackle on day one of the legislative session.
In the end, though, with the fewest number of Republicans in the Colorado House since 1937, Lynch’s primary task will be trying to figure out how to make his caucus’ voice heard when there are so few of them.