DENVER — Monday marked the start of Colorado's 2023 legislative session and began with state lawmakers taking the oath of office.
It was the busiest the Colorado Capitol has been in quite some time with so many new members. In the House, there are 30 freshman lawmakers, and there are another two new lawmakers in the Senate.
There will be one more new face joining the ranks in the House after state Rep. Tracey Bernett resigned over the weekend. She was charged with multiple felony and misdemeanor counts after she allegedly misrepresented her primary residence to run in the district she currently represents.
Bernett’s departure brings the total number of lawmakers who were not elected but will serve this session to three. Rep. Hugh McKean passed away unexpectedly in October, and his longtime partner was sworn in to fill the remainder of his term. Rep. Adrienne Benavidez resigned in December, and Lorena Garcia will serve the remainder of her term.
The new legislature is also the most diverse in Colorado state history, with more minorities representing districts than ever before. Also, for the first time, women make up the majority of lawmakers at the state capitol.
After their swearing in, there was already some disagreement on the House floor over the position for the Speaker of the House.
Rep. Julie McCluskie was selected by her fellow Democratic lawmakers to fill the role. In keeping with tradition, Minority Leader Rep. Mike Lynch seconded her nomination for the position. Historically, the speaker is chosen by unanimous consent.
However, freshman Rep. Ken DeGraaf nominated another freshman, Rep. Scott Bottoms, to serve as speaker, saying he would not endorse someone who supports abortions for House speaker.
“I cannot endorse with my vote someone who has made a thing out of another human being, especially for purposes of revoking the right be endowed right to life,” DeGraaf said.
In his speech, DeGraaf referenced the House speaker selection drama in Washington, D.C. and said Democrats continually voted for U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries instead of U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy. Therefore, he believed his nomination of Bottoms was perfectly legitimate and not personal.
However, DeGraaf was quickly rebuffed by members of both parties for the nomination.
“This is where we can do better than Washington right here. It's not against one of my colleagues. It's a respect for the institution,” said Rep. Matt Soper.
This was not the first time in recent years Republicans have tried to pick their own speaker. Two years ago, a similar nomination happened when Rep. Alec Garnett was elected speaker of the House.
In his speech, Soper said that was not a good precedent to set and that this is not the time for a partisan fight.
“There will be long nights. We will stomp our feet. We will use whatever tools are available to us to make our voices heard when it seems like policies are going against our core values or beliefs. But at this particular point in time is not that point is not that time,” he said.
In the end, only eight lawmakers voted for Bottoms to become speaker. With her election, McCuskie became the first female from the Western Slope to ever hold the speaker title.
In the House and Senate opening day speeches, both Republicans and Democrats spoke about their priorities for the session and previewed some of the bills ahead.
In his speech, Sen. Steve Fenberg referenced the rising cost of food, crime and education.
"We face challenges too big to ignore and opportunities too important to fumble," he said. "Failure to address these issues risks leaving our grandchildren to face a parched, unlivable, ignorant existence."
In his speech, Sen. Paul Lundeen gun violence, the housing crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic.
"As leaders in our state, it is our job to solve the problems facing our constituents and our communities.
"Coloradans are trying to live their dream on our ranches, in our cities, on our rivers and mountains. It’s our job to support and celebrate those individual dreams," McCuskie said in her speech.
In his speech, Lynch referenced taxes, fentanyl and law enforcement, saying, "The Minority will work everyday to ensure that those concerns are addressed through vigorous debate.
They also spoke about their intentions to reach across the aisle to work with one another where they can for the best interests of the state.