DENVER — The initial story Tuesday night was Democrats winning back control in the Colorado state House and winning it big.
But now, the bigger story is the positive implications this race could have for Colorado’s gay community.
With Democrats taking back the majority in the House, Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, will be voted in by his caucus as the next House Speaker Thursday morning; he’ll officially inherit the roll and the gavel that comes with it when the legislative session begins in January.
And according to FOX31 Denver’s political reporter Eli Stokols, that’s not the only upcoming victory for the gay community in the state’s legislative branch.
Sources tell Stokols that Pat Steadman will have the votes needed to be elected state Senate president on Thursday, when all four Capitol caucuses meet to elect new leadership for next year; although Steadman himself has yet to indicate publicly that he plans to run for the post.
Both Ferrandino and Steadman are openly gay, which would make them the first openly gay individuals to hold those leadership positions in the House and Senate.
Ferrandino sat down with Stokols Wednesday morning, and said the occasion made him nostalgic for 2008, when Terrance Carroll and Peter Groff became the first African American leaders of the state House and Senate.
“Going back 20 years, Colorado passed Amendment 2 and we became known as the hate state,” Ferrandino said. “To get to where we are now, this state has come so far in terms of equality for all Coloradans. It’s amazing to be a part of it.”
(Note: Amendment 2 took away the ability of Colorado cities and towns to put in place non-discrimination laws against homosexuals.)
But equality wasn’t the only winner on Tuesday, Ferrandino said. The large 37-28 majority taken by Democrats in the House was also a boon for Ferrandino’s party.
“We (Democrats) were in good position to take back the majority,” Ferrandino said. “We only needed one seat, and we hoped we’d get that and a little more. But we didn’t think every competitive seat would go our way.”
Ferrandino said a big reasons those competitive seats swung the Democrats’ way had to do with civil unions. House Republicans worked hard to squash the the Civil Unions Act proposed by Steadman at the end of the last legislative session.
If nothing else, watching Republicans squash that potential legislation energized the Democratic base in two ways, Ferrandino said. It started with more donors and activists coming out of the woodwork and coming to the aid of Democrats.
“We saw such a great turnout because of what happened at the end of the last term,” Ferrandino said. “People wanted to help, and the LGBT community really came together in a way that we haven’t seen before.”
The second way the squashing of civil unions helped Democrats, Ferrandino said, was that the efforts of somewhat-divisive efforts of Republicans ended up disenfranchising many independent voters.
“We found that civil unions had the support of the people,” Ferrandino said. “So we really found a lot of people on the campaign trail who thought that the House didn’t live up to its potential in a democratic way by killing civil unions.”
“They didn’t feel comfortable in the leadership that was in the House. So now we’re going to see new leadership.”
Republican Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, has given no indication as to whether he’ll run to continue as Minority Leader or even return to the legislature; easily elected to another term, McNulty is rumored to be considering resigning from the legislature altogether.
The civil unions legislation he and House Republicans essentially sacrificed their own majority to quash back in May is now certain to move quickly through the legislature when it reconvenes in January; the bill, along with “Colorado ASSET” legislation that will make college more affordable for qualifying undocumented students, will probably be on Gov. Hickenlooper’s desk by February.