DENVER (KDVR) — The Problem Solvers have found the 74th General Assembly includes 24 lawmakers — 10 state senators and 14 members of the House — who were appointed to the job, not elected.
FOX31 first told you about the number of lawmakers appointed by vacancy committee in 2020, when 20 lawmakers were elected by committee, not through an election.
Colorado uses this side door entrance to the Capitol, called a vacancy committee, to replace lawmakers. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Colorado is one of five states that have political parties appoint replacements. State law reads that when a vacancy happens or someone quits, the political party of the person leaving office will select a replacement.
Party committees fill vacancies in Colorado legislature
So far in 2023, there have been four vacancy committees choosing replacements for elected lawmakers who no longer can or want to serve.
On a frigid morning in late January, a committee of 51 Democrats voted in Kyle Brown, a former three-year Louisville City Council member, to the House District 12 seat. Brown replaced Tracey Bernett, who resigned before the session started. Bernett allegedly lied about living in Louisville to maintain residency in the district.
While Rep. Brown beat out other candidates with 41 votes, he told the Problem Solvers the vacancy committee process lacks inclusiveness.
“It’s a flawed system,” Brown said. “Some districts have run into problems with a half dozen members choosing a replacement.”
Brown was sworn in three weeks into the session, missing 25 days, or one-sixth of the session, and a chance to vote on legislation important to his district.
“When I showed up, hundreds of bills had already been introduced,” Brown said. “Votes our district didn’t have any representation on.”
Another Democratic committee selected former U.S. Senate candidate Lorena Garcia to Colorado’s House of Representatives, replacing Adrienne Benavidez, who also resigned. Garcia will finish Benavidez’s term representing House District 35 through 2024, a full two-year term before voters get a chance to decide if they want Garcia to represent them.
Also, vacancy committees picked Perry Will, a Republican from New Castle, to replace Sen. Bob Rankin, who resigned in December, and elected Larimer County GOP chair Ron Weinberg from Loveland to replace the late Hugh McKean, who died in October.
Most states allow special elections for vacancies
The FOX31 Problem Solvers found vacancy appointments have filled multiple seats at the state Capitol for years.
States across the country have various ways to fill legislative seats. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, most states allow for special elections to fill vacancies. Brown pointed out that his appointment may have been 25 days into the session, but that was quicker than holding a special election.
Last year, lawmakers passed a bill that required central committee members to be included on a vacancy committee.
These are the Colorado lawmakers serving in 2023 who were appointed by a vacancy committee at some point to the legislature. Some lawmakers listed below have since been elected to office more than once since gaining access to the capitol through an appointment.
- Rep. Kyle Brown D-Boulder County
- Sen. Perry Will, R-New Castle
- Rep. Ron Weinberg, R-Loveland
- Rep. Lorena Garcia, D-Adams County
- Rep. Andrew Boesenecker, D-Fort Collins
- Sen. Jeff Bridges, D-Greenwood Village
- Sen. Janet Buckner, D-Aurora
- Rep. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose
- Sen. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora
- Rep. Meg Froelich, D-Cherry Hills Village
- Sen. Joann Ginal, D-Fort Collins
- Sen. Chris Hansen, D-Denver
- Sen. Nick Hinrichsen, D-Pueblo
- Rep. Richard Holtorf, R-Akron
- Rep. Junie Joseph, D-Boulder
- Rep. Cathy Kipp, D-Fort Collins
- Rep. Mady Lindsey, D-Aurora
- Rep. William Lindstedt, D-Broomfield
- Sen. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon
- Sen. Kevin Van Winkle, R-Highlands Ranch
- Rep. Don Wilson, R-Monument
- Rep. Steven Woodrow, D-Denver
- Rep. Mary Young, D-Greeley
- Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, D-Arvada
Legislators are in session for 120 days, from January to early May.