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Leroy Garcia’s opening remarks are notable for what he didn’t mention. Here’s the Colorado Senate president’s speech, annotated.

Context for Leroy Garcia's opening day speech at the Colorado legislature, with annotations from The Colorado Sun highlighting what’s important and explaining what it all means

Senate President Leroy Garcia, a Pueblo Democrat, stands at the Senate podium on the first day in his new position. Colorado state legislators, along with their family members and friends, gather for the 72nd General Assembly's first regular session on January 4, 2019, in Denver. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)
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The 72nd General Assembly, with Democrats at the helm of the House and Senate, convened Friday for the 120-day lawmaking term.

The new Democratic leaders in each chamber — House Speaker KC Becker and Senate President Leroy Garcia — gave opening-day remarks that outlined their visions for the 2019 session and the party’s legislative agenda.

What was notable about Garcia’s speech was more what he didn’t say than what he did. The Pueblo lawmaker stayed away from discussing hot-button issues of climate change, oil and gas, gun control, funding for full-day kindergarten and preschool, and paid family leave.

Instead, Garcia spread a message of unity and bipartisanship, which stood in great contrast to Becker’s unapologetic, ideological presentation. That split will likely foreshadow the differences in the two chambers this year,

Here’s a transcript of the full speech from Garcia, with annotations from The Colorado Sun highlighting what’s important and explaining what it all means:

MORE: The top 10 issues to watch in Colorado’s 2019 legislative session


Mr. Minority Leader. Mr. Majority Leader. Madam President Pro Tempore. Friends. Loved Ones. Honored Guests.

Good morning. It is an honor and privilege for me to welcome you to the Senate chamber as we open the 72nd General Assembly.

I want to welcome our returning members and especially congratulate our newly elected Senators. Will each of you please stand as I call your name:  

Senator Dennis Hisey; Senator Paul Lundeen; Senator Pete Lee; Senator Joann Ginal; Senator Rob Woodward; Senator Tammy Story; Senator Mike Foote; Senator Jessie Danielson; Senator Brittany Pettersen; Senator Faith Winter; Senator Robert Rodriguez; and Senator Julie Gonzales.

There are three new Republicans in the chamber and nine new Democrats. Democrats have a two-seat advantage in the chamber with 19 members to the Republicans 16.

Please join me in giving them a warm welcome to this historic chamber.

If you look around, you might notice that this body looks a little different than it has in the past. That is because not only do we have a majority of women in the Democratic Caucus, but we also have one of the most demographically and geographically diverse caucuses in recent history.

Despite the historic makeup of the Senate Democrats’ caucus, they chose both a male president and a male majority leader, Stephen Fenberg of Boulder. Democratic women were elected to the assistant majority leader and speaker pro-tempore roles.

New leaders bring bold solutions that will carry our great state forward. Institutional knowledge combined with new perspectives will move us towards a better future for every Coloradan.

As my returning colleagues know, it is a unique honor and privilege to work in this body and serve the people of this great state. It is a privilege each of you have worked extremely hard for and overwhelmingly earned.

But you would not be here if it were not for the love and support of your families and friends. Let us take a moment to show our appreciation for everyone who made your leadership possible. In that spirit, I too would like to give a special thank you to my family.

To my parents who are with us today – thank you for teaching my brothers and me the importance of respecting others, treating all with compassion, and always living with love in your heart!

To my brothers – Jake and Evan. I know it took both of you a little longer than me to learn those values I just spoke about, but you both finally got them! But all kidding aside, thank you for your service to our country.

While many of you may know that I served in the Marine Corps, you may not know that Jake and Evan also served in the Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Garcia is a paramedic and also teaches the profession.

If there are any members who have served our country either in the armed services, as a member of law enforcement, or public safety, would you please stand so that we may thank you for your service.

To my sons – Jeremiah and Xan. I am so incredibly proud of the young men you have become. Jeremiah recently received a nomination to West Point and the Merchant Marines and Xan is following in his brother’s footsteps with exceptional grades and is also becoming quite the soccer player.

New state senators are sworn into office on Friday, Jan. 4, 2019, at the Colorado legislature’s opening day. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

To the love of my life – my wife Michelle. I am so grateful for your love and support. Not only for everything you do as the rock of our family, but for the amazing person you are, day-in and day-out, through your work assisting families and youth. You are truly an amazing woman and I am so grateful that you asked me to marry you. I love you.

Finally, I would like to thank all of the special guests who have joined us today to ring in the 2019 legislative session.

Several former Senate presidents and other lawmakers were in the chamber for the speech.

As a sixth generation Coloradan, I have deep roots and a strong commitment to our state. My family came to the United States, and eventually settled in southern Colorado. Like so many immigrants, they came in search of greater opportunity. Even though my family only spoke Spanish at the time, it did not slow them down or discourage them. Not one bit.

My great grandfathers worked the coal mines and the fields where they lived and learned the value of hard work. They lived their American Dream – a dream that would become a reality by providing a better life for their families.

This value of hard work has been passed down from generation to generation, eventually shared with my parents who started a small, modest business in Pueblo. They worked hard to provide a good life for my brothers and me. Watching them, we too learned the value of hard work, which was an invaluable lesson that served us well when we enlisted in the Marine Corps.

For me, it was during that time that I learned not only the importance of service and honor, but to care for and respect my brothers and sisters in arms, regardless of where they came from or what their political views were. That was never truer than when I served in Iraq.

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It did not matter who was to your left or right. We understood that we had a collective mission – and we had to have each other’s back!

It is that understanding of hard work and spirit of collaboration that we must bring back to the Capitol. For too long, we have allowed political party to divide us. As a result, ego and politics determined what bills moved forward – not the merits of the policy.

This is an acknowledgement that politics at the legislature can be messy and petty. Garcia here is saying that business as usual is over while offering an olive branch to his colleagues across the aisle.

Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert, R-Parker, seemed to nod to this in his own speech. He said: “Mr. President, seeing you take that gavel this morning gives me confidence that the ‘adults in the room’ … will continue to be found here in the upper chamber, the Senate.”

Our state deserves better. Our constituents expect more of us.

Unlike in Washington, D.C. – this Senate must bring a new energy that will yield a standard of trust and respect. We must engage in dialogue and collaboration. This is how we will find common ground and solutions to the bread and butter issues facing everyday Coloradans.

Coloradans did not elect us to engage in gamesmanship. They elected us to work, to reach across the aisle, and to have an open and working government that finds solutions to help them live their American Dream.

Senate Republicans on Friday signaled they will not stand by while Democrats work to push their agenda through.

In his speech, Holbert said: “Mr. President, you know better than any other current member of this body the risk of alienating constituents, of pushing too far. Not that you have done those things yourself. No, like me, you were a witness to the events of 2013 and you deserve credit for the time and effort you have devoted to healing relationships and to restore trust among constituents.”

Holbert was referencing the two Democratic senators who were recalled and the third who resigned amid fierce pushback to gun-control legislation they passed in 2013. One of them was Sen. Angela Giron, who held Garcia’s seat before he took office.

Make no mistake – Colorado is growing and prospering, but not everyone feels that growth and prosperity. Too many cannot afford the healthcare they need. Too many have died at the hands of opioids, and many more struggle with drug abuse and addiction. Too many earn lesser pay for equal work. Too many children in Colorado do not have equal access to a quality K-12 education. And too many are saddled with tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt.

Among the first bills introduced Friday in the Senate are ones that deal with the opioid crisis (Senate Bill 1, being led by Garcia, expands a medication-assisted treatment pilot program), health care and higher-education costs.

One of the first measures seeks to forgive student debt for educators, and another seeks to boost the number of teachers in rural Colorado. There was also legislation introduced seeking to codify how Colorado colleges and universities respond to campus sexual-misconduct allegations.

But Coloradans do not give up in the face of challenges like these, and neither can we. Colorado is a special place – it is a state filled with people who innovate and find solutions, and I am absolutely confident that this body will be able to find many of those solutions.

Solutions that build on the steps we have taken to address the opioid epidemic by making greater investments into programs with a proven record of success. Solutions that ensure student loan servicers do not take advantage of students in Colorado. Solutions that help lower the cost of healthcare by increasing price transparency for prescription drugs.

Sen. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, introduced a bill that seeks to give the Colorado attorney general oversight of student-loan servicers in Colorado. Doing so would give the attorney general’s office the ability to investigate complaints — which she says are fast rising.

Sen. Kerry Donovan of Vail is working with Rep. Dylan Roberts of Eagle on a state-run health-insurance program that the two Democrats hope will drive down premium costs by boosting competition. Roberts is also among those pushing for better transparency for insulin prices and that of other medications.

Senate Bill 5 would allow Colorado residents to import prescription drugs from Canada — where they are cheaper — for resale.

And solutions that show Colorado can be a state that not only creates a booming business climate and grows good-paying jobs, but one that also values workers and pays them fairly.

The business community is keeping close tabs on what Democrats plan to do with their new power in the legislature. The oil and gas industry, in particular, is holding its breath.

Sen. Angela Williams is seen as the business community’s ally in the Senate to ensure that their ambitious goals don’t hurt commerce.

Notably missing from Garcia’s speech: climate change and oil and gas. House Speaker Becker, of Boulder, is making those issues a prime part of her agenda in 2019 and beyond. Garcia mostly kept from straying into those hot-button issues. Instead, he urged unity and cooperation. In contrast, Becker outlined an ambitious liberal vision.

I know each member of this Senate is different. And while we may disagree and debate about the solutions to the issues facing our state, we cannot allow our political differences to get in the way of our shared goals: to serve with honor and to improve the lives of hardworking Coloradans.

This is aimed at both Democrats in Garcia’s caucus and Republicans across the aisle. Capitol observers are watching closely for rifts within the Democratic caucuses in the Senate and House, especially among the more liberal wing of the party and the party’s legislators who are more moderate and/or pragmatic.

Also of note: the word “honor.” Garcia suggested in an interview with The Colorado Sun before the session began that his caucus might try again to expel Sen. Randy Baumgardner, a Republican from Hot Sulphur Springs, over Capitol sexual-harassment allegations leveled against him. Baumgardner then announced he would resign and wasn’t present in the chamber on opening day.

We – Democrats and Republicans – can accomplish these goals if we put our egos aside. I have no doubt that all of us can agree that we are most successful when we work together.

So, let us today mark a new day for the Colorado State Senate. A Senate where we return to our tradition of honor, trust, and integrity. A Senate that has an unwavering commitment to take care of every Coloradan, no matter where they live.

Again, this appears aimed at Baumgardner and the handling of sexual-harassment allegations brought against members last year. Democrats also remain angry at Republicans in the Senate for their handling of an allegation against Democratic Sen. Daniel Kagan, of Cherry Hills Village, that he repeatedly used a private women’s bathroom for lawmakers and staff during the 2017 session. Kagan has since announced his resignation from the state General Assembly but says the decision is unrelated to the bathroom allegations.

Political parties do not determine what improves the lives of Coloradans. Good policy does, and no one party has a monopoly on good ideas. That is why we should be willing to work with anyone – regardless of party – who has a solution to the serious issues that Colorado faces.

Holbert, in his speech, outlined a long list of policies Republicans will oppose this year at the legislature. They include paid family leave; a so-called “red flag” bill allowing judges to temporarily seize firearms from people deemed a risk to themselves or others; and safe-injection sites for opioid users.

“What will Republicans do over the next two years? We will stand for this Constitution and we will stand with the people who gave it to us,” Holbert vowed.

Republicans also announced they will seek $336 million for transportation funding and $336 million to buy down the state’s massive education-funding gap. It will be worth keeping tabs on those issues as the session continues on.

If we are willing to work hard and collaborate, we can empower every Coloradan to live their American Dream – just like my family and so many families in this room have been able to do – and ensure we pass on a better Colorado to our children and grandchildren.

It is a big task, but I know we can do it. So, let’s get to work.


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