Colorado Democrats chose state Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg (D-Boulder) to be the chamber's next president on Feb. 9 2022. (Daniel Ducassi, The Colorado Sun)

Colorado Senate Democrats on Wednesday selected Sen. Steve Fenberg to be the chamber’s next president, a position in which the Boulder lawmaker will help steer the direction of the entire legislature.

Fenberg had been serving as the Senate majority leader, the No. 2 position in the chamber. He was elected president by acclamation, without a formal vote, of his 20-member caucus, and was the only candidate nominated. 

Fenberg’s selection still must be approved by the full Senate, meaning Republicans will get a chance to weigh in on whether he should be president, though they don’t have the votes to stop it. He is poised to replace outgoing President Leroy Garcia, a Pueblo Democrat who is resigning later this month to take a job at the Pentagon. 

“I wanted to be the next president because I want to do everything I can to help harness the power of this caucus and the presidency to create a better Colorado,” Fenberg said in a speech accepting the nomination. 

Fenberg promised to be “a worthy caretaker” of the chamber as an institution while also moving forward with “changes that are necessary to modernize this institution so that we can be a more just, more accessible, and therefore more effective institution.”

Fenberg said he’s poised to do not what’s best for his own political ambitions, but for the caucus as a whole.

“We obviously have some big challenges ahead,” Fenberg told his Democratic Senate colleagues. “Hundreds of bills still to pass, an historic and monumental budget to get across the finish line, an unprecedented opportunity to transform the state of Colorado on so many issues. And, of course, we have an election to win in November. There’s too much at stake for us to slow down or retreat or get distracted.”

Garcia decided not to endorse a successor — publicly or privately — instead opting to let “the caucus decide for itself” who should be the next president, said Andy Bixler, a spokesman for Garcia. 

Sen. Kerry Donovan, a Vail Democrat who was seen as a potential contender for the position, was absent from the caucus meeting Wednesday due to a death in her family.

Sen. Dominick Moreno, a Commerce City Democrat who sits on the legislature’s powerful Joint Budget Committee, was selected as the chamber’s new majority leader. 

Moreno recalled an anecdote from his earlier days in the Capitol. 

“After a long day, at the Capitol, I would go home, pop up with a pint of ice cream and watch our proceedings on the Colorado channel — and then I was surprised that I was still single,” Moreno said. “Fast forward eight years, and I’m still single, which probably explains why I fell asleep rereading the Senate rules last night in preparation for this nomination.”

Moreno vowed “to spend every minute that I have looking for ways to make improvements to make us better and stronger as a caucus … even if it means I fall asleep, reading the rules every night.”

Speaking to reporters after the caucus meeting, Fenberg addressed Moreno’s history as a policy critic of the governor.

“I think my intentions will be to ensure that we’re having healthy conversations with the first floor (the governor’s office) where we disagree, hopefully to navigate those conflicts in a way that everybody can win,” Fenberg said.

Disagreements that Moreno has had with the governor while serving as the top ranking senator on the JBC, “are good ones to work through,” Fenberg added. 

“I think he will still absolutely have opinions about budget and work closely with the Joint Budget Committee given his experience, but his role is going to be different, and we’re going to have to figure it out together and navigate it to make sure it’s one that’s, at the end of the day, successful and productive for our caucus.”

The Senate Democratic caucus chose Sen. Rachel Zenzinger to replace Moreno on the Joint Budget Committee after Moreno nominated her for the position. Zenzinger, an Arvada Democrat, previously served on the JBC, but was replaced by Sen. Chris Hansen of Denver in 2020. 

Zenzinger said she was glad to find herself useful to the body given her budget experience and Garcia’s unexpected departure that led to a domino effect of leadership changes.

“The Budget Committee has begun with figure setting and right in the middle of one of the most wonky, masochistic juggling acts of our state legislature, we’re losing one of our best jugglers in Sen. Moreno,” Zenzinger said. “There are a lot of balls in the air. Things are moving fast. And I’m happy to be of service during this period of transition.”

Garcia will continue to serve in his position until Feb. 23, meaning the leadership changes will take effect on Feb. 24.

Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated newsletter and also occasionally fills in on breaking news coverage....

Daniel Ducassi is a former Colorado Sun staff writer.