The Democratic majority in the Colorado House of Representatives met Thursday to pick the next speaker of the chamber. The three-way race was too close to call.
The caucus heard Thursday from the three speaker candidates — Reps. Julie McCluskie of Dillon, Chris Kennedy of Lakewood and Adrienne Benavidez of Commerce City — and even voted on which one they want to lead them. But because of three still-undecided House District 2022 elections, the speaker choice — which was within three votes — will remain secret until the races are called.
The three House races uncalled as of Thursday evening are in House District 16, where Democrat Stephanie Vigil is leading Republican Dave Donelson by 1,400 votes; District 42, where Bob Marshall is leading Republican Kurt Huffman by about 300 votes; and House District 61, where Democrat Eliza Hamrick is leading Dave Woolever by about 1,000 votes.
The votes for speaker cast by Vigil, Marshall and Hamrick are considered provisional until their races are decided.
Whoever becomes speaker — a position equal in rank with the Senate president as the top Democrat in the legislature — will determine the direction of the House caucus for the next two years. It’s unclear when the three outstanding House District races will be called.
The House Democratic caucus is waiting to vote on who will be its majority leader, assistant majority leader, whip and Joint Budget Committee members until after the speaker election is decided.
The next speaker will replace Speaker Alec Garnett, a Denver Democrat who is term limited.
On the Republican side, Rep. Mike Lynch of Wellington was selected by the House GOP caucus to serve as its minority leader. Lynch beat out Rep. Stephanie Luck, a hard-line conservative lawmaker from Penrose, in a 12-5 vote.
Assuming current election results hold, Lynch will preside over a caucus of 19, and there will be 46 Democrats in the House. Before Election Day, Democrats held a 41-24 advantage in the House.
“We’re not going to ever veer from my Republican principles,” he said. “That is not what we do in the face of the defeat we had this week.”
Lynch takes over for the late House Minority Leader Hugh McKean, a Loveland Republican who died Oct. 30.
Rep.-elect Rose Pugliese of Colorado Springs will be the No. 2 Republican in the House. The former Mesa County commissioner was elected Tuesday.
Rep. Richard Holtorf, an Akron Republican, will be the House minority whip. Holtorf has been at the center of several controversies at the Capitol since he was elected in 2020. Last year, for instance, a handgun fell out of his pocket as he was rushing into the House chamber to cast a vote. Holtorf, addressing the House Republican caucus on Thursday, indicated he plans to continue being a divisive figure in the legislature.
“I’m a filibuster champion and I will bring those tools to this mighty, small team,” he said, referencing his frequent use of stall tactics to try to kill Democratic legislation. “And you will watch something that you’ve never seen before in this gold dome. And the Democrats will grow weary and tired of what I bring to town, but that’s OK. Let them be tired and let the bad bills die on the calendar.”
Rep. Rod Bockenfeld, a Watkins Republican, will be the House GOP’s lone representative on the Joint Budget Committee, which drafts the state budget.
In the Colorado Senate, Boulder Democrat Steve Fenberg was reelected as president of the chamber. He appears on course to preside over a 23-12 Democratic majority. The Democratic caucus is now so large its members had trouble finding enough seating in a large committee room where they were meeting Thursday.
“We should build on our accomplishments over the last four years,” Fenberg said. “We should be aggressive about our agenda to improve people’s lives and to improve our state. And, most importantly, we should govern as the leaders that Colorado expects and deserves.”
Senate Majority Leader Dominick Moreno, a Commerce City Democrat, was reelected to his post, while Sen. Julie Gonzales, D-Denver, was elected the caucus whip. Sen. James Coleman, D-Denver, was selected to serve as Senate president pro tem.
The caucus chose Denver Sen. Robert Rodriguez to serve as assistant majority leader over Sen. Rhonda Fields, an Aurora Democrat who currently holds the position.
Senate Democrats’ two JBC members will be Jeff Bridges, of Greenwood Village, and Rachel Zenzinger, of Arvada. Zenzinger was already on the powerful committee.
Sen. Chris Hansen didn’t run for reelection to his JBC post in the clearest sign yet that he plans to run for mayor of Denver next year.
The depleted Senate Republican caucus will be led by Sen. Paul Lundeen of Monument. “It falls to us, I believe, this caucus, to be straightforward and to establish a new perspective on the Republican brand,” he said.
Lundeen’s assistant minority leader will be Sen. Bob Gardner of Colorado Springs.
Sen. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, will continue to represent the caucus on the JBC.
Caucus leaders are typically selected every two years.