Colorado Dems Elect New Majority Officers
By Carl Hilliard, Special to Stateline
Colorado State Senate Democrats, who won a majority on Nov. 7 for the first time in 40 years, have picked their leaders for what may be a stormy 2001 legislative session.
Sen. Stan Matsunaka, D-Loveland, was elected Senate president and Sen. Bill Thiebaut, D-Pueblo, was chosen majority leader by the Senate Democratic caucus. They will work in tandem to decide how their 18-member group will guide bills on taxation, development and other major issues in the upcoming session.
Matsunaka, a lawyer, is the first lawmaker of Asian descent to win a leadership post in the Colorado Legislature.
A soft spoken, thoughtful man, he faced a tough race two years ago after right-wing elements launched a savage campaign against his re-election.
He told Democrats last week he expected some difficult times, but anticipated a good working relationship with Gov. Bill Owens. "He needs us as much as we need him," Matsunaka said, referring to the governor's acrimonious relationship with fractious conservatives within his own party.
Owens, who won the chief executive's office two years ago after Democrats held it for nearly 25 years, was outwardly hopeful about the legislative session as well.
"I'm sure it will be productive," he said after meeting with the Senate Democrats.
The GOP lost three seats in the election and how has 17 members. Eighteen votes is the majority needed to pass any bill.
Republicans picked Sen. John Andrews of Parker as the minority leader, narrowly beating Sen. Norma Anderson of Lakewood. In the House, where Republicans hold a 38-27 edge, Rep. Doug Dean of Colorado Springs will be the new speaker. Some House Republicans grumbled at Dean's selection, and there was some talk of nominating Rep. Steve Johnson of Fort Collins when the full House votes to confirm Dean's election.
At least seven Democrats say they will support Johnson when the final vote is taken.
House Democrats picked Rep. Dan Grossman and Rep. Jennifer Viega, both of Denver, as minority leader and assistant minority leader, respectively.