Taking back Denver
Ryan Summerlin November 7, 2012
As President Barack Obama racked up electoral votes in Ohio and Pennsylvania Tuesday night, the Democrats in Colorado were racking up seats in the state House of Representatives.
Democrats reclaimed at least four seats from the GOP, and possibly as many as six, according to early results, while others like Rep. Millie Hamner (D-Dillon) managed to hang on to their positions securing at least a 36-seat majority for the party.
Tuesday’s election again puts the Democrats in control of both the state House and Senate, opening up new possibilities for newcomers like Hamner, who served her first term in a GOP-dominated House and a split Legislature.
She’s now gunning for a leadership position on the House Education Committee, where she served as a member in 2011 and 2012.
“That’s my passion,” Hamner said of education. “I really like leadership roles, I’m ready to step up and that would be a great fit for me.”
The Democrats are meeting today to discuss leadership for the chamber as a whole, and House Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino is on the short list for speaker.
The party hasn’t yet discussed legislation that might be presented in the 2013 session, but Hamner is already thinking ahead to a few hot-button issues that might crop up again this year.
“We saw what happened with civil unions at the end of the last session, and I really believe that had something to do with the fact that we now have the majority,” Hamner said. “I think most people in Colorado are OK with it and I hope we can get right to work on that.”
Republicans on the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee killed a bill that would have allowed same-sex couples to obtain civil unions on a 5-4 party line vote in the midst of a special session earlier this year.
Hamner said she also has hopes a controversial proposal offering undocumented students who grew up in Colorado an opportunity to attend state colleges at in-state tuition rates will re-emerge this year in the Democratically controlled Legislature. Lawmakers have shut down versions of the bill several times, even when the Democrats were in the majority in both chambers.
Republican Rep. Randy Baumgardner, however, faces at least half a term in the minority after winning the state Senate District 8 race Tuesday. It’s a challenge he has faced before as a representative in 2009 when the Democrats held both chambers at the state Capitol.
“I’m going to work across the aisle, I always have,” Baumgardner said. “We’ll handle it the only way we can: to try to pass legislation that’s good for the state of Colorado. Having no control in either house, it’s basically going to be up to the other side of the aisle.”
Lawmakers are set to head back to Denver for the 2013 session in January.
In Summit County, local Democrats celebrated the success of their party’s candidates in three of four local races as well as the presidential race.
A cheer went up from the Backcountry Brewery in Frisco Tuesday night, where the Dems were gathered to watch the results come in, as Pennsylvania and Ohio fell to Obama and broadcast networks called what was supposed to be a very close race earlier than expected.
“The victory could not mean more to the volunteers and the people who have worked tirelessly,” Summit County Democratic chair Julie Charneskie. “The energy level has never wavered here in Summit County or Colorado and it means the future for young people, women and the middle class.”
There was disappointment at the Republican camp among local volunteers who organized with renewed vigor this year – pounding the pavement, making calls and opening the party’s first Summit County headquarters – bringing home the battle to unseat the incumbent.
“We’re happy that Randy Baumgardner was able to win, and keep that Senate seat Republican, but we certainly are disappointed in the other results,” said Mark Hurlbert, chair of the Summit County GOP. “We really had good candidates that had a good, positive message. It’s unfortunate that it turned out to be a very Democratic year.”
Voters backed Democratic candidates for the Summit Board of County Commissioners, the 5th Judicial District Attorney’s Office and House District 61.
They also reinstated Summit County Judge Ed Casias.
The Denver Post contributed to the reporting of this story.