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Education panels still up in the air

Legislative party caucuses have picked their leaders for the 2011 session, but the members of the House and Senate education committees remain to be decided.

Senate Democrats have a 20-15 majority, down only one seat after the election. On Thursday they again selected Sen. Brandon Shaffer, D-Boulder, as president. Also retaining his job is Majority Leader John Morse, who survived a tough, high-spending race in Colorado Springs and who was backed by all the education groups that endorsed candidates in 2010.

Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, was named to the Joint Budget Committee, along with Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton. Senate Republicans named Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, to the JBC, replacing the moderate Al White of Hayden. Mike Kopp of Littleton was named minority leader.

Steadman’s move to the JBC leaves a least one vacancy on the Senate Education Committee, because budget panel members don’t serve on other committees.

The education committee was an eye of calm in the middle of 2010 campaign storms, because six of eight members (three Democrats and three Republicans) are in the middle of their terms and weren’t on the ballot. And, like Steadman, Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver and author of the educator effectiveness law, easily won election Tuesday.

Nancy Spence of Centennial, ranking Republican on Senate Ed, was replaced as minority whip by the more conservative Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley.

Situation murkier in the House

Things are more complicated in the House, both in general and regarding the education committee.

As of Thursday, Republicans were claiming a 33-32 majority, and they elected Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, as speaker. McNulty served on House Ed last session but hasn’t been considered a major voice on education issues.

Democrats are clinging to the hope that the final vote count in Jefferson County’s House District 29 will favor Rep. Debbie Benefield, D-Arvada, who’s currently trailing.

House Democrats chose Rep. Sal Pace, D-Pueblo, as their leader, either as speaker if they get lucky or as minority leader if they don’t.

If Benefield ultimately loses, that means there will be at least five vacancies on House Ed, which had 13 members (eight Democrats and five Republicans) in the last session.

Chair Mike Merrifield of Colorado Springs is gone because of term limits, and Rep. Karen Middleton, D-Aurora, resigned from the legislature for a political job. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, is headed to Washington after winning the 3rd Congressional District. And, as speaker, McNulty isn’t likely to serve on a committee.

Reelected Tuesday were committee Democrats Cherilyn Peniston of Westminster, Christine Scanlan of Dillon, Sue Schafer of Wheat Ridge, Judy Solano of Brighton and Nancy Todd of Aurora.

Republican members who won reelection were Tom Massey of Poncha Springs and Ken Summers of Lakewood. Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock, was unopposed.

Massey is expected to be named chair if Republicans hold their slim majority. Other members may or may not return to the committee, based on personal preference or leadership decisions. The size and partisan balance on the panel also may change because of the new overall party split in the House.

If the House stays in GOP hands, the six-member JBC will have an even 3-3 party split, meaning bipartisan support will be needed for budget recommendations.

Current House JBC members are Reps. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, and Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen. On Friday, McNulty named just-elected GOP Rep. Jon Becker of Fort Morgan to the panel. Becker is a former Morgan County commissioner and director of the Morgan County Economic Development Corp. It’s rare for a freshman to be appointed to do the complex and detail-oriented work of the JBC.

Election notes

The elections weren’t kind to legislative challengers with education backgrounds. Among the losers – all but one of them Democrats – were:

  • Janet Tanner, a Colorado Springs District 11 board member, in House District 16.
  • Retired teacher Laura Huerta in Adams County’s House District 30.
  • Republican Tom Janich, a former Brighton school board member, who lost to Solano in House District 31.
  • Carole Partin, former president of the Pueblo Education Association, in House District 47.
  • Karen Stockley, a Thompson school board member, in House District 49
  • Bill McCreary, a former Thompson board member, in House District 51.

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