Rep. Millie Hamner of Dillon has been named chair of the House Education Committee and Rep. Cherilyn Peniston of Westminster will be vice chair.
Democrats retook control of the House in the Nov. 6 election, and incoming Speaker Mark Ferrandino of Denver today named the Democrats who will lead the chamber’s committees.
Hamner and Peniston both had been mentioned as the likely candidates for chair, and the appointments are a nod to both the reform-oriented and more traditionally-minded wings of the Democratic Party.
Hamner is a former Summit County Schools superintendent while Peniston is a retired middle school teacher and former president of the Westminster Education Association, a Colorado Education Association affiliate.
Peniston is a legislative veteran and is starting the last of the four terms allowed under state term limits. Hamner was appointed to fill a vacant seat in late 2010 and won her first election on Nov. 6.
Hamner raised her legislative profile last spring as a prime sponsor of House Bill 12-1238, the READ Act, which established literacy requirements for students in early grades. Hamner also was a sponsor of Senate Bill 12-172, the measure that required the State Board of Education to join a multi-state testing program.During the 2012 campaign season, Hamner received endorsements and/or contributions from the full spectrum of education interest groups, including AFT-Colorado, CEA-affiliated groups, Stand for Children and Democrats for Education Reform.
Peniston was a “no” vote on the READ Act, both in committee and on the floor, and two years ago she voted against Senate Bill 10-191, the landmark principal and teacher evaluation bill. She also has been a longtime advocate of programs for gifted and talented students. She received contributions from teachers’ union committees during this year’s campaign.
Committee chairs are selected based on a variety of complicated behind-the-scenes factors, including a chair’s relationship with the speaker, a chair’s experience on particular issues, suggestions from interest groups and campaign contributors and other political considerations.
Chairs of legislative committees don’t have the sweeping powers of congressional committee chairs. Among other things, Colorado legislative procedures require that every bill get at least one hearing so bills generally can’t be pocket-vetoed in Colorado. But chairs have strong influence over bill scheduling and other procedural issues.Hamner will preside over a significantly changed committee. Of the 13 House Ed members during the 2012 session, seven won’t be returning because of term limits, election defeats or deciding not to run for re-election.
Senate committee chairs, to be selected by new Majority Leader Morgan Carroll of Aurora, haven’t been named. Democratic Sens. Rollie Heath of Boulder, Evie Hudak of Westminster and Mike Johnston of Denver have been mentioned as possible contenders for chair of the Senate Education Committee.