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Senate Ed Committee gets downsized

Updated Nov. 4 – State Senate Republican leaders on Monday announced their 2014 members for the Senate Education Committee.

The lineup change was necessitated because the panel, historically known for prolonged meetings, will have fewer talkers around the table in 2014.

New Senate Majority Leader Rollie Heath announced Wednesday, Oct. 30 that the panel will have seven members during the 2014 session, down from nine in 2013.

The reason, of course, is that majority Democrats lost two members on Sept. 10 when Senate President John Morse of Colorado Springs and Sen. Angela Giron of Pueblo were recalled by voters in their districts.

That left Senate Democrats with an 18-17 majority. Such a tight margin requires juggling committee lineups to ensure that the Dems have a majority on every panel.

The new Democratic roster on Senate Ed will be Evie Hudak of Westminster as chair, Mike Johnston on Denver as vice-chair, Nancy Todd of Aurora and Andy Kerr of Lakewood. Heath, of Boulder, was the fifth Democrat on the committee last session. (Hudak and Johnston held those positions during the last session.)

There’s still a bit of uncertainty hanging over the Democratic lineup because Hudak is being targeted for recall by the same gun rights activists who took down Morse and Giron. The gun lobby tried to recall Hudak at the same time as the other two but couldn’t gather enough signatures. Now they’re trying again.

If recall agitators can’t gather 18,900 signatures by an early December deadline, Hudak is safe. If they do meet the threshold, there’s widespread speculation that Democratic leaders will pressure Hudak to resign her seat, which would then be filled with a Democrat named by a Democratic vacancy committee, sidestepping the recall.

If Hudak were to exit the scene, that might make Johnston a possible candidate for chair of Senate Ed. However, under Heath’s committee scheme, Johnston is slated to continue as chair of the Senate Finance Committee, an important panel.

Johnston’s political future also is a bit murky. He (and Heath) are high-profile backers of Amendment 66, the P-12 tax increase, and its accompanying school-finance overhaul, Senate Bill 13-213. If voters reject A66, some observers think Johnston’s political capital at the statehouse will be significantly diminished. And, if Hudak doesn’t resign, is recalled and Republicans take Senate control, Johnston will be a member of the minority. Johnston was successful in attracting GOP support for his 2010 reform of teacher evaluations, but he had no Republican backing for SB 13-213.

Heath’s committee lineup set up a game of musical chairs for Senate Ed Republicans, who will have only three members instead of the four seats they held during the 2013 session.

Senate GOP members will include the senior Republican on the panel, Sen. Scott Renfroe of Greeley, who will be serving his last term. He’ll be joined by Sen. Mark Scheffel of Parker, who’s been on and off of Senate Ed over the last few sessions and is in the middle of his second term.

The third Republican member will be Sen. Vicki Marble of Fort Collins, who was elected in 2012 with the backing of gun rights activists. Her already-modest reputation took a hit last summer because of insensitive – and widely publicized – remarks she made about the dietary habits of African-Americans (fried chicken was mentioned) during a meeting of a legislative study panel on reducing poverty.

Freshman Sen. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs has been taken off Senate Ed because of the downsizing. He’ll be busy next year as he’s seeking the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate.

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