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Democrats confident they’ve held House control

Speaker Mark Ferrandino
House Speaker Mark Ferrandino (right) briefed reporters on election results.

“We’ve very much poised to hold the majority in the state House,” Democratic Speaker Mark Ferrandino told reporters Thursday as ballots still were being counted in several tight legislative races. “We feel very confident that we are at 33 and maybe more.”

Thirty-three constitutes the bare majority in the 65-member House.

“We feel very good, knowing what remains to be counted,” he added, acknowledging that tallying continue in Adams County and elsewhere. There were indications that the Adams count might drag into Friday.

Democrats are tentatively declaring House victory based on narrow winning margins for two Arapahoe County representatives, Daniel Kagan of Cherry Hills Village and Su Ryden of Aurora.

Ferrandino acknowledged, “There are ballots to be counted in Arapahoe County, but not enough to see those [numbers] move against us. … If we were concerned we would not be sitting here today.”

The situation is murkier in a few key races for the Senate, where Democrats are hoping to hold their current 18-17 majority.

Education implications of the election

Democratic control of the House – and Gov. John Hickenlooper’s re-election – likely means the policy landscape for education and other issues will be similar to that of recent legislative sessions, regardless of what happens with the Senate. Republican takeover of both the executive and legislative branches might have opened a path to new initiatives, such as tuition tax credits.

If Democrats don’t hold the Senate, Hickenlooper still will be on familiar ground. His party controlled the Senate but Republicans ran the House during his first two years, 2011 and 2012.

The 2011 session was the single one in the last six years that didn’t produce major education legislation, partly because lawmakers were focused on revenue and budget problems. (See this Chalkbeat Colorado story for more details.)

Things got more interesting for education during the 2012 session, which saw passage of the READ Act, the bill intended to improve reading levels in grades K-3; an easing of school zero-tolerance policies, and passage of the law that led to Colorado joining the PARCC multi-state testing group. That last issue is likely to come back in 2015, giving rising public and lawmaker discontent about testing. (Get a full review of the 2012 session here.)

The undecided races

As of mid-afternoon Thursday, Kagan was leading Republican Candice Benge by a bit more than 400 votes. His total has been climbing slowly but steadily since Tuesday night, when he was running behind.

Ryden was leading Republican Richard Bowman by almost 600 votes. Her totals have been following a trend line similar to Kagan’s.

Five other races in both houses remain very tight, with votes still to be counted.

In Senate District 20, Sen. Cheri Jahn leads Republican Larry Queen by 116 votes. In District 24, Republican Beth Martinez Humenick leads Democrat Judy Solano by about 1,000 votes. Democrats need to win both of these to hold the Senate.

Here’s the House situation:

  • District 30 – Democratic Rep. Jenise May was trailing Republican JoAnn Windholz by about 475 votes.
  • District 31 – Republican Carol Becker held a margin of about 50 votes over Democratic Rep. Joe Salazar.
  • District 59 – Republican former Rep. J. Paul Brown was leading Democratic current Rep. Mike McLachlan by about 230 votes.

Many familiar faces will be back, but some won’t

The races have been decided for current members of the House and Senate education committees.

Democrats Millie Hamner (the chair), John Buckner, Lois Court, Rhonda Fields, Brittany Pettersn and Dave Young won re-election, as did Republicans Justin Everett, Kevin Priola and Jim Wilson.

Three 2014 members – Republicans Frank McNulty and Carole Murray and Democrat Cherilyn Peniston – won’t be returning because of term limits. And Republican Chris Holbert will be leaving because he won a Senate seat.

On Senate Education, Democratic chair Andy Kerr narrowly won re-election while fellow Jeffco Democrat Rachel Zenzinger lost.

Four members – Democrats Mike Johnston and Nancy Todd and Republicans Vicki Marble and Mark Scheffel – are in the middle of their terms and weren’t on the ballot. And Republican Scott Renfroe won’t be returning because of term limits.

Another familiar education figure will be joining the Senate as a freshman. Mike Merrifield had long service in the House as chair of the education committee. (Solano also had multiple terms on House Education.)

So new members will be filling vacant seats on the education committees, and past membership doesn’t necessarily mean continued service. Legislative leaders often shuffle committee memberships after an election, based on member preferences and political needs.

Ferrandino won’t be presiding over the new, smaller majority because he’s also term limited and now works as the chief financial officer for Denver Public Schools.

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