By Jason Kosena
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
Two of Colorado’s newest state senators took their seats last week on the Senate floor.
Democratic Sens. Pat Steadman, who replaced Jennifer Veiga in District 31; and Michael Johnston, who replaced Peter Groff in District 33, were sworn in by Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey Friday morning during a heavily attended ceremony in the Senate Chamber.
“It was an honor to take the oath of office this morning,” said Johnston, adding that he understands the state is faced with large budget problems and that he looks forward to getting straight to work.
“Colorado faces historic challenges now — from reviving our economy to strengthening our schools to expanding access to health care,” he continued. “I am no stranger to tall tasks, and I look forward to being a member of the team that will work to find common-sense solutions for Coloradans.”
Johnston wasn’t stretching the truth concerning his familiarity with tall tasks.
Before coming to the Legislature, Johnston served as the high school principal at Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts, in Thornton. Faced with historically high dropout rates and low student achievement scores, Johnston helped the Mapleton School District transition into a “small school” design. The high school was broken up into seven smaller high schools, each with a unique focus and teaching style.
The experimental restructuring has resulted in increased test scores and a sharp rise in the number of graduates who go on to college.
Johnston’s work earned him the national spotlight and a place on President Barack Obama’s campaign as an education adviser.
For his part, Steadman is no stranger to the Capitol and legislative procedures.
Steadman — who, like his predecessor, Veiga, is openly gay — has lobbied at the Capitol for 15 years, most recently with the firm Mendez Steadman & Associates, of which he was partner. In addition, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper appointed him to the Denver Women’s Commission, the Denver GLBT Commission and the Agency for Human Rights and Community Relations. He also is a board member of Equality Colorado, which promotes gay rights.
Steadman noted during his comments to supporters Friday that his selection to fill out Veiga’s term came on the 13th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Colorado’s Amendment 2, which prohibited legal protections based on sexual orientation. The measure was approved by voters in 1992 before being ruled unconstitutional.
“I am really looking forward to my new role at the Capitol,” Steadman said. “I’ve spent 15 years under this dome fighting for change and civil rights. Now I get to work on a broader array of issues to advance the interests of my constituents and the state as a whole. I look forward to continuing to fight for what’s right and to be a voice for our values.”
Steadman said he has sold his interests in Mendez Steadman & Associates since being selected for the Senate and acknowledged that — unlike many lawyers who have come into the Legislature — his transition will require a clear and distinct line between his new job and his old one.
“I am here to serve the interests of my constituents,” he said. “They are my clients now.”
Senate President Brandon Shaffer — whose first duty after taking over the Senate presidency vacated by Peter Groff was to preside over the swearing in ceremony — said he looks forward to working with the state’s newest lawmakers.
“We are thrilled to have Senators Johnston and Steadman as part of our team,” Shaffer said. “They both bring years of legislative and life experience, and I am looking forward to having them join us as we continue to work for Colorado.”
The Friday morning ceremony was attended by a number of Democratic lawmakers who all offered congratulations to their new caucus colleagues. Only one Republican was in attendance, Highlands Ranch Sen. Ted Harvey, who was quick to jump to his feet and shake the hands of Steadman and Johnston after they were officially sworn in.
When asked what he wanted to say to the newest lawmakers, Harvey was brief.
“Congrats,” he said.