Behind the scenes from Week One of the 2011 General Assembly

One of the sergeant-at-arms at the state capitol on Tuesday said the highlight of the day was opening a bathroom for Gov.-elect John Hickenlooper — who hadn’t yet been given the security code for the 1st floor bathroom door.

Tuesday morning was not without its lighter moments. Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Bender performed the swearing-in duties for Gov. John Hickenlooper and other state elected officials on Tuesday in bitter cold temperatures. As he prepared to do the swearing-in for the General Assembly on Wednesday, Bender thanked the legislators in both chambers for holding their ceremonies indoors.

When the House held its elections for Speaker, Sal Pace noted that the roll call included outgoing Speaker of the House Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, which briefly made the body 33 Democrats and 33 Republicans. During nominations for Speaker, Pace took advantage of the moment, and joked he would “do the math” — but then seconded Frank McNulty’s nomination as Speaker.

Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver, Tweeted that he woke up Wednesday morning with “a big pimple,” and joked that “it must be the first day of 7th grade…oh no, actually the 1st day of the 68th Co Legislature.” (For the record, it was barely visible.)

Before he started his first speech as Speaker of the House, McNulty asked if the nameplate had been changed on the Speaker’s podium. (It had).

And in other news

Wednesday’s opening day marked the public return to the state capitol of Sen. Suzanne Williams, D-Aurora, who last month caused a head-on collision in Texas that took the life of a pregnant woman. Monday, when he announced Senate committee chairs for the 68th General Assembly, Senate Majority Leader John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, said Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Arvada, would become chair of the Senate Transportation Committee. Williams had originally been slated to become that committee’s chair.

The Dec. 26 accident, 45 miles northwest of Amarillo, took the life of Brianna Gomez of Amarillo, a Colorado native who was distantly related to Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud. Three members of Williams’ family were not wearing seat belts and were injured in the accident. Williams, the legislature’s only Native American lawmaker, has been a strong advocate of stricter seat belt laws in Colorado.

In making the announcement, Morse said, “the needs of [Williams’] family and the Gomez family will undoubtedly consume substantial energy and force her to spend some time away from the Senate. It is in the best interest of Senator Williams to devote herself to the long and painful process ahead for her to assist, as she is able, in the recovery of her family and the victims of this horrendous tragedy.”

Williams is under pressure to resign her seat from Senate Democratic leadership but as of press time was resisting those efforts. A capitol sourcesaid this week that it’s probably in Williams’ “best interests” to step down, given her family needs and the demands that may be placed on her when a Texas grand jury begins investigating the accident, reportedly next month. Williams is the General Assembly’s longest-serving legislator, first elected to the House for the 1997-98 session. She began serving in the Senate in 2005.

By the numbers

Number of Gardners: two, both in the House (Bob and Debbie; last year it was Bob and Cory)
Number of Kings: two, both in the Senate (Keith and Steve, who moved over from the House)
Number of Kerrs: two, both in the House (Andy and Jim)
Number of Williams: two, one in the House, one in the Senate (Angela, House; Suzanne, Senate)
Youngest baby on the floor of the House on opening day: Kainoa Kerr, grandson of Rep. Jim Kerr, R-Littleton: 5½ months, beating Mari Elizabeth Priola, daughter of Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, by about two weeks.
Former legislators in attendance: at least seven: Former House Minority Leader Ruth Wright; (U.S. Sen.) Mark Udall, (Denver City Councilman) Doug Linkhart, former Speaker of the House Russell George, Gwyn Green, Sue Windels, and Rosemary Marshall.
Different ways of saying “present”: Most legislators respond to the morning roll call by saying “here” or “present”: Rep. Daniel Pabon, D-Denver, in his response, said “ready to go!” Thursday, they continued to get creative: Rep. Roger Wilson, D-Glenwood Springs, said “on deck!”

A fellow legislator asked new Rep. Keith Swerdfeger, R-Pueblo West, how to pronounce his name Thursday. “Slowly,” said one of the House sergeants.



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