By Elizabeth Stortroen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
On Wednesday, Jan. 7, a standing-room-only crowd in Colorado’s House chambers witnessed an historic moment.
As outgoing Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff handed his gavel over to his successor, Rep. Terrance Carroll, Carroll became the state’s first black Speaker of the House. And, as Carroll joined Senate President Peter Groff in a leadership role, Colorado became the first state in the nation to have black lawmakers simultaneously head both legislative chambers.
The new Speaker of the House Terrance Carroll addresses the Colorado House and its visitors.
Gloria Tanner was in the audience at Carroll’s invitation. As the first black woman to serve in Colorado’s Senate, the Colorado Women’s Hall of Famer knows a thing or two about how it feels to break new political ground.
As that gavel was passed, she felt proud of her state.
“I think it was a very historical moment in the state of Colorado not just for African Americans, but for all of us,” Tanner said. “I think it shows we are picking people not by the color of their skin, but by their ability to lead and their character.”
Such pride, apparently, is bipartisan, reaching across the aisle to encompass another local black politician, Ryan Frazier, a Republican member of Aurora’s City Council.
“I’m very proud that Rep. Carroll has ascended to be the speaker of the House. It gives me — and, I hope, everyone — clear evidence that our state has moved forward past many of the social and racial injustices of the past, despite those that still exist today.
“I pray that Terrance is able to
help move this state forward, and believe that he is there because of the content of his character, first and foremost. I wish him and the Legislature the best.”
In his first speech as speaker of the House, Carroll reflected briefly on the meaning of the moment before turning his attention to the state’s current problems.
“In these difficult times,” he said, “Americans have sent a clear message to their political leaders: We don’t care where you come from, what color your skin is, or what party you belong to. We care only how you can move us forward.”
All eyes — some filled with tears — were on Carroll as he spoke of opportunity as the thread that sews the community together.
“We members represent the diverse fabric of Colorado’s community — a patchwork of unique and wonderful biographies that, together, make Colorado, like America, different and more magnificent than other societies in history,” Carroll said.
He reflected on his childhood — raised by a single mother whose formal education ended at third grade, in Anacostia, one of the toughest neighborhoods in Washington, D.C.
“My mother, a woman of unconditional love and unbounded grace, understood that my only way out of the neighborhood was to capitalize on each opportunity, which came first in the form of a free public education,” Carroll told the assembled dignitaries, friends, relatives and colleagues.
“America cares not where you came from, but only where you want to go. But for America to continue to flourish, we must be diligent in our work to preserve existing opportunities that are the engines of prosperity and offer new opportunities where none existed before.
Through his mother’s guidance, Carroll set about to expand his opportunities, leading him eventually to his new position.
He takes that position at a difficult time.
“More Coloradans are losing their jobs, the price of energy continues to fluctuate wildly, spending and consumer confidence are down,” Carroll said. “And while Colorado, with its diversified economy and well-trained workforce, has fared better than the country as a whole, we are not immune to those forces driving the downturn.”
Carroll called for members of the House to work together toward three goals: bringing new, high-paying jobs to Colorado, providing support for
struggling families, and improving education.
“We want to create an economy where the best jobs and most innovative companies are housed right here in Colorado,” he said.
“The task before us is to ensure that opportunity is available to this generation of Coloradans and the next. And while the path to prosperity will be challenging, and at times fraught with controversy, our journey must be successful.”