SD 31 votes in Steadman

By Jason Kosena

It took three rounds of balloting and four hours in a hot auditorium at Morey Middle School in Denver Wednesday night, but lobbyist Pat Steadman was selected to replace Sen. Jennifer Veiga, D-Denver, who is moving to Australia.

Pat Steadman speaks to fellow Democrats at the Senate District 31 vacancy committee hearing.
Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman

It wasn’t easy though. Steadman, nominated by Denver City Council member Chris Nevitt and Adams County resident Monica Mendoza, had to topple nine other candidates who were nominated during the first round of balloting, including Denver Public Schools spokesman Alex Sanchez and former Adams County Statehouse lawmaker Ann Ragsdale — both of whom made it to the second ballot with Steadman. He did, however, have the blessing of Veiga, who is also one of the few openly gay legislators in the state.

“It’s very humbling,” Steadman told The Colorado Statesman after his victory. “I worked hard, I was very intent on doing this.”

Steadman, who is also openly gay, has lobbied at the Capitol for 15 years, most recently with the firm Mendez Steadman & Associates. In addition, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper appointed him to the Denver Women’s Commission and the Denver GLBT Commission for Agency for Human Rights and Community Relations. He is also a board member of Equality Colorado, which promotes gay rights.

Steadman noted that his election occurred on the 13th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Colorado’s Amendment 2, which prohibited protections based on sexual orientation. The measure was approved by voters in 1996 before being ruled unconstitutional.

The other candidates were Patrick Byrne, an analyst for the Colorado Department of Transportation; John Wren, finance chair for Denver’s House District 5B and former Republican activist; Colorado Democratic Party Treasurer Butch Hicks; Denver Public Schools board member Jill Conrad; real-estate agent Doug Williams; and businessman John Maslanik.

After his selection, Steadman said he hopes to run bills that deal with education funding and voter rights issues during the 2010 legislative session.

“There are many areas that I am interested in having an impact though,” Steadman said. “I will be very interested to see what comes out of the interim process this summer on school finance and the state’s (tax) system.”

After many years of serving as a lobbyist, whose job it was to push lawmakers into passing policy, Steadman acknowledged the transition to lawmaker will be difficult but added he is ready for the challenge.

“It’s going to be something that I am very mindful of,” Steadman said. “Tomorrow, I am sitting down with my business partner and our lawyers to severe my ties with the lobbying business. I have every intention of adhering to the highest of ethical standards and avoiding the appearance of impropriety because my clients are now the people of Senate District 31.”

The district encompasses a wide area of the Denver metro area including southwestern Adams County and a long, north-to-south swath of central Denver that includes downtown. In total, 44 precincts are in Adams County while 29 are in Denver.

Despite the myriad of candidates on the first ballot, only Steadman, Sanchez, Ragsdale and Conrad, received more than 10 votes of the 164 electors present. Conrad dropped out of the running before the second round of ballots was cast and threw her support behind Sanchez.

When the second round of ballots were tallied, Steadman received 63 votes, Ragsdale received 53 and Sanchez tallied 44. After being eliminated, Sanchez threw his support behind Steadman and the last round of balloting begun. When all of the dust settled, Steadman won with 93 votes to Ragsdale’s 67.

Many current and former lawmakers in attendance said they believed some of the party’s rising stars were not selected Wednesday night but were happy to get behind Steadman.

Mike Cerbo, a former legislator and the executive director of the AFL-CIO in Colorado, called Steadman a “dynamite” senator but also acknowledged the talent of the others who were not selected.

“We had a great pool of candidates who have experience, commitment and a dedication,” Cerbo told The Statesman. “Alex Sanchez is very impressive and so is Jill Conrad. I think we were lucky to have the pool of candidates that we did.”

Current Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, who sits on the powerful Joint Budget Committee, said he would have been happy with either Steadman or Sanchez as the committee’s choice.

“It would have been great if they could split the Senate half of the time,” he said.

When asked if he believed Steadman’s transition from lobbyist to lawmaker would be challenging, Ferrandino said only if Steadman allows it to be.

“He knows a lot about the Legislature and has been here for 15 years lobbying,” he said. “But, it’s different when you are inside the glass rather than outside of the glass. Coming from his role, I think it will be about patience and listening. As a lobbyist you talk a lot but as a legislator you listen a lot to hear all sides. If he listens and hears from his constituents he will do a nice job.”

Steadman will serve through next year’s session but will have to run for election in November of 2010. If he wins that election to fill out the remainder of Veiga’s term, he will be eligible to run for two terms of his own after that.