Ferrandino soon to be known as “Mr. Speaker”

The Colorado Statesman

Six months to the day after House Republican leaders killed a bill to establish same-sex civil unions in a bitter procedural standoff, a newly elected, triumphant Democratic majority on Thursday nominated Mark Ferrandino as speaker of the House, marking the first time an openly gay legislator will preside over the chamber.

The Denver Democrat fought to hold back tears as he told a packed committee room at the Capitol that he was humbled by the honor and considered it a win for kids who’ve been bullied or who grew up feeling like they didn’t fit in.

Outgoing speaker of the House Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, left, congratulates incoming speaker of the House Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, at the state Capitol on Nov. 8. House Dems picked up five seats after the elections and will control the chamber 37 to 28 when the General Assembly convenes Jan. 9.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

“I told myself I wasn’t going to cry, but as a kid growing up in New York, who had a learning disability, who was in special education, who was in self-contained classes, who struggled a lot — the kid who was picked on, called names — to be where I am and to have your support to do that is awesome, it’s humbling,” he said. “I couldn’t dream when I was in elementary school or high school that I would be standing here. So thank you.”

Ferrandino was the House sponsor of civil unions legislation that floundered in the closing days of the session and was swiftly killed by GOP leadership in an ensuing special session. The move left Democrats and wealthy backers of the measure vowing to dislodge Republicans from their slim 33-32 House majority, and on Tuesday night they did just that, ousting four GOP incumbents and taking a 37-28 lead.

Acknowledging that that he would be running the House after a hard-fought election season — the position won’t be official until it’s ratified by the entire House when the chamber convenes on Jan. 9 — Ferrandino said that it was time to turn from campaigning to governing.

“While the campaign trail becomes a vicious fight — to get 50 percent-plus-one, to make sure you win your election — in this building, there’s a different job: your job is to build consensus, your job is to reach across the aisle, find partners and come up with the best policy for the people of Colorado,” he said.

State Reps. Dickey Lee Hullinghorst of Gunbarrel, left, and Lois Court of Denver, right, congratulate colleague Mark Ferrandino of Denver, who will become the new speaker of the House in January when the legislature convenes. Ferrandino, who has served as minority leader, will preside over the House which will be omprised of 37 Democrats and 28 Republicans.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

“So we, as a caucus, will be working hand-in-hand with our Republican counterparts, across the aisle; we’ll be working with our governor; and, yes, unfortunately, we’ll have to work with the Senate,” he said to laughter, pointing to former Speaker Andrew Romanoff, who stood at the back of the room, adding, “I’m taking my cues from former Speaker Romanoff, who is here — making fun of the Senate is an age-old tradition of the speaker of the House.”

Turning serious, Ferrandino said that Democrats planned to move quickly on legislation to help spur an economy he said “is recovering, but it’s not recovering fast enough” with measures aimed at helping small businesses and entrepreneurs. In addition, he noted that Democrats won election in part based on their commitment to public education, adding, “We’re going to live up to that commitment — we want to make sure that every child in this state has an education so they’ll be able to achieve their dreams like I am able to achieve my dreams today.”

House Democrats also named Rep. Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Boulder, as majority leader; Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, as assistant majority leader; Rep. Lois Court, D-Denver, as caucus chair; Rep.-elect Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, as assistant caucus chair; Rep. Beth McCann, D-Denver, as whip; and Rep. Su Ryden, D-Aurora, as deputy whip. Ferrandino confirmed that Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, will again serve on the Joint Budget Committee and that Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, will fill the second seat allocated to the House majority on the panel.

When she nominated Hullinghorst for the leadership position, Duran said her only regret was that “this year we will not be able to do Hummers,” the traditional end-of-session collection of skits and musical numbers thrown by the House minority caucus lampooning the majority. (This year, as the session ended in acrimony over civil unions, Democrats declined to go ahead with the show, leaving a box containing feather boas, a plastic squirt gun and boxing gloves to gather dust in Hullinghorst’s office.)

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com