Morse elevated to Senate president; Carroll tapped as majority leader for Dems

The Colorado Statesman

Senate Democrats on Thursday shuffled the deck of its leadership following the Tuesday elections, choosing Majority Leader John Morse of Colorado Springs to lead them as Senate president in the upcoming session that begins Jan. 9. The nomination bucked speculation that Sen. Pat Steadman of Denver was the favored choice.

Morse, who was nominated by Caucus Chair Morgan Carroll of Aurora, will replace outgoing Senate President Brandon Shaffer of Longmont. Shaffer on Tuesday lost a challenge to U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, in the 4th Congressional District. His political career ostensibly came to an end, at least for now.

In explaining his perception of Senate president, Morse told colleagues before they voted, “The role of the president of the Senate is more like the dean of a tenured college faculty.”

Sen. John Morse, elected Thursday as the new Senate president, accepts congratulations from soon-to-be Sen. Nancy Todd of Aurora. At right are Sens. Jeanne Nicholson and Lois Tochtrop (seated) and at left is Sen. Evie Hudak.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

Morse and Steadman first both beat Sen. Rollie Heath of Boulder for the position, and then the two lawmakers faced each other in a run-off, in which Morse prevailed victorious. The vote count was kept secret. Both Steadman and Heath had nominated themselves for the position.

Sen. Rollie Heath, left, chats with Sen. Morgan Carroll, right, at the Senate Democrats caucus Nov. 8 when leadership elections were held. Sen-elect Jesse Ulibarri of Sherrelwood looks on.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

Speculation had grown leading up to the caucus that Steadman was the favored nominee. Those rumors were bolstered by reports that House Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, would become the first openly gay speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives. With House Democrats regaining control of the lower chamber, 37-28, they indeed on Thursday nominated Ferrandino to lead them next year.

Sen. Linda Newell of Littleton congratulates Sen. Lucia Guzman of Denver, the new President Pro Tempore of the state Senate. Newell ran against Guzman for the leadership slot.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

Had Senate Democrats elected Steadman — who is also openly gay — both chambers of the Colorado Legislature would have led by gay legislators. Media reports seemed to favor that overwhelmingly historic scenario, but Senate Democrats had another plan in backing Morse.

Following the vote, Steadman was coy on whether he was disappointed. When asked by The Colorado Statesman, he first answered “maybe,” before slinking back into his leather chair in a third floor Senate committee room in the Capitol and declaring, “I’m kind of happy, actually, I like the JBC job better.”

Newly elected Assistant Majority Leader Sen. Irene Aguilar, right, defeated Sen. Lois Tochtrop for the leadership position after two initial tie votes among the Senate Democrats.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

Steadman earned approval from his colleagues to retain his position on the powerful Joint Budget Committee. Also remaining on the JBC is Sen. Mary Hodge of Brighton.

Senate Democrats retained a 20-15 majority following the Tuesday election. There will be several new senators added to the caucus this year: Sens.-elect John Kefalas of Fort Collins, Matt Jones of Louisville, Andy Kerr of Lakewood and Nancy Todd of Aurora, who are all moving up from the House, and Sen.-elect Jessie Ulibarri of Sherrelwood, who is new to the legislature.

Morse said he is ready to get going with the work of leading the Senate.

“Governing is hard, and it takes pulling everyone together — everybody in your caucus, everyone in the building, everyone outside your building. Let’s move this state forward.”

Assistant Majority Leader

There was a bit of a dust-up over whom to elect as assistant majority leader, with the choice coming down to Sens. Irene Aguilar of Denver — who was nominated by Sen. Gail Schwartz of Snowmass — and Lois Tochtrop of Thornton, who nominated herself to retain the leadership position that she currently holds. In two separate votes, Aguilar and Tochtrop tied.

Acknowledging the deadlock, Carroll then suggested that there was interest in creating a new Senate majority whip position. Aguilar was nominated, potentially clearing the way for Tochtrop to maintain her distinction. But Aguilar declined the whip nomination, and the new position went to Schwartz, who had nominated herself and faced no opponents.

That left the caucus forced to still make a decision between Aguilar and Tochtrop for assistant majority leader. After a final vote, at least one member of the caucus changed their preference and the tie broke in Aguilar’s favor.

“I had heard the gasp in the audience when [I was nominated], and I will tell you it was not something I had intended to do, and I was not actively campaigning for anything...” Aguilar explained to her colleagues. “But I’d been approached by a number of my teammates here, colleagues here…”

Tochtrop believed she deserved the position because she has the most seniority. She was elected to the House in 1998, and then appointed to the Senate in 2004.

“When we start in January, I will be the one down here with the most seniority…” she told her colleagues. “I have a lot of experience, I have a lot of knowledge because I have been around for a long time.”

The rest of the caucus unraveled with little drama and discussion, as Senate Democrats appointed members for the other three leadership positions.

Carroll was elected to be the Senate majority leader after being nominated by Sen. Evie Hudak of Westminster. There were no other nominations, so she was elected by acclamation.

Also elected by acclamation was Sen. Jeanne Nicholson of Black Hawk, who will replace Carroll as caucus chair.

There were three nominations for Senate president pro tempore, which will be left open by the departure of Sen. Betty Boyd of Lakewood. Heath, Sen. Lucia Guzman of Denver and Sen. Linda Newell of Littleton were all nominated. When the voting was over, Guzman walked away with the distinction.

Senate Democratic Leadership Positions:

President: John Morse of Colorado Springs
President Pro Tempore: Lucia Guzman of Denver
Majority Leader: Morgan Carroll of Aurora
Assistant Majority Leader: Irene Aguilar of Denver
Majority Whip: Gail Schwartz of Snowmass
Caucus Chair: Jeanne Nicholson of Black Hawk
JBC: Pat Steadman of Denver
JBC: Mary Hodge of Brighton

Peter@coloradostatesman.com