Levy to leave Legislature early for new job

Vacancy committee will choose Boulder Democrat’s replacement
The Colorado Statesman

Four-term Democratic state Rep. Claire Levy of Boulder has resigned to become executive director of the Colorado Center on Law and Policy. She will miss her final year at the legislature to advocate for the progressive organization around economic, health care and fiscal issues for low-income Coloradans.

“I truly love the Colorado General Assembly, and I will miss my colleagues on both sides of the aisle,” said the longtime lawmaker. “But as my time as a legislator grew short, I began to think about ways I could continue to make Colorado a better place for all of its citizens.”

Levy is a major loss for House Democrats, as her tireless commitment to Democratic values around criminal justice, the underserved and safety has been a rallying call for the party. She also sits on the powerful Joint Budget Committee and serves as speaker pro tempore.

Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder

Speaker Mark Ferrandino of Denver said he isn’t sure what he’s going to do without her, but that the caucus expects smooth transitions.

“Rep. Levy is my go-to expert on countless subjects,” said Ferrandino. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said to lawmakers and advocates, ‘Just talk to Claire. She’ll know the answer.’

“She’s been an outstanding lawmaker, mentor, confidant and friend,” continued Ferrandino. “The work she’s done on criminal justice reform, on civil rights and on our budget will have deep and lasting impacts on Colorado. We’re a better state because of her service.”

Since being elected to House District 13 in 2006, Levy has sponsored dozens of bills that have widely been viewed as advancements for the state. Her greatest passion involved criminal justice, serving as a member of the Criminal & Juvenile Justice Reform Commission and chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee under former House Speaker Terrance Carroll of Denver.

Landmark legislation included a measure that limited the transfer of underage suspects into the adult penal system and legislation that requires youth convicts detained in adult jails be given access to education.

Levy also sponsored the Job Protection and Civil Rights Act to provide employees facing discrimination with a state-level process to pursue remedies. Much of her focus was on the LGBT community.

And following the devastating Lower North Fork fire in 2012 — which was started by a controlled burn — Levy sponsored a measure that raised the liability caps of the Governmental Immunity Act so that those affected could receive larger payouts.

Other bills she worked on instituted the first statewide building code; simplified voting for military members serving overseas; prohibited texting while driving; restricted an insurance company’s ability to shortchange customers on casualty claims; and created a transit and rail division within the Department of Transportation.

“Claire’s legislative record is simply amazing,” said House Majority Leader Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, Levy’s colleague from Boulder.

It’s not only Democrats who agree that Levy has been an exceptional fixture in the state legislature. Republicans have also expressed their admiration, despite Levy’s unwavering commitment to her party.

Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, has firsthand experience with Levy’s tenacious political spirit. Some of the exchanges between the two over the years bordered on epic. Gardner most certainly served as her sparring partner in countless floor debates and Judiciary Committee hearings. Both Levy and Gardner entered the legislature as freshman at the same time.

“While we have served different parties and have different philosophies, on many occasion we have worked together,” explained Gardner. “When we were adversaries, she was always respectful, but formidable. I wish her the very best, and I will miss her.”

Levy’s resignation is effective Oct. 31. A vacancy committee will be established to fill the seat with another Democrat once the resignation takes effect. Input will be gathered from the counties she represents, including Boulder, Clear Creek, Gilpin, Grand and Jackson.

In the meantime, Levy is preparing for her position with the Colorado Center on Law and Policy.

“I’m excited to have this opportunity to lead Colorado’s premier organization dedicated to reducing poverty and advancing economic security,” she said. “Economic opportunity and access to affordable health care have been priorities for me as a legislator. Addressing those issues is vital not only to Colorado’s families but also to the economic health of our state.”

T.A. Taylor-Hunt, president of the organization’s board of directors, said Levy appears to be the perfect fit for her think tank.

“She is a proven leader with the passion and experience needed to confront the challenges facing low-income Coloradans,” said Taylor-Hunt. “Her unwavering commitment to CCLP’s mission and to the people of Colorado will allow her to serve as a strong voice for people who are often overlooked.”

Levy will replace Christine Murphy on Nov. 1. Levy said she hopes to build on the organization’s ability to have a strong voice at the Capitol on budget issues, economic opportunity and health care.

She will draw upon her experience in the legislature. Levy worked closely with CCLP, relying on the think tank for its input.

“Serving as executive director of the Colorado Center on Law and Policy gives me a powerful platform from which to continue working on these important issues,” explained Levy. “CCLP has long led the charge for equitable and smart public policy on matters of social and economic justice. I look forward to… make the charge even stronger.”

Joint Budget Committee replacement announced

Meanwhile, House Democrats on Thursday announced that Rep. Jenise May — who was only elected last year — would replace Levy on the JBC. As a member of the JBC, May will have input over the state’s Long Bill, offering her some of the greatest power in the state.

“I appreciate the speaker’s confidence in me,” said May. “The JBC’s job is to make sure Colorado taxpayers’ dollars are spent wisely and without waste, and I take this responsibility very seriously.

While May is new to the legislature, she already has a storied history in government. She served as deputy director of the Colorado Department of Human Services, managing the department’s more than $1 billion budget.

Ferrandino pointed out that May has had experience managing several disasters while at DHS, including the Windsor tornado in 2008. The speaker said her experience could prove to be valuable as the JBC responds to last week’s devastating floods.

“A JBC member has to enjoy getting neck-deep in the details of government,” said Ferrandino, who is a former JBC member and numbers wonk. “Claire’s shoes are hard to fill, but I’m appointing Jenise because she has the best combination of experience and temperament to get the job done.”

May went right to work on the year-round committee, meeting Thursday and Friday. She will find pressure not only from fellow lawmakers looking to secure funding for their districts, but also from interest groups across the state.

State constitutional law requires balancing the budget each year, so JBC members find themselves standing up to a plethora of requests.

May joins Rep. Crisanta Duran of Denver as the House Democrats’ members on the six-member committee. The JBC also includes Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, and Sens. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, Mary Hodge, D-Brighton, and Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs.

“I thank her in advance for taking on all the extra work this job requires,” said Duran.

May said she’s ready for the work: “I’ve visited every county in the state and look forward to applying what I’ve learned and bringing a balanced approach to the budgeting process.”

Peter@coloradostatesman.com