New state senator Zenzinger sworn into office

The Colorado Statesman

The latest road to recall was officially cut short on Friday when Sen. Rachel Zenzinger of Arvada took her place as the new senator for District 19. She was sworn-in after Sen. Evie Hudak, a Democrat from Westminster, resigned last month in the face of a growing effort to oust her from office.

A vacancy committee of Jefferson County Democrats elected Zenzinger on Tuesday night when she defeated former Rep. Sara Gagliardi of Arvada.

Zenzinger, 38, will resign from her position on the Arvada City Council in order to serve SD 19.

She had been eyeing the seat for 2016, when her friend and former boss, Hudak, would have been term-limited. Zenzinger had worked for Hudak as a campaign manager and as an aide.

Chief Justice Michael Bender administers the oath of office to Sen. Rachel Zenzinger Friday, Dec. 13, three days after she was selected by a vacancy committee to succeed Sen. Evie Hudak, who resigned the seat last month.
Photo courtesy of the Senate Democats

But in an odd twist of political fate that few could have seen coming less than a year ago, Zenzinger was offered a rare opportunity to take the seat nearly three years ahead of time following Hudak’s Nov. 27 resignation.

Chief Justice Michael Bender, center, stands with Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, D-Arvada, right of him, and members of Zenzinger's family after she was sworn into office on Friday in the Senate chamber.
Photo by Peter Marcus/The Colorado Statesman

Hudak resigned as gun rights activists were preparing to submit signatures to force a recall election. Had Hudak been thrown out of office, a Republican would have likely been elected to succeed her.

In order to spare Jefferson County a costly election, and to secure the Democratic majority in the Senate — held by only one seat — Hudak made the tough decision to back out, a decision that she has called “heartbreaking.”

The opportunity has been bittersweet for Zenzinger, who never wanted to see her friend stuck in such a difficult position. But on Friday, as she was sworn-in by Chief Justice Michael Bender in the Senate chamber, Zenzinger said she was ready to hit the ground running.

“This is a fulfillment of a lifelong dream for me, so I’m very excited to get to work,” Zenzinger addressed her new colleagues. “I’m looking forward to making an impact in the areas of education, economic development and transportation.”

Several Senate Democrats offered their encouragement, stating their desire to get to know and to work with Zenzinger. She is not completely new to the building, having worked as an aide for Hudak and for Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton.

Zenzinger and Hodge shared an emotional moment on the Senate floor when they embraced in a long, warm hug just after Zenzinger was sworn-in. Zenzinger walked into Hodge’s life at a painful time. Hodge’s son had been working for her as an aide in 2011 when he suddenly died at 39 years old. Zenzinger filled in following the death.

“She has been so supportive of me… It was a very chaotic time and it was a very emotional time,” Zenzinger said of her time with Hodge.

After their embrace on the Senate floor, Hodge simply said, “Welcome aboard.”

Senate Majority Leader Morgan Carroll of Aurora, who will be confirmed in January as the new Senate president, also addressed her colleagues, suggesting that Zenzinger’s background in education, as a program coordinator for Regis University, will serve the body well. She also pointed to her experience in local government.

“It’s a very helpful, valued addition to us in the state to be working with those who work in nonpartisan races on a day-to-day basis, to actually listen to the nuts and bolts of what constituents and citizens need,” said Carroll.

Assistant Majority Leader Rollie Heath of Boulder said that while he will miss Hudak and has “mixed emotions,” he is optimistic that Zenzinger will be able to fill her shoes.

“We need to look to the future, and I am standing by a young woman — and everybody’s young to me — who is going to bring incredible talent and experience and emotion to this job,” said Heath, who will be 76 years old this month.

Several Senate Republicans also attended the ceremony, including Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman of Colorado Springs, Mark Scheffel of Parker, Kevin Grantham of Cañon City, Vicki Marble of Fort Collins, George Rivera of Pueblo and Kevin Lundberg of Berthoud.

At least two of those senators, Marble and Rivera, actively campaigned for the recall of Hudak, standing on busy street corners in SD 19, wearing T-shirts that read, “Recall Hudak,” and holding campaign sings along with proponents.

Rivera was sworn-in on Oct. 3 along with Sen. Bernie Herpin, R-Colorado Springs, after they were elected as successor candidates following the successful recalls over the summer of Senate President John Morse of Colorado Springs and Angela Giron of Pueblo.

When the Senate honored Hudak on Friday — who was not in attendance for the ceremony — both Marble and Rivera stood to applaud her.

Cadman had called for the applause, stating, “Sen. Hudak, on behalf of this institution, I wish you well in all of your future endeavors, and we all thank you for your service, and I hope you’re listening somewhere.”

After 14 years serving inside the legislature, Cadman said he has learned that relationships are more important than politics.

“I believe the true success of those who serve here is not measured solely by what we add or change in these books,” said Cadman, pointing to state statutes. “But by what we add to the lives of those with whom we serve.

“Coloradans are best served when we stay focused on people over politics, when we hold on tighter to relationships than partisanship, and when we use our limited time to build relationships within this body and outside of these chambers,” Cadman added, inviting Zenzinger to reach across the aisle.

Carroll praised Cadman for his statesman-like remarks: “I want to thank Sen. Cadman for your gracious, dignified and very welcome remarks on a very important day for us in the Senate,” she said.

Zenzinger was also warmed by the Republican support.

“Some people may think that it’s a myth that you can collaborate across the aisle,” she said. “But… coming from local government, I was nominated by my peers on city council who are mostly conservative Republicans to be their mayor pro tem, and I think that’s because I really try to demonstrate that collaborative spirit.”

Peter@coloradostatesman.com