As of Thursday, lawmakers from Colorado Springs hold three of the four top leadership positions in the state Senate and House of Representatives.
The outspoken Democratic Sen. John Morse was elected by the Senate Democratic caucus to be the chamber’s next president.
In the House GOP elections, Colorado Springs Republican Rep. Mark Waller was named the new House minority leader, following in the footsteps of outgoing Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument, who was House majority leader for two years.
And Senate Republicans re-elected Sen. Bill Cadman as their minority leader, a post that he’s held since 2011.
The only caucus leader who isn’t from Colorado Springs is the brand-new speaker of the House, Mark Ferrandino, a Denver Democrat. Ferrandino, also elected Thursday, made headlines for being the first openly gay speaker.
Colorado Springs lawmakers holding so many leadership positions indicates the growing importance of El Paso County, Morse said.
“It speaks highly of Colorado Springs, both as an up-and-coming progressive place, but also as a bastion of conservatism that is going to have to remake itself so it doesn’t continue to struggle to get people re-elected,” he said, with a distinctly partisan tone.
But he and Waller promised that Democrats and Republicans would work together effectively.
“It’s a tricky situation whenever you have one party in control of the government,” Waller said. “But whether we were in the minority before, or in the majority, I’ve always made it a priority to work well with Democrats.”
Although there are a number of obvious differences between the new Senate president and the two Republican minority leaders, there is also common ground that they hope to build on, Waller said.
Last year, for example, Waller was the House sponsor of a bill to create a DUI blood limit standard for drivers under the influence of marijuana. The measure died in the Senate, but not along party lines. And Morse was one of the Democrats who voted for it.
Also, Morse sponsored a bill last year to increase penalties for those who endanger tow truck drivers, after Allen Rose was dragged to his death by an SUV in Colorado Springs.
The measure passed the Senate and House unanimously, with support from Waller and Cadman.
There was a divisive measure from 2009 that Morse counts as one of his signature accomplishments. The bill, SB228, repealed a 6 percent limit on annual spending increases.
Waller and Cadman, however, are committed through the years to reducing government spending and are supporters of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, which the 6 percent limit was tied to.
Morse has been known in the Legislature as a zealous foe of TABOR, and is one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit seeking to overturn TABOR and have it declared unconstitutional.
Ferrandino’s election signals that a controversial bill to create civil unions will likely be back this year. The bill made it to the House in the 2012 legislative session but died during a special session after Republican leadership was able to stymie a floor vote on the measure.
Rep. Janak Joshi, R-Colorado Springs, said House Democrats run the risk of poisoning the 2013 legislative session if they introduce the civil unions bill right away.
Sen. Pat Steadman, also openly gay, nearly won the Senate presidency. Instead, Steadman will chair the Joint Budget Committee, on which he’s served for several years.
Former House speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, and Stephens did not run for leadership posts because Republicans lost the House, Stephens said.