More vacancy committees slated for off-session legislative hopefuls

Michael Johnston’s win in the SD 33 vacancy committee election Monday night is just one of a handful of district party gatherings expected within the next few weeks to choose successors for state lawmakers departing for greener pastures.

Senate President Peter Groff’s surprise resignation to lead faith-based education initiatives in the Obama Administration was just the fourth of at least six dominoes to fall in the State Legislature since the 2008 election.

While insiders typically consider former lawmakers and local party operatives to have the inside track on vacancy slots, the selection of high school principal Johnston further calls into question that conventional wisdom. He is one of three newly appointed legislators with no previous experience as an elected public official.

Republican state Rep. Kevin Lundberg of Berthoud was tapped to replace state Sen. Steve Johnson, who resigned after winning election as a Larimer County commissioner. A vacancy committee then picked B.J. Nikkel, a Loveland Republican, to take Lundberg’s place. In March, the House District 3 vacancy committee selected Cherry Hills Village Democrat Daniel Kagan to fill the term of state Rep. Anne McGihon, who resigned because of increased demands from a legal and lobbying job.

A vacancy committee meets May 20 to pick a replacement for State Sen. Jennifer Veiga, a Democrat who represents Senate District 31 in northwest Denver. Veiga announced in April she would be leaving at the end of the session to move to Australia to help care for her partner’s ailing mother.

Democratic state Rep. Gwyn Green of Lakewood announced last month she planned to relinquish her House District 23 seat because of health issues.

Two other Democrats, state Sen. Jim Isgar of Durango and state Rep. Karen Middleton of Aurora, have both said they’ve applied for federal jobs, so might also create vacancies.

Two Republicans, Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry of Grand Junction and state Sen. Cory Gardner of Yuma, could step down before the Legislature reconvenes in January because of conflicts with their political aspirations. Penry is a likely candidate for governor and Gardner announced last week he wants to oust U.S. Rep. Betsy Markey, a Fort Collins Democrat. State law forbids legislators from raising campaign funds while the Legislature is in session.

Last year, Senate President Joan FitzGerald, a Golden Democrat, stepped down -– elevating Groff to the upper chamber’s leadership position — so she could campaign for the 2nd Congressional District seat eventually won by U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Boulder Democrat.

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Ernest Luning

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