Republicans reclaim state House, but votes are still being counted

The red wave that swept America in last week’s election didn’t exactly miss Colorado, but it was very selective.

It will probably be felt most acutely in the State Legislature, where control will be split, the Republicans gaining a one- or two-seat edge in the House. Democrats will retain control of the Colorado Senate, probably by a 20-15 margin.

Speaker Terrance Carroll on the first day of the 2009 session. (Photo/Bob Spencer, The Colorado Independent)

While Colorado Democratic Party officials still say they are waiting for all the votes to be counted in a couple of races, it appears to most that House Democrats took a big hit, going from a 37-27-1 majority to being down one seat, 33-32, or possibly 33-31-1 if unaffiliated candidate Kathleen Curry prevails in HD 61.

Among Democratic losers in the House were:

Debbie Benefield, Arvada, who is losing HD 29 to Robert Ramirez by just over 200 votes.

Joe Rice, Littleton, who lost HD 38 to Kathleen Conti by a 52-48 margin.

Dennis Apuan, Colorado Springs, who lost HD 17 to Mark Barker by a 54-46 margin.

Dianne Primavera, Broomfield, who is losing HD 33 to Donald Beezley by around 400 votes.

But the Colorado Democratic Party still had this language on its website as of this morning:

The Colorado State House is one representative shy of the majority. We continue to review the votes for several House races. We will miss the wise counsel of Joe Rice, Sarah Gagliardi and Dennis Apuan. And we hope to discover the votes needed to bring back Debbie Benefield and Diane Primavera.

And Benefield had this to say Monday afternoon: “Of course I still have a chance.”

She said she is currently behind by 208 votes, but that there are hundreds of provisional and military ballots still to be counted.

A source in the Democratic Party who did not want to be identified but whose job entails keeping a close eye on the late ballot counting process, said there are still about 4,000 provisional ballots in Jefferson County that have not been counted. Only a portion of those are in HD 29, but he said it is way too soon to declare a winner in that race.

“We may not know who won that race until the middle of the month,” he said. He also said there are still a lot of votes to be counted in HD 33, but with the Republicans having a larger lead there among votes already counted, that race seems less likely to flip. Provisional ballots tend to tilt Democratic, he said.

While the Democratic Party may still be saying, “let’s wait and see,” both parties in both chambers have been busy electing leaders for the 2011 session.

Last session’s Speaker of the House Democrat Terrance Carroll has reportedly offered his congratulations to Republican Rep. Frank McNulty, Highlands Ranch, for capturing majority control of the Colorado House, where he has already been named Speaker for next year.

The Democrats managed to hold off challenges to all but one of their state Senate seats in last week’s election, leaving them firmly in control with a 20-15 majority. While some still hold out for a Republican victory in SD 16, Jeanne Nicholson was leading Tim Leonard by more than 500 this morning.

How much a split legislature matters is unclear.

“The biggest difference (in the House) is that their party now picks the chairs of all the committees,” said Rep. Jim Riesberg, D-Greeley.

He also noted that as most committees have 11 members, in the next session, that will mean committees each have six Republicans and five Democrats.

“As long as people vote on the issues, I really don’t think it will make much difference. Last year, more than 80 percent of the bills that passed the House had at least 50 votes (out of 65).”

Similarly, on redistricting, he said that anytime the legislature tries to gerrymander the districts, the courts have stepped in to redraw the lines anyway.

“We will make every effort to work together with the Republicans,” he said.

Democratic Rep. Max Tyler, HD 23, Lakewood, says there was no red wave in Colorado. “The House is Republican because of less than 300 votes in one district. That’s hardly a wave,” he said.

Tyler, elected to his first full term after having been appointed to fill a vacancy, said it felt great to win. Unusual in a state legislative race, Tyler’s opponent, Edgar Johannson, moved to the district from Denver just to run against Tyler. Also unusual was that Tyler was targeted by a well-funded TV effort, with negative ads running during prime time sporting events.

“I think I won because of my deep roots in the community.” He said he thinks Republican leadership will make it difficult to pass legislation favoring green energy. “When the other side thinks climate change is a hoax, it will be hard to get clean energy legislation through,” he said.

“With a majority in the House, we are going to have the chance to move Colorado forward with bipartisan cooperation,” said newly elected Speaker of the House Frank McNulty.

“We will be on equal footing with Democrats in the next session,” McNulty said. “We will focus on finding common ground with Democrats in the House and in the Senate and with Governor Elect [John] Hickenlooper. We know that Hickenlooper has good ideas he would like to pursue in putting Colorado back to work and we look forward to meaningful and substantive conversations with the governor and the Democratic Senate,” McNulty added.

Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

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