Colorado House Democrats unanimously elected Denver Rep Mark Ferrandino minority leader today. In just over two terms as a lawmaker, Ferrandino has made a name for himself as an open and dynamic figure committed to the legislative process and talented at steering substantive bills through partisan minefields toward passage. He is the second out gay member of the Colorado legislature to head the Democrats in the chamber in the last decade.
Current minority leader Sal Pace from Pueblo opted to step down as a way to ease partisan tension that has steadily risen since he and Democratic Senate President Brandon Shaffer announced in the spring that they were running for Congress.
In remarks to the caucus, Ferrandino exhibited his trademark optimistic pluck.
“Together, Democrats and Republicans can accomplish a great deal for this state. But I will not shy away from fights when regular people are about to get trampled on.”
In a release, chairman of the state Democratic Party Rick Palacio touted Ferrandino’s work on behalf of his middle-class constituents.
“Representative Ferrandino will be a strong leader for our Democratic House Caucus. His commitment to Colorado’s working families and small businesses is unwavering. I congratulate Minority Leader Ferrandino on his election and look forward to working together to fight for our Democratic values.”
Ferrandino is a member of the Joint Budget Committee, which is meeting already to establish the contours of general assembly spending for the 2012 session, which begins in January.
Ferrandino was a prime sponsor of roughly 30 bills last session, the vast majority of which advanced to third readings and many of which were signed into law.
One the bills that failed to make it to the governor’s desk was a high-profile civil unions bill Ferrandino championed with Denver Senator Pat Steadman, another of the state’s influential openly gay lawmakers.
Despite fierce opposition from social conservatives, the bill passed in the Senate. By nearly all accounts, Ferrandino had lined up sufficient support in the House, but the bill never made it onto the floor for a vote. Republican members of the Judiciary Committee killed the bill.
During that committee hearing, which was crowded with members of the media and of the public, Ferrandino argued for the bill as its sponsor but also invited his boyfriend to join him in giving testimony on what the bill would do to improve the lives of gay couples and their families in the state. Ferrandino opened up his personal life in an emotional way that matched testimony provided by a long list of witnesses that unfolded over the course of hours.
In interviews with the Colorado Independent during the session about the bill, Ferrandino was quick to cite vote counts and percentages.
“I had commitments in Appropriations,” Ferrandino said, referring to the committee the bill would have gone to next had it passed Judiciary. “I had something like 15 percent to 20 percent of the [Republican] caucus lined up in the House.”
After the Judicial Committee vote, he was typically upbeat.
“I’m not giving up,” he said. “No. This body will change in the coming years and [the lawmakers] will look more like the people they represent.” He vowed with Steadman to reintroduce the bill in 2012.
Brad Clark, director of gay-rights group One Colorado, celebrated the news that Ferrandino would be the new House minority leader.
“When openly LGBT people are elected, the face of politics is changed. By speaking honestly about their lives and their families, they are giving voice to our community and bravely serving as champions for equality.”