The common term for first-time legislators in Colorado, as in many other places, is “freshmen.”
But some among the state’s crop of incoming state representatives have rejected that term because it is gendered and, they say, belittling.
“We would prefer if we were called ‘first-years’ instead of freshmen,” said Sonya Jaquez Lewis, a Democrat from Longmont, “because then you take the gender piece of out it and it lends a bit more equality to the mix. We’re all representatives, all elected, and if you use the term freshmen it gives a connotation that we’re not all equal.”
The incoming lawmakers who want to be called “first-years” — Democrats who’ll serve in the House, mostly — aren’t planning to take any action to make their preferred term the formal standard at the Capitol. They’re just using the term in their own encounters and hoping it catches on.
“People have been in total agreement, no big pushback, no discussion,” Lewis said. “We’ve been using ‘first-years’ in emails, in other communications with each other.”
Some supporting the change say the new terminology is in line with a new outlook the incoming legislators will bring to the Capitol. This class is more ethnically representative, progressive and significantly younger than the groups that have comprised previous legislatures.
Alex Valdez, a Democrat who’ll represent Denver, said of the new terminology, “I think it’s a function of our wanting to be more inclusive, and in order to do that, our language needs to reflect our inclusive values. We’re going to be leading the charge to make sure the work that we do is inclusive, and not just the language. We’re seeing a lot change in the people that the citizens of Colorado are electing to public office, both in terms of gender and the class of people of color. We want to adapt to reflect that change.”
This year’s group of rookie lawmakers include nine Latinos, who, along with five incumbents, will make up 14 percent of the state legislature. That’s a record in Colorado, though still under-representative of the state, 21 percent of which is Latino. Also among the newly-electeds is Brianna Titone, the first transgender lawmaker to run for the state legislature in Colorado, and one of the first in the country to win.
Titone’s behind the language change and said, “there was some concern” about the term “freshmen” when she and her peers first discussed it a few weeks ago.
Rochelle Galindo, who ran and won in Greeley this year at the age of 28, echoed Valdez’s statement that the pushback against “freshmen” is emblematic of a desire among incoming Democrats in the House to shake things up and be more thoughtful in general about how to craft legislation beneficial to marginalized populations.
“I think it speaks to the mindset,” she said. “Unlike previous legislators that have come in with a set agenda or that one specific thing they want to get done, this new class coming in, we really don’t. We just want to make the lives of all Coloradans better.”
Democratic House leadership supports the new language and have also created a position this year: first-year representative to leadership. On Tuesday, incoming lawmakers elected Valdez to be the first person to ever hold that job.
“We wanted to make sure they were represented on the leadership team,” Rep. Alec Garnett, who’ll serve as House majority leader starting in January, said of the new position. “Because all 41 members’ perspectives, thoughts and values are super important.”