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When Colorado lawmakers return next year, no Dems will have served in the minority

Democrats have controlled both chambers for years
Colorado Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg speaks during a news conference outside the Governor's mansion in March 2021 in Denver. (David Zalubowski/Associated Press file)

The end of Colorado’s 2024 legislative session means the end of an era in the General Assembly.

When lawmakers return to the Colorado Capitol in 2025, there will be no more Democratic senators or representatives who were at one point in the minority and no more Republicans who served in the majority. (There’s an asterisk that we unpack below.)

That institutional knowledge and experience is departing with six senators – Democratic Sens. Steve Fenberg, Rachel Zenzinger, Kevin Priola and Rhonda Fields and Republican Sens. Bob Gardner and Jim Smallwood – who are leaving the Legislature after reaching their term limits. For the first two years of each of their two terms in the Senate, Republicans controlled the chamber.

Democrats have controlled the 35-member Senate since 2019. The party now has a 23-12 majority in the chamber – one vote shy of a supermajority – and the GOP won’t have a shot at winning back the gavel until at least 2026. That means the earliest Republicans could control the Senate is 2027.

A majority in the House is widely seen as out of reach for Republicans for the foreseeable future.

“I’m so grateful that I was in the minority for two years,” Fenberg, a Boulder Democrat and the outgoing Senate president, told reporters last week. “It was incredibly helpful and shaped who I am as a legislator because I knew what it was like to not have a voice and I knew what it was like to have to have relationships with the other side in order to get anything done. It can be problematic to have an entire majority legislature that’s never experienced that.”

Fenberg said being in the minority gave him an appreciation for protecting the minority’s voice in the legislative process.

Gardner, a Colorado Springs Republican, said being effective as a member of the minority party takes a greater skill set.

“You can get things done in the majority – a lot of them,” Gardner told The Colorado Sun. “You can get fewer things – but equally important things – done in the minority. You have to work hard to be in the minority and you have to think every minute of every day about how you’re going to make a difference and make a change.”

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Gardner, right, R-Colorado Springs, speaks during the hearing on a bill in February 2012. (Associated Press file)

He said an easy way to be in the minority is to vote “no” on everything. But that has no impact.

“You can just vote and when you walk away not have anything to show for it,” he said, “or you can work hard and make a difference.”

Zenzinger said her time in the minority was part of the reason almost every bill she passed in the Legislature had bipartisan support.

“I had at least one Republican vote or one Republican sponsor or one Republican prime sponsor,” she said. “I think it’s what makes the best policy.”

Sen. Rachel Zenzinger speaks in June 2021 before Gov. Jared Polis signs SB 268, aimed to increase statewide funds per student at the Boettcher Mansion in Denver. (Olivia Sun/The Colorado Sun file)

When Priola was first elected to the Senate, he was part of the chamber’s Republican majority. When Democrats took control in 2019, he was in the minority. He joined the majority again when he became a Democrat in 2022.

The one asterisk is Republican Sen. Larry Liston of Colorado Springs. He was a state representative for eight years between 2005 and early 2013. The GOP controlled the chamber during the final two years of that stint.

Liston ran again to be a representative in 2016 and won, serving in the House for another four years before he was elected to the Senate in 2020. He is running for reelection in November to another four-year term and, if he’s reelected, would technically be the only Republican in the Legislature who at one point was part of a GOP majority caucus – though it was more than a decade ago.

(Representatives are limited to four consecutive, two-year terms, while senators are limited to two consecutive, four-year terms. The break between Liston’s first and second stints in the House allowed him to serve in the chamber for a dozen years.)

Otherwise, you’d probably have to go back 60-some years to find another period where there were no Democrats serving in Colorado’s Legislature who hadn’t at one point been in the minority, as well as no Republican senators or representatives who hadn’t served in the majority.

Democrats controlled the General Assembly for a period from the mid-1950s into the early 1960s.

Republicans, however, controlled both chambers of the Colorado Legislature for decades from the late 1970s into the 2000s.

Changes in the House, too

The 19-member Colorado House Republican caucus, meanwhile, is losing all but one of its most experienced members.

Rep. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose, has reached his term limit and is running for the Senate after eight years in the lower chamber. One of the other longest-serving Republican representatives, Rep. Richard Holtorf of Akron, is running for Congress, as are GOP Reps. Mike Lynch and Gabe Evans. (Holtorf was appointed by a vacancy committee in 2019, while Lynch was elected in 2020 and Evans in 2022.)

Rep. Rod Bockenfeld, an Arapahoe County Republican first elected to the Legislature in 2018, isn’t running for reelection because he is being treated for cancer. He often participated remotely or was excused during the 2024 lawmaking term.

State Rep. Rod Bockenfeld speaks at the GOP state assembly on April 9, 2022, in Colorado Springs. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun file)

Rep. Lisa Frizell, a Castle Rock Republican first elected in 2022, is running for Senate.

That leaves 13 returning GOP representatives – assuming they all win reelection – with the caucus veteran being Rep. Matt Soper, who was first elected in 2018. Every other member of the caucus was either elected in 2020 or 2022.

Assuming they win reelection, Democrats will have several representatives who were elected in 2018 returning, including House Speaker Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, and House Majority Leader Monica Duran, D-Wheat Ridge.

Democrats have had continuous control of the 65-member House since 2013 and currently have a 46-19 supermajority in the chamber.

Departing nonpartisan staff

Institutional knowledge isn’t departing the Capitol solely with lawmakers. Two long-serving nonpartisan staffers won’t be returning to the Legislature in 2025, too.

Chief House Clerk Robin Jones is leaving the post he’s had since 2020. He has worked as a nonpartisan staffer for the General Assembly for 33 years, including stints in Legislative Legal Services and Legislative Council Staff.

“We have more in common than we don’t. Focus on that,” he told the House as representatives honored him last week.

“There’s a lot of energy in this room and in this building. Some of it positive, a lot of it can be negative,” he added. “You don’t have to like the policy but you can still like the person. Remember that, please.”


Senate Secretary Cindi Markwell is also departing.

She has worked on and off at the Capitol since 1980. She came out of retirement in 2018 to serve as secretary for a second time after her first retirement from the role, which she also held from 2011 to 2015.

Markwell was supposed to retire at the end of the 2023 session, but she came back for one last year. Her lasting impact on the Capitol includes overseeing the recent renovation of the Senate.

“I’ve loved being here,” Markwell told the Senate in her farewell remarks.

Colorado Sun correspondent Sandra Fish contributed to this report.

The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to covering Colorado issues. To learn more, go to coloradosun.com.