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Insert Comma • A Portfolio of Leigh E. Rich
After 128 years, there’s a woman in charge

Colorado’s Senate swearing-in ceremonies, however, don’t go as planned

By Leigh E. Rich

History was made Wednesday, as Colorado’s first female Senate president was sworn in on opening day of the General Assembly’s 65th session.

But not everyone voted for her.

In what was otherwise expected to be a scripted, routine and—compared to the reputedly more boisterous House—subdued ceremony, Sen. Norma Anderson, R-Lakewood, vied for Senate President John Andrews’ attention to be recognized during the nomination proceedings for his replacement.

After Sen. Ken Gordon, D-Denver, nominated Sen. Joan Fitz-Gerald, D-Golden, for the gavel-wielding position, and Sen. Mark Hillman, R-Burlington, seconded, Anderson entered the well of the Senate chamber and waved to Andrews, who either didn’t see her or was attempting to ignore her.

Anderson said, “Mr. President” and, upon being recognized, began addressing the chamber.

A few moments later, while Anderson began to speak about former Secretary of the Senate Mona Heustis, Gordon interrupted on a point of order, suggesting that his fellow senator “be allowed to make her comments but not at this time.”

Andrews asked if Anderson had a nomination for Senate president.

“I have a nomination,” she said.

“Proceed immediately to the nomination,” Andrews directed, upon which Anderson nominated Sen. Peter Groff, D-Denver, in lieu of Fitz-Gerald, whom she said “fired Mona” when selected for the president position by the Democratic caucus after the election last year. Reportedly, Fitz-Gerald let Heustis go because of the last-minute redistricting bill put on the legislative table by the Republicans in 2003.

Anderson called Fitz-Gerald’s decision un-statesmanlike and lacking in “compassion for your fellow man,” and she requested a roll-call vote.

Though Groff declined the nomination and voted an emphatic “aye” in favor of Fitz-Gerald during the roll call, Sens. Anderson, Jim Dyer, R-Aurora, Ron May, R-Colorado Springs, and Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, voted against Fitz-Gerald.

This was a gutsy move, Gordon intimated in his regular “Colorado Capitol Update” the next day, particularly for Spence, a freshman senator who moved over from the House.

“This was her first day in the Senate,” Gordon wrote in his e-mail column. “If I were her, I would have been afraid that something like that would have reduced my chances of getting legislation passed. It sure would have under recent Republican administrations.

“Maybe she forgot that she is going to need Democratic votes for at least the next two years.”

Gordon, who says “usually on the first day you expect grace and class,” also was surprised by the fact that Anderson and Spence “are the only two women in the Republican caucus.”

“I have never seen ‘no’ votes against the Speaker of the House or the President of the Senate before,” Gordon wrote. “It definitely relieved the boredom.”

And so began the 2005 legislative session.

With 28 in favor, four against and three excused and absent, Fitz-Gerald received a standing ovation from the crowd, both on the Senate floor and in the gallery, as she joined Andrews at the podium to assume control of the gavel.

“I’m giving it into good hands, honorable and capable hands,” Andrews said, congratulating Fitz-Gerald on becoming Colorado’s first female president and wishing her success.

“Isn’t democracy wonderful?” Fitz-Gerald said with a proud laugh, before acknowledging Andrews for his service and launching into remarks she had prepared for the day.

Departing temporarily from her usual serious focus on the state’s current fiscal crisis, Senate President Fitz-Gerald’s address paid homage to the Colorado’s trailblazers and suffragettes who have gone before her.

“Indulge me for a moment in a little Colorado history,” she said. “In 1876, Colorado entered statehood and within 17 years women’s suffrage was passed by referendum. The very next year, Colorado saw fit to elect three women to the state Legislature—the very first in U.S. history.

“This is another historic day for Colorado. I humbly stand before you as the first woman president of this body in its 129-year history and, I might add, the only sitting female Senate president in the United States of America.

“I am here only because of the courageous acts of those women who have gone before me.”

Fitz-Gerald also congratulated Groff, who is the first African American to be named Senate president pro tempore.

But the newly elected president spent the greater part of her speech on the state of the state, comparing Colorado to a mountain in Routt County called Sleeping Giant.

“Like the wildflowers that will bloom on Sleeping Giant in the summer, our potential lies dormant. … We have an opportunity to unleash our tremendous potential and to be a better state than we are.”

This task, however, “is a daunting responsibility,” Fitz-Gerald warned her colleagues, particularly since they have only 120 days, “less than 1,000 hours, to create a better Colorado.”

Fitz-Gerald pointed to “an agenda for economic revitalization” that Senate Democrats unveiled last week in order to “allow us to rebound from a devastating recession,” and she highlighted “protecting people’s pensions and retirement savings,” bridging the transportation funding gap, improving access to health care, and investing in education from preschool through college.

“Besides the budget, health care and education, there are many issues facing us this session, such as water, rising heating bills for our citizens, childhood immunizations, the environment and homeland security.”

Hillman, the new minority leader, agreed in his address that the “foremost issue facing us is clearly our state budget,” and he also placed health care, education and water on the list of tasks the Legislature must begin to tackle this session.

But he added “excessive litigation” and the business personal property tax—which he deemed “the biggest hindrance to job creation in our state”—as matters in need of reform.

Comparing the Legislature’s role to that of a referee or umpire, Hillman marked the first day of the session by telling his colleagues, “For the next 120 days, we must remember that our primary responsibility is to blow the whistle when government gets in the way.”

And not long after President Andrews tipped his hat adieu to the Senate chamber, Hillman picked up where Andrews often left off during his last eight years as a state senator.

“Thomas Jefferson reminded us that ‘the God who gave us life gave us liberty,’” Hillman said. “The founders of the Centennial State acknowledged that providence in our motto: Nil sine Numine, which translates, ‘Nothing without the Deity.’ … Each day, let us in this building be humbled as we work together in service to our Creator through service to His Creation.”

For her part, Fitz-Gerald advised her colleagues and Colorado’s citizens to “judge our moral character and values by whether we are fair in the process, respect our peers, and are good stewards of the state.”

She quoted former Colorado Sen. Henry Toll, who in 1936 deemed public office “an opportunity to inspire others … with devotion to a just and honest democratic government.”

“Indeed, it is a new day in Colorado,” Fitz-Gerald pledged, “because we are a sleeping giant that is stirring and about to wake up.”

Rich, L. E. (2005, January 14). After 128 years, there’s a woman in charge: Snow, dissension shakes up Senate ceremony inaugurating first female Senate president. The Colorado Statesman, pp. 1, 13.

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