DENVER (AP) – Democratic Rep. Mark Ferrandino was sworn in Wednesday as Colorado’s first gay House speaker, highlighting a dramatic shift of power less than a year after Republicans used their former majority to block civil unions for same-sex couples.
“This is the greatest honor of my life, and I am humbled to stand here before you today,” Ferrandino said in a speech after his selection became official.
Former Republican House Speaker Frank McNulty handed the gavel to Ferrandino to start the 2013 lawmaking session. In May, Republicans used the gavel to stall action on civil unions and run out the clock on the bill. Republicans had a one-vote majority then, but after the November elections, Democrats now have a nine-seat advantage.
During his speech, Ferrandino called McNulty a friend.
“Some might say we’ve had our moments, but I know how deeply you care about this state, and I respect the work you’ve done,” Ferrandino said.
In the Senate, Democrats retained control after the elections. That means that after two years of divided government and limited agendas, the Colorado Legislature likely will see a flurry of legislation favored by Democrats, including civil unions, gun control, tuition benefits for illegal immigrants, and expanded Medicaid for low-income adults.
The civil unions legislation was introduced Wednesday in the Senate, where a few broke legislative decorum and applauded the bill as it was announced. The Senate elected an openly gay woman, Democratic Sen. Lucia Guzman, to the chamber’s No. 2 office.
The presiding Democrats and Republicans then gave opening day remarks, highlighting perennial themes of cooperation to get work done for the people.
Watch House Speaker Mark Ferrandino’s interview on the CBS Morning News below
“This year, you will hear me emphasize three C’s: consultation, consensus, cooperation,” Ferrandino said.
Ferrandino said the first priority will be economic development, saying, “We have to find ways to accelerate our state’s economy and connect more Coloradans to good jobs.”
The speech also touched on what are expected to be the most emotional and contentious issues, including gun control, which likely will draw a heated debate in the aftermath of the Aurora theater shootings and the attack at a Connecticut elementary school.
“The Second Amendment is sacrosanct. But so is the First,” Ferrandino said. “It is our right – and the time is right – to speak openly and honestly about how we can curb the gun violence that costs our communities far too many sons and daughters.”
Ferrandino noted civil unions are a matter of fairness and said, “We must acknowledge that all committed couples deserve equal protection under the law.”
He said Democrats will try to lower tuition for illegal immigrants who graduate from Colorado high schools but have to pay more than three times the price that legal state residents pay to go to college.
House Republican Leader Mark Waller made opportunity the theme of his speech, and called on lawmakers to make funding for schools and colleges a priority.
“At the end of the day, Coloradoans just want a paycheck, not an unemployment check,” he said.
In the Senate, both Republican Leader Bill Cadman and new President John Morse urged members to focus on what the parties have in common.
“We need to keep our focus on our shared values and our common goals, and we have some,” Cadman said.
Associated Press writer Kristen Wyatt contributed to this report.
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