DENVER (AP) — Democrats’ control of the Colorado Legislature remained in question Wednesday, with votes still being counted in several close races that could topple liberal majorities in the Senate and House.
The results will impact Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper’s second-term agenda on issues like energy development and the state budget.
A Republican majority in the Legislature also could force the governor to revisit difficult issues if the party tries to reverse Democrat-sponsored legislation like the gun-control measures passed in 2013 and new renewable energy mandates on rural cooperatives.
But neither party could definitively claim victory yet in the House, where Democrats have a 37-28 majority, or the Senate, where they have an 18-17 advantage.
“Right now, we don’t know who controls the Senate,” said Democratic Senate President Morgan Carroll. Her party has controlled the chamber for 10 years.
The parties were monitoring several key races in the battleground counties of Adams and Jefferson, and also Boulder, Denver and El Paso counties.
“It’s going to be a nail-biter,” Democratic House Speaker Mark Ferrandino said of his chamber. “We could be in recounts in some these races possibly.”
One such race is in Denver, where incumbent Democratic Rep. Daniel Kagan was trailing Republican Candice Benge by just over 100 votes. Democratic Rep. Mike McLachlan of Durango was behind Republican J. Paul Brown by just under 300 votes.
Reps. Joe Salazar, Jenise May and Tony Exum also were trailing.
Democrats have controlled the House the past two legislative sessions.
In the Senate, Democrats regained two seats they lost last year in recalls over the gun-control legislation.
Republican Sen. George Rivera, a former deputy police chief, lost to state Rep. Leroy Garcia in Pueblo. And former state Rep. Michael Merrifield, a gun control advocate who once worked for former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns, beat Sen. Bernie Herpin, a founder of one of southern Colorado’s most active gun clubs.
Merrifield said he didn’t think his support for stricter gun laws hurt him.
“I am really satisfied. It’s as if the recall never happened,” he said.
Democratic Sen. Jeanne Nicholson was behind in her contest against Republican Tim Neville, while Democratic Sen. Andy Kerr was slightly ahead of GOP challenger Tony Sanchez.
“Our way of governing has always been to try and work from the middle and try to bring both sides together,” said Hickenlooper, who barely won re-election himself.
“If anything, that would just accentuate that that’s the appropriate way to lead,” he said of the election results.
Next year, state lawmakers are expected to get recommendations from a Hickenlooper-assembled task force that’s studying how to address land-use clashes between Colorado’s energy industry and homeowners. The Legislature’s balance of power will influence what, if anything, gets done on the issue.
Republicans have been more supportive of fracking than Democrats, who have expressed a desire for local governments to have more control over drilling.
Hickenlooper said his administration wants to make sure everyone gets heard.
“It’s one thing to listen to people, but it’s another thing to hear them,” he said. “And I think we’re going to make a much stronger effort to try and really hear all sides.”
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