Colo. Senate elects 1st black president |

Colo. Senate elects 1st black president

Colleen Slevin
Associated Press
Vail, CO Colorado
David Zalubowski/APColorado State Sen. Suzanne Williams, left, D-Aurora, Peter Groff " who was named president of the Senate " and Abel Tapia,right, D-Pueblo, confer before the opening day of the 2008 legislative session in the State Capitol in downtown Denver on Wednesday.

DENVER , Colorado ” State Sen. Peter Groff became the first black president of the Colorado Senate on Wednesday and invoked the memory of ancestors who had toiled in slavery.

“I understand that it is not just my hand that takes the gavel today,” Groff said as the Legislature convened for a 120-day session.

“I understand that it is the hands of my relatives who toiled under the overseer’s whip on the red clay of Georgia that take this gavel today on the red carpet of the Colorado Senate.”

Senate Democrats had chosen Groff to be Senate president in November, but it did not become official until Wednesday’s vote.

The 44-year-old Denver Democrat holds the same Senate seat held by his father, Regis, for almost 20 years. As Senate president, he replaces Joan Fitz-Gerald, the first woman to hold the job. She stepped down to run for Congress.

Quoting a Bible verse from Isaiah ” “You shall be called the repairer of the breach and the restorer of pathways to dwell” ” Groff said Colorado faces breaches in its education, health care, transportation, economic development and constitution.

He urged lawmakers to look to Rocky Mountains for inspiration, rise above partisanship and take “the long view and the pathway to a greater Colorado.”

The Denver Democrat said lawmakers should begin the session by making sure all children have access to health care.

“It is the morally right and responsible thing to do. While adults can make decisions about whether they accept coverage, our most precious and vulnerable resource cannot make those decisions,” he said.

Lawmakers acknowledged the absence of Sen. Steve Ward and Rep. Joe Rice, who are serving in Iraq.

In prepared remarks, House Speaker Andrew Romanoff said the priorities in the House would be education, health care and economic development. Minority Leader Mike May, R-Parker, said lawmakers must raise school standards and use money from energy development to help colleges and universities.

Senate Democrats chose Sen. Abel Tapia of Pueblo as president pro tem, the president’s backup and the job Groff had held under Fitz-Gerald.

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