Top Colorado Democrat leaves Senate to run for Congress
Vail, CO Colorado
DENVER ” State Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald said Tuesday she is resigning from the Legislature to focus on her campaign to replace Rep. Mark Udall in Congress.
Fitz-Gerald, a Democrat from Golden, was the first woman to serve as Senate president and is credited with helping her party win control of the Legislature. She will step down Wednesday.
Fitz-Gerald was the top fundraiser in the congressional race in the last quarter with $385,000. She has raised $620,000 to date and wants to have $2 million before delegates select a candidate at a caucus in May.
She said the hectic legislative session would make that difficult.
“It is the responsible thing to do,” Fitz-Gerald said, standing on the gilded staircase under the Capitol Rotunda and flanked by her husband and other legislators.
Fitz-Gerald said it’s difficult for a sitting legislator to raise money for national office because state law prohibits her from accepting donations and gifts from lobbyists.
Computer millionaire Jared Polis and Boulder environmentalist Will Shafroth are also running for the Democratic nomination in the 2nd Congressional District, which Udall is giving up to run for the U.S. Senate. No Republicans have announced for the heavily Democratic district.
Her resignation won’t affect the balance of power in the Legislature since Democrats will choose someone to fill her Senate seat as well as the next Senate president. The president sets the agenda, assigns bills to committees and brings down the gavel during debates.
Sen. Peter Groff, D-Denver, the president pro-tem who fills in when Fitz-Gerald is away, appeared to be the only person to immediately show an interest in succeeding her. He would be the first black person to serve as Senate president in Colorado.
A Democratic vacancy committee will decide who will fill the three years remaining in Fitz-Gerald’s term. Her district includes parts of the foothills northwest of Denver and the mountain counties of Grand, Summit, Clear Creek and Gilpin.
Freshman state Rep. Dan Gibbs, a former Udall staffer, said he wants the job and will start making phone calls to party members to campaign for it.
Fitz-Gerald didn’t endorse Gibbs, who stood nearby during her announcement, because she said others may be interested. But she praised his work with her on bills to deal with pine beetles and toughen laws to penalize truckers who don’t use tire chains in bad weather and risk bottling up traffic in mountain towns.
Groff said people outside the Capitol shouldn’t see too many differences in policy if he becomes president, but he said the mood might be different.
Fitz-Gerald emerged as president after serving in the adversarial role of minority leader when Republicans were in power. When she was elected to the Senate’s top job in 2005, some GOP members broke with tradition of endorsing the majority party’s pick because they were upset Democrats had fired a popular clerk.
Groff said he’s been able to work more cooperatively with the GOP with Democrats in power. But he credited Fitz-Gerald with a key role in giving Democrats the majority.
“Without her, we wouldn’t be here,” he said.