Vail’s Johnston is district’s first non-black senator in 50 years |

Vail’s Johnston is district’s first non-black senator in 50 years

VAIL, Colorado ” An education reformer who grew up in Vail, Colorado chosen to replace Colorado Senate President Peter Groff will be the first white lawmaker to represent a largely minority district in at least 50 years.

A vacancy committee selected Mike Johnston Monday night to fill out Groff’s term representing northeast Denver. Johnston beat three black candidates, including former state Rep. Rosemary Marshall, who had the backing House Speaker Terrance Carroll.

Johnston, 33, is a Vail native who studied at Harvard and Yale. He’s the founder and principal of Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts in Thornton, which President Barack Obama visited during a campaign stop last year. Obama praised the school, which sent all 44 graduates on to college.

Johnston won 64 of the 126 vacancy committee votes, 23 votes ahead of Marshall, who finished second. Businessman Anthony Graves got 18 and community activist Renee Blanchard got none.

In 2000, the U.S. Census reported that Senate District 33 was 35 percent black, 31 percent Hispanic and 28.8 percent white. Since then the redevelopment of the former Stapleton airport has increased the number of white residents in the district.

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Johnston lives in Stapleton but said he received much of his support from largely black neighborhoods. He vowed to be sensitive to the needs of minority residents in the district.

“I thought about that issue long and hard before I decided to run,” he told The Denver Post. “I wanted to stand in the footsteps of the people who’d held this seat before.”

Groff, who stepped down to take an education post in the Obama administration, was the first black lawmaker to serve as president of the Colorado Senate. He was elected last year, and when Carroll was elected House speaker this year, Colorado became the first state with a legislature led by two black lawmakers.

They were also the only two black lawmakers among the 100 members of the House and Senate, so Johnston’s election means Carroll will be Colorado’s only black state lawmaker.

Groff said he thought Johnston would do a good job but said it was also disappointing to see black representation decrease.

“I think it says African-Americans have to look beyond northeast Denver if they want to hold districts in the Legislature,” said Groff. “I think we now need to run and think about representing other areas.”

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