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Legislative session begins with lawmakers who weren't elected

Colorado just had an election, yet a handful of state lawmakers who showed up for the first day of session on Friday weren't elected - they were appointed.

DENVER — There is a game of musical chairs happening at the Colorado State Capitol. The game involves lawmakers getting appointed to House and Senate without their names being put on the ballot for those seats.

Multiple lawmakers have submitted their resignations as the new legislative session got underway on Friday.

Previous resignations include:

  • Sen. Matt Jones (D-Louisville): Jan. 1
  • Sen. John Kefalas (D-Ft. Collins): Jan. 2
  • Sen. Daniel Kagan (D-Cherry Hills Village): Jan 11
  • Sen. Randy Baumgardner (R-Hot Sulphur Springs): Jan 21

Jones and Kefalas both resigned because they won elections to become county commissioners; Jones in Boulder County, Kefalas in Larimer County.

Former Rep. Mike Foote (D-Boulder) was selected by a vacancy committee to fill Jones' seat. Foote did not run for reelection for his House seat because he ran for Boulder County District Attorney, but lost.

Then-Rep. Joann Ginal (D-Ft .Collins) was selected by a vacancy committee to fill Kefalas' seat.

RELATED: This is why three of the new Colorado State Senators weren't voted on in a general election

A vacancy committee this week selected Rep. Bob Rankin (R-Carbondale) to replace Baumgardner in the Senate.

"There were 10 people on my vacancy committee," said Rankin.

He actually beat his challenger six-to-four. Is that enough people to pick a lawmaker for an entire Senate District?

"It was for me," Rankin laughed. "Many of us are moving from one House to another, so we have been elected recently. That's valuable."

When he takes his seat in the Senate on Jan. 21, his seat will sit vacant until a committee selects his replacement.

"They're scheduled for Feb. 5th to replace me, and my wife's running for it," said Rankin.

His wife, Joyce, currently sits on the State Board of Education. Her vacancy committee will have six people deciding.

"That's the process and it's been going on for years, and it's all legal and in statute, how else would you do it?" said Rankin. "I suppose you could have a special election, but it's never been done that way. This is a long tradition in Colorado."

Baumgardner was not at the Capitol on opening day on Friday.

He was accused of sexual harassment last year. A third-party investigation found that Baumgardner "more likely than not" grabbed and slapped a legislative aide's buttocks in 2016.

Baumgardner did not mention that in his resignation letter.

"During my time under the Golden Dome, I’ve learned many lessons, with none being important as to always put your family first. My family's resilience and love have given me the grace to continue forward under the most difficult circumstances, and in light of new opportunities, I must put them first in order to fulfill my obligations as a father and as a husband," Baumgardner wrote.

Rankin, who serves on the Joint Budget Committee as a House Republican, is expected to keep his seat as a Senate Republican.

He said Sen. Dennis Hisey (R-Fountain), who was selected as the Senate Republican representative on the committee was told ahead of time that if Rankin was selected for Baumgardner's seat, they would like to nominate him for the Joint Budget Committee.

"This is my fifth year on the budget committee. I'm the longest-serving member, so that experience is worthwhile, I don’t care which party you're from," said Rankin.

Unlike Baumgardner, Kagan was at the Capitol and will be until Jan. 11, when his replacement is sworn-in.

Kagan is the lawmaker who, last year, was accused of using a women's restroom in the Capitol in 2017. An investigation found that he likely used the bathroom three times, though he said he accidentally used it once when it was unmarked.

He said that had nothing to do with his decision to step down.

"I was beginning to feel in need of a little relaxation of the work pressure, a relaxation of the schedule," said Kagan. "If you're not able or willing to give absolutely 100 percent, you should let someone else have a go."

"I am running for the vacancy committee to replace resigning Sen. Daniel Kagan," said Rep. Jeff Bridges (D-Greenwood Village). "Just like the actor, but no relation."

Just like the actor, this Bridges is seeking to change roles.

He also wants to leave the House seat that he just won in reelection.

"Ninety-five percent of House District Three is inside of Senate District 26," he said. "I have knocked 140,000 doors over these last two years. We've built relationships with folks. I know the names of their dogs, their cats and their kids, and I will continue representing almost all the people that I represent right now, I'll just be on the other side of the building doing it."

He also pointed out this is not a rare event.

"As of the end of 2018, there were about a quarter of all legislators serving at the time, had at one point or another, gone through a vacancy committee as their way into the chamber."

The Colorado Sun recently took an extensive look at lawmakers who have been appointed.

"I feel like I can bring something new and different to the legislature and the Senate here," said Iman Jodeh, who is also running for Kagan's vacant seat.

"In Colorado alone, there are 75,000 Muslims, and for the over 140 years of the state legislature, we've never had a Muslim representative," she said. "We need to represent folks that are in the district that have felt disenfranchised because they feel like the political process is completely controlled by power and/or money. "I also feel like they haven't been given a reason to be engaged or even vote because there isn't someone that looks like them."

If that were to change, it will be a decision of a little more than 100 people in the vacancy committee.

Two other candidates are running as well. Author and educator advocate Angela Engel and Littleton City Councilman Kyle Schlachter.

So, how do you get on a vacancy committee? Ultimately, they're selected at the state conventions for both parties. To get selected at the state convention, you have to go through the process that begins at the precinct caucuses that most casual voters don't seem to care about unless it's a presidential election year.

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