Stateline Story

Women Call Shots in Colorado Legislature

  • November 27, 2002
  • By Kyle Henley
Women have made history at the Colorado State Legislature this year, sweeping four of six top leadership positions, including speaker of the House, Senate majority leader and the minority leader posts in both the Senate and House.

Never have so many women wielded so much political power in this state, ending the notion that Colorado's State House is an institution run by back-slapping good old boys.

"It is just a culmination of what has been coming for a long time in this legislature," said John Straayer, a political science professor at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. "The public should be happy."

The top issues facing the legislature when it convenes in January are a $600 million budget shortfall and the skyrocketing cost of health insurance premiums, which have jumped as much as 60 percent a year for some small business.

As lawmakers craft solutions, Senate Majority Leader-elect Norma Anderson (R-Lakewood) predicts that the influence of women legislators will make them more sensitive to the impact of those solutions on children and families.

Anderson will share the majority leader job with Sen. Mark Hillman (R-Burlington). The two tied in the Republican Caucus leadership vote and agreed to split responsibilities.

House Speaker-elect Lola Spradley (R-Beulah) acknowledged the historic nature of being the first female speaker in the state's history, but discounted the impact of gender on the legislative process.

"I guess I know it is a historic moment and I recognize that fact, but I'm not trying to capitalize on that," she said. "Whether I'm a male or a female, it doesn't change what the public expects."

"We are here to do the public's work and we need to negotiate, compromise and discuss until we come to solutions. That is what being a legislator is," Spradley said.

Andrea Herrera, assistant vice chancellor of academic diversity and development at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, agreed.

"I think it makes no difference if a man is in office or a woman is in office; capability is the bottom line," Herrera said. "What I think will make a difference is that as our government diversifies and we see women in leadership, it not only provides role models for others, but what we are beginning to see is the visible institutionalization of diversity."

Colorado was the first state in the union to allow women in the legislature. Clara Cressingham, Carrie C. Holly and Frances Clock - all Republicans - were elected to the state House in 1894 and Democrat Martha Hughes Cannon was elected to the state Senate in 1896.

And Colorado always has ranked among the states with the highest percentage of female lawmakers. In 2001, the national average was 22.4 percent. In Colorado, 34 percent of all state lawmakers were women, bested only by Washington, Arizona and Nevada.