Mark Ferrandino on election as House minority leader, future of civil union bill

Colorado's general assembly doesn't convene until January, but Mark Ferrandino, who represents District 2, is already moving at full speed -- and no wonder.

As the newly elected House minority leader, and the first gay man to serve in this capacity, he's got a big agenda, and he's dedicated to bringing it to fruition.

Ferrandino downplays the historic nature of his new gig, pointing out that he's not the first gay person to serve as minority leader -- that benchmark was reached by Jennifer Veiga back in 2002-2003. Besides, he says, "when people call me a gay legislator, I tell them I'm a legislator who happens to be gay. It's one fact of who I am, but it doesn't define me."

In terms of his leadership style, he notes that "I'm a work horse, not a show horse. I tend to knuckle down and try to figure out how we solve problems. I've done that for the three years I've been on the joint budget committee, and I'll continue to do that type of thing -- reaching out to all interested parties to build coalitions and figure out how we move Colorado and our economy forward."

This last reference isn't coincidental. "Jobs and the economy are number one in terms of the concerns of our caucus," he says. "We are in recovery, but it's not fast enough and it's not reaching enough corners of the state to help everyone. We need to build on the recovery we're seeing."

The Dems' deadline for completing bills targeted for the upcoming session is the end of this week, so Ferrandino can't talk specifics just yet. However, he notes that "the governor has proposed increasing some of the incentives that we've done in the past, and we're looking at supporting him in those efforts -- doing things to help small businesses and start-up companies in Colorado. Ideas are still being fleshed out, but there's a lot we can do to help businesses bring products to market and help them grow from small businesses to mid-size businesses.

"We need to encourage companies to invest in Colorado," he continues, "but we also need to support our entrepreneurs, who are trying to create the next big thing. We don't know what that's going to be, but I think we have the talent and resources to create those next big things, and that's great for the people and the state."

Page down to learn more about plans for a civil unions bill reboot.   Of course, jobs and the economy won't be the only topics to be tackled by the caucus in 2012. Ferrandino expects issues like fracking to get attention, and he's personally involved with educational issues. This evening, for example, he'll be taking part in a gathering at former Lieutenant Governor Barbara O'Brien's home of the Democrats for Education Reform-Colorado advisory committee -- an event doubling as a benefit for the Rep. Mark Ferrandino Leadership Fund. Phone 303-570-5446 for more information.

Education dollars will be under attack again next year, Ferrandino knows. "Last year, Democrats fought to protect funding for K-12 education, and we were able to limit some of the cuts -- and we'll try to limit them again, as well as try to find innovative solutions to move our education system forward and get the best outcome for students in the classroom, so they'll be prepared for 21st century jobs."

In addition, he'll be keeping a close eye on a sequel to last session's civil unions bill, which he co-sponsored with Senator Pat Steadman.

"I hope we can get it passed this year," Ferrandino says. "One Colorado has been working hard on this issue, and they've done a lot of groundwork this summer and fall to get people to talk to their legislators and get them to tell their stories, because we know that changes hearts and minds.

"Senator Steadman will be introducing it in the Senate, and right now there's no House sponsor. I'm happy to co-sponsor it, but our hope is that we can find a Republican who will sponsor it. We hear a lot about limited government, and how government shouldn't be controlling everything, and this is a place where the government should step out of the way when two people love each other, whether it's a male and a female, two men or two women."

He's hopeful that the various parties will be able to cobble together enough support for the bill this time around. "Last year, we had somewhere between four and seven Republican 'yes' votes on the floor of the House, and I think we're probably in the five-to-ten range of Republican House members who will vote for it now."

The coalition-building has already begun, weeks ahead of schedule.

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More from our Politics archive: "Civil Union Act opponent shares nature's message about the anus: Keep out! (VIDEO)."

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