The 72nd Colorado General Assembly is already rolling, with sit-downs of the Joint Budget Committee and Joint Technology Committee prominent on the schedule for today. But Democrats who thought the session would be marked by smooth sailing after an extremely productive 2019 received a storm warning on January 6, when two of the party's most powerful senators, Lois Court and Angela Williams, separately revealed plans to leave their posts.
Court's departure is imminent: She's giving up her gig as of January 16 for medical reasons. Williams will continue to serve through the end of the 2020 session, but won't be running for re-election in November. She offers no specifics about future challenges she intends to tackle, instead offering this: "I'm looking forward to the next phase and journey of my life."
Both legislators have served in various political roles for years. As noted on her website, Court moved from teaching American government at Red Rocks Community College to serving as an aide to former Denver mayor Wellington Webb prior to her election to the Colorado House of Representatives in 2008. She won her state Senate seat in 2016.
Her list of legislative accomplishment notes that she's fought for "Colorado’s End Of Life Options effort, has championed single-payer health insurance, worked to invest TABOR refunds into state priorities, and, most importantly, been a stalwart voice for resisting rewriting Colorado’s state constitution with policy initiatives, understanding what few leaders do: that our Constitution is the foundation, and lawmakers and laws help us shape our state. In the Senate, among other legislation Lois has championed bills to promote driving safety, particularly aimed at reducing distracted driving due to cell phone use, and gun safety (extreme risk protection order)."
But on New Year's Eve, Court was hospitalized after experiencing muscle weakness and partial paralysis. She was subsequently diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that affects the nervous system. Her prognosis is positive, according to a release from her office, but recovery is expected to take months, severely limiting her ability to take an active role at the legislature. And so she's resigning her seat and focusing on recovery — a decision that will require the Senate District 31 Committee to convene in order to choose her replacement.
"It has been the honor of my life to serve the people of Colorado and I am deeply saddened that this chapter of my life is at a close," Court says in a statement. "But I am excited by the work my colleagues are undertaking and will continue to cheer them on and be an active citizen of Senate District 31. I would also like to thank all of my wonderful supporters and constituents — I could have never achieved what I did without your unfailing passion and guidance."
Williams grew up in rural Oklahoma, and after earning a criminal-justice degree at Northeastern State University, she worked for nonprofits in Colorado and Rhode Island before accepting a telecommunications job in Phoenix. After returning to Colorado, she left a comfortable spot at US West to start her own small business, an Allstate insurance and financial-services firm. Her successful run for the Colorado House in 2010 was followed by her election to the state Senate in 2016 and last year's declaration that she was a candidate for the U.S. Senate seat held by vulnerable Republican Cory Gardner.
That candidacy was ultimately derailed by the entry into the race of former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, whose effort was instantly endorsed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee even though more than ten other hopefuls had been running for weeks or months. Williams was among six female candidates who wrote a scathing letter demanding that the DSCC un-endorse Hick. "All of us, like many women in Colorado and across the country, have seen well-qualified women passed over for male candidates in the workplace time and again," the letter stated. "Those of us who have run for office before have been told to 'wait our turn' and 'don’t rock the boat' more times than we care to mention. Now, the DSCC, by its endorsement, is implying that we should defer to a male candidate because you seem to believe he is 'more electable.' Colorado has never had a woman United States Senator, and one has to wonder if circumstances such as this have contributed to that unfortunate outcome."
The committee shrugged off this entreaty, and Williams withdrew from the contest last November. She's still frustrated about being put in that position. "It's unfortunate that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee got involved, trying to tell the people of Colorado who they should elect," she says. "But I'm smart enough to understand the political landscape. And I'm proud that as an African-American woman, I had the courage to run for the U.S. Senate, and I believe that's a voice missing for the State of Colorado. And it was an incredible journey."
The eventual outcome of her U.S. Senate bid "wasn't really a factor" in her decision to skip a re-election bid to the state Senate, she allows: "After some reflection and sitting on a beach in Jamaica, I just thought ten years is a long time to serve in the legislature."
Williams is "going to muse about what's next" in the coming months. "I have plenty of opportunities and skills, and I can see many different options," she says. "But whatever my next step is, I hope that I'm able to continue to help move our state forward — just in a different capacity. That passion hasn't gone anywhere. I still want to help those in Colorado who need it most."
She also encourages "all women who have a passion for service to consider running for elected office. It is crucial for women's voices to be represented at the Colorado Statehouse."
Especially with Court and Williams plotting their exits.