Two experienced Colorado legislators compete for key state Senate seat

Whoever wins the District 11 election will help decide which party controls the chamber

By: - October 18, 2022 4:00 am

The entrance of the Colorado State Senate is pictured at the Capitol on June 12, 2020. (Andy Bosselman for Newsline)

Colorado Senate District 11, which encompasses southeastern Colorado Springs, is the only competitive race for the state Senate that has two experienced major-party state legislators going head to head.  

Whoever wins the District 11 election in November will likely be a deciding factor for which party controls the Senate. The race pits Republican state Sen. Dennis Hisey against Democratic state Rep. Tony Exum.

Hisey currently holds the seat for Senate District 2, but was drawn out through redistricting. He moved into his son’s home so he could run for District 11. State Sen. Jim Smallwood, who was elected to the Senate District 4 seat in 2020, was drawn into District 2 and will represent it at the start of the 2023 session. Hisey’s home in Fountain was drawn into District 12, which Sen. Bob Gardner was elected to represent through 2024.

Hisey has faced allegations from a Democratic-aligned nonprofit of falsely listing his residence at his son’s Colorado Springs home so he could run for the District 11 seat, but no legal complaint was filed. Exum currently represents House District 17, but is term-limited in the House and now looks to join the Senate.

Both Hisey and Exum want to prioritize public safety, education and the economy, according to their websites, but how they handle these issues will likely be different based on their party alliances. Their legislative voting records give some insight on how they might vote in the Senate if elected. 


During the most recent General Assembly, Hisey sat on the Senate’s Finance and Transportation & Energy committees. He was a prime sponsor of at least seven pieces of legislation Gov. Jared Polis signed into law this year, and he cast some votes countering his party as well. 

Hisey lists a campaign priority on his website of reducing the cost of living, and he sponsored a bill this year expanding Colorado’s Middle-Income Access Program to support the “missing middle” population that doesn’t qualify for income-restricted housing, but isn’t financially able to pay market rate. Hisey’s website also says he wants to get repeat offenders off the street to improve public safety, and he sponsored legislation that allows records of non-violent criminal offenses to be sealed to address the workforce shortage the state has seen since the pandemic. 

Jerry Sonnenberg
From left, Republican Sens. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling, Dennis Hisey of Colorado Springs and Cleave Simpson of Alamosa are seated on the Senate floor Feb. 16, 2022. (Faith Miller/Colorado Newsline)

Hisey told Newsline he has a record of voting to support law enforcement, which he said is a huge concern in Senate District 11. He also noted that the district is diverse, not just in ethnicity but also in income and workplace, and cost of living is a key priority as well.  

“I voted against many policies and all fee increases up there that have taken money out of the pockets of my constituents and have increased the cost of gas and health care and housing especially, so I think I’ve got the right voting record for this district as well,” Hisey said.

Senate District 2, which Hisey currently represents in the Senate, is more rural, he said, and redistricting has brought him into a district impacted by different issues. Hisey said he’s always had a collaborative approach, but now he will look at certain issues differently based on how they affect his new district. For example, he said District 11 has more school-aged children and parents with multiple children, so while education has always been a priority, it’s higher up on his list now. 

“When I talked to people about getting the politics out of schools and respecting our teachers and letting them do their jobs, that really seems to resonate with the folks in the district,” Hisey said.

Tony Exum
Rep. Tony Exum, D-Colorado Springs, speaks on the House floor during second reading of the 2021-2022 long bill on April 14, 2021. (Faith Miller/Colorado Newsline)

Exum chaired the House’s Transportation & Local Government committee this past session and also sat on the Education and Legislative Council committees. He was a prime sponsor of at least 12 pieces of legislation that became law this year. 

To go along with education being a key campaign priority, Exum sponsored multiple bills from that committee this year, including one that funded school safety improvements and behavioral and mental health programs. Another bill he sponsored modified and funded the continuation of an employment support and job retention program, which pairs with his priority of growing job opportunities and the economy.

“I think that my legislative history matches up with who I am and what I said I would do from the time I started in the Legislature in 2012,” Exum told Newsline. He outlines the legislative accomplishments he’s most proud of on his website. 

Should he be elected to the Senate, Exum said his approach wouldn’t change at all from how he’s worked in the House, listening to constituents to address their concerns. In Exum’s view, the top priority of his district’s constituents is ensuring safe schools and mental health resources for kids, but he also wants to address the increase in crime, ensure people have access to health insurance and food, help businesses continue to recover, and make sure “the next generation has clean air and clean water.” 

The candidates even have a successful history of working together this year — both Exum and Hisey were prime sponsors on a bill concerning work opportunities for people imprisoned by Colorado’s Department of Corrections. This clarified in Colorado statues that work for inmates must promote successful rehabilitation, reentry and reintegration into the community. Among other clarifications, it also amends standards for inmate compensation and permissible account deductions. 

Exum and Hisey also both sponsored a bill regulating the manufacturing, sales and installations of tiny homes. A third bill both candidates sponsored allows teen parents to attend driving school at no charge.

Hisey and Exum would likely have different prioritizes when it comes to state spending. Hisey’s website says he wants to cut down the state government’s funding, blaming politicians for the increased inflation Colorado is seeing. Exum’s website says he wants to fight against irresponsible cuts for education, and he prioritizes funding to help low-income families, people of color and the elderly.

When it comes to abortion, the candidates will likely stick with their party’s overarching views — Hisey voted against Colorado’s Reproductive Health Equity Act, while Exum voted for it. This bill established the right to get an abortion in Colorado statute following Roe v. Wade being overturned.

Strategies working around climate change would likely differ as well, with Hisey saying he wants to see energy workers in Colorado back on the job. His website says that “Energy development and environmental protection need not be mutually exclusive” and that Democrats in the state have enacted too many regulations. Meanwhile, Exum has worked on bills increasing fines for air and water quality violations as well as regulating toxic PFAS chemicals.

According to state campaign finance records, Hisey’s campaign has raised $127,737 and spent $57,123, while Exum’s campaign has raised $109,681 and spent $53,477, showing a close race as measured by funding as well.

Libertarian Daryl Kuiper is also running for the seat and hasn’t raised or spent anything on his campaign.


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Lindsey Toomer
Lindsey Toomer

Lindsey Toomer covers politics, social justice and other stories for Newsline. She formerly reported on city government at the Denver Gazette and on Colorado mountain town government, education and environment at the Summit Daily News.