Colorado Senate President Leroy Garcia, a Pueblo Democrat, speaks at a press conference on Nov. 17, 2020. (Moe Clark/Colorado Newsline)
Come Feb. 23, Colorado Senate President Leroy Garcia will no longer preside over the upper chamber.
The legislative leader from Pueblo will accept an appointment at the Pentagon, according to a Thursday statement from Colorado Senate Democrats. Garcia will serve as the special assistant to the U.S. Navy’s assistant secretary for manpower and reserve affairs within the Department of Defense.
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“I am incredibly grateful that my community and my colleagues entrusted me with this responsibility, and I have been humbled by the opportunity to serve the state I love,” Garcia said in the statement. “While my time in the Senate is coming to a close, I am proud of all that we’ve accomplished together to move Colorado forward, and I am confident that whomever is selected to fill these vacancies will serve with the integrity and tenacity that Coloradans deserve.”
Garcia was first elected to the state Senate in 2014. Before that, he’d served for two years in the state House and on the Pueblo City Council.
Garcia’s colleagues elected him Senate assistant minority leader in 2017. He was named Senate president after Democrats took control of the chamber in 2018 and has remained in that role since. Garcia’s second term in the Senate was set to run out after this year, and he would have been ineligible to run for reelection due to term limits.
A Democratic vacancy committee will select a replacement to finish Garcia’s term.
Two Democrats have filed to run for Garcia’s seat in November: Nick Hinrichsen and Jason Muñoz. Republican candidates include Alexander Mugatu, Stephen Varela and Judy Reyher. Both parties have primary elections in June.
“Under President Garcia’s leadership we have led trailblazing health care reforms to save Coloradans money, created a state park at Fischer’s Peak and we are poised to move forward in making (Front Range) rail a reality,” Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, said in the statement. “President Garcia’s experience as a paramedic and Marine Corps veteran will be a huge asset to President Biden’s administration.”
Before joining the legislature, Garcia spent more than six years in the U.S. Marine Corps. In 2003, his job as a mortuary affairs specialist involved conducting search and reconnaissance missions for Marines who’d been killed in combat in Iraq. Garcia also worked as a paramedic for American Medical Response.
As a state lawmaker, Garcia has championed legislation aimed at making the transition to civilian life easier for his fellow veterans. Last year, for example, Garcia sponsored Senate Bill 21-129 with Rep. David Ortiz, a Littleton Democrat who is also a veteran. The law established a pilot program in El Paso County focused on preventing veteran suicide.
In 2020, Garcia sponsored Senate Bill 20-217, a landmark measure that included a number of provisions aimed at improving law enforcement accountability. Other lead sponsors included Sen. Rhonda Fields, an Aurora Democrat, and Reps. Leslie Herod and Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, both Democrats from Denver. The law required local law enforcement agencies and the Colorado State Patrol to issue their officers body-worn cameras by July 2023. It allowed people to sue officers in state court for violating their civil rights, and removed the ability for officers to use qualified immunity — a legal construct that in many cases protects officers from liability — as a defense.
Garcia told Newsline last year that he figured his low tolerance for “political bickering and brinkmanship” had earned him the support of his colleagues.
“I come from southern Colorado, where there’s very little tolerance for that,” he said at the time.
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