Blacks Lead Both Parts of Colorado Legislature

AP, January 7, 2009

Sharecropper’s grandson Terrance Carroll was chosen Wednesday as speaker of Colorado’s House of Representatives, making the state the first in the nation where blacks lead both chambers of its Legislature.

The milestone is most remarkable in a state where blacks are just 4 percent of the population—and where decades ago the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan held sway over the Capitol.

Carroll and Senate President Peter Groff, elected to his leadership position a year ago, also are the only blacks among Colorado’s 100 legislators.

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Democrats the majority

His fellow Democrats had picked the 39-year-old Denver lawyer and ordained Baptist minister to lead them back in November, paving the way for Wednesday’s unanimous balloting by the whole House, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 38 to 27.

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A different racial legacy

Colorado doesn’t have the same racial legacy as some states in the South or East.

But the Ku Klux Klan did dominate state politics in the mid-1920s, and Klan members once sat in the Capitol chamber where Carroll will wield the gavel. One floor below, Klan member Clarence Morley occupied the governor’s office.

State historian Bill Convery said most of the Klan’s ire in the legislature was directed against Catholics and immigrants—though Jews and blacks also were targeted by vigilantes and a cross-burning on the lawn of the founder of Colorado’s NAACP chapter.

Despite its legislative power, the Klan was outmaneuvered by opponents when it sought to implement its agenda, including a bill to outlaw the use of sacramental wine in the Catholic Mass.

Term limits have churned up the membership of Colorado’s legislature.

The House speaker’s position opened up this year because Andrew Romanoff had served the maximum eight years in the chamber. Carroll beat out two other candidates, both women.

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