WESTMINSTER, Colo. — A group of Democrats voted Tuesday night to appoint a relative political newcomer, Rachel Zenzinger, to fill the seat vacated when Evie Hudak resigned last month to avoid a likely recall against her.
Zenzinger, 38, won 39 votes from a committee of 66 people, beating former state Rep. Sara Gagliardi, who served four years in the House from 2006-10 and was thought to be the favorite for the appointment.
Gagliardi received 27 votes.
“I thank the members of the vacancy committee for their investment in this difficult process to select a successor to Sen. Evie Hudak, and I look forward to justifying their faith in me,” Zenzinger said Tuesday night. “These 70-plus volunteers took considerable time out of their personal lives to analyze the situation, conduct their own research, and come out to cast their votes.”
Zenzinger also called Galgliardi a strong option and worthy candidate for the position.
Zenzinger will be forced to defend the seat next November when control of the senate will be up for grabs — and hinging on a handful of contested races, including this one.
Unlike Gagliardi, Zenzinger doesn’t have a voting record Republicans can pick apart.
Democrats saw their 20-15 senate majority trimmed to a more precarious 18-17 margin after the ouster of former Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, and former Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, in recalls back in September, part of a backlash over gun control bills passed earlier this year.
“It’s always a bittersweet time when the cost of courage takes over,” said Senate President Pro-Tem Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, who attended Tuesday’s meeting at the West View Recreation Center.
Zenzinger ran Hudak’s 2012 campaign and presented herself as a fresh face with a strong resume; and she talked about specific bills she planned to sponsor, some of which were on Hudak’s to-do list.
Following her appointment, Republicans blasted took note of her close ties to Hudak.
“Sen. Hudak’s constituents were hungry for change and liberal activists served up more of the same,” said Kelly Maher, executive director of the conservative group, Compass Colorado.
“Zenzinger may have a different name, but she’s been behind Hudak’s policies. Anyone who thinks Zenzinger is going to stand up to her own Democrat majority is fooling themselves.”
Prior to the meeting, Democrats lamented the circumstances that brought them here, Hudak’s resignation just days before an organized effort to recall her was set to turn in the 19,000 signatures needed to put a recall election on the ballot.
Former state Sen. Sue Windells officially nominated Gagliardi, a former nurse with strong ties to organized labor and other key Democratic constituencies. Gagliardi also had the support of state Rep. Tracy Kraft Tharp, D-Westminster.
Windells touted Gagliardi’s experience at the Capitol.
“She’s ready to hit the ground running,” Windells said. “She doesn’t need any orientation or training.”
Gagliardi promised she’ll be an able and active candidate who can hold the seat, likely critical to control of the senate, in 2014.
“I can begin this campaign tomorrow,” she said.
Many Democratic stalwarts in the room believed that would be the case, given Gagliardi’s experience and high name ID with the party base, right up until the committee chairwoman announced the results.