When Rep. Terrance Carroll was sworn in as Speaker of the House of Representatives Wednesday, he and fellow lawmaker Sen. Peter C. Groff made history as Colorado became the only state with black congressmen leading both chambers of the legislature.
Carroll, a lawyer and ordained Baptist minister, was nominated to head the House in November, and with Democrats leading Republicans 38 to 27, his victory was sealed. With Groff resuming his role as Senate president, a position he was elected to a year ago, the milestone is even more momentous given the state’s 4% black population.
Both men are the first African Americans to assume their respective leadership roles within the state assembly.
Carroll and Groff’s new roles are a drastic about face for Colorado. That change also includes flipping from Republican to Democrat when it voted for President-elect Barack Obama. Obama is only the third Democrat since 1948 to win Colorado’s presidential vote.
It’s also a change from its 20th century past. In the 1920s, the Colorado government had been run by Klu Klux Klan (KKK) members. “To go from a situation where a good chunk of legislatures were part of the of KKK to less than a century later where both chambers are being led by African Americans is actually a pretty big achievement,” says Seth Masket, assistant professor of political science at the University of Denver.
Masket notes a long tradition of political activism in Denver, where blacks make up nearly 10% of the city’s population. Wellington Webb, Denver’s only black mayor served from 1991 to 2003. The city also hosted the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
During his opening day speech on the House floor, Carroll remarked, “In these difficult times, Americans have sent a clear message to their political leaders: we don’t care where you come from, what color your skin is, or what party you belong to. We care only how you can move us forward.”
A Washington D.C. native, Carroll, 39, made a foray into state politics in 2000 when he began doing community work in Denver. With the encouragement of friends, he ran for his House seat in 2002.
“[My friends said], if you really think it’s that important, you need to put yourself out there and run, and not just talk about it, but do it,” Carroll says.
He and Groff have worked together in pushing education and job reform legislation. Friends for more than 16 years, they are currently working on legislation to expand job opportunities in Colorado.
Groff, 45, is a former assistant to Webb. He made his way in state politics after serving in the house from 2000 to 2003, becoming the state’s sixth African American senator. His district includes parts of the City of Denver and Denver County.
He’s word to pass landmark legislation prohibiting racial profiling and creating education reform measures. Sen. Groff is the co-host of a weekly radio show on XM Satellite Radio’s political channel Potus ’08.
“I think the attention ought