Democrats gathered in downtown Denver celebrated victories, including takeover of the state House. Photo / Joe Mahoney

Updated 1 p.m. Nov. 7 – Jubilant Democrats late Tuesday claimed control of the Colorado House, a chamber they lost two years ago.

Democratic leaders, analyzing the returns late in the evening, said they definitely will take 34 seats and could have as many as 38. The party was expected to retain its control of the Senate, although the race between Democratic Sen. Evie Hudak of Westminster and Republican Lang Sias remained tied Wednesday and may go to a recount.

“We have taken back the majority in the Colorado House of Representatives!” Rep. Mark Ferrandino of Denver, leader of the House caucus, told revelers at the Democratic Party’s election party in the Sheraton downtown.

Lawmakers next year will have to start dealing with the implications of Amendment 64, the proposal to legalize marijuana and direct some of the revenues from taxes on the drug to school construction. The proposal had 53 percent support with about 1.9 million votes tabulated late in the evening.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock celebrated Democratic victories. Photo / Joe Mahoney

In the House, Democrats needed to add only one seat to their current 32 to retake control of that chamber. Minority Republicans in the Senate had a somewhat tougher challenge and needed to add three seats to their current total of 15 to win the majority.

Eighty-five of the legislature’s 100 seats were on the ballot. Most were safe for one party or the other, so legislative control depended on what happened in 12 to 14 closely contested races.

Education debates are expected to have a different tone in 2013. A third or more of lawmakers will be new to the Capitol and will face a steep learning curve on such complex issues as school finance and teacher licensing, both expected to be on the 2013 agenda.

U.S. Senator Michael Bennet joined the Democrats’ celebration. Photo / Joe Mahoney

What lawmakers won’t face is the prospect of tough budget cuts, given improvements in state revenues.

With Democrats in control of both houses, it’s possible school finance reform might get a closer look than it has in past sessions, and legislation creating lower tuition rates for undocumented students is expected to pass.

Republican issues like school vouchers, parent triggers and changes in the Public Employees’ Retirement Association likely won’t get very far.

State Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, who easily won re-election to his second term, said the most dramatic effect of the Democratic takeover of the House, and retention of the Senate, would likely affect education two ways.

Erin Larkin of Thornton cheered at the Democrats’ party. Photo / Joe Mahoney

First, he predicted a greater chance of passage for the ASSET bill, which has been slowly building support in recent years and which would provide lower tuition rates for undocumented students. Second, he expected an examination of how to “solve” school finance in Colorado.

Top education-related races

House District 29 (Westminster area) – Republican Rep. Robert Ramirez, a member of House Education, lost to Democrat Tracy Kraft-Tharp, a community activist.

House District 40 (Aurora) – Democrat John Buckner, a long-time Cherry Creek administrator and principal, defeated GOP Rep. Cindy Acree.

House District 61 (Summit County and central mountains) – Democratic Rep. Millie Hamner, a former Summit County schools superintendent, bested two challengers, Republican artist Debra Irvine and independent Kathleen Curry.

Senate District 19 (Westminster area) – Hudak remained in a neck-and-neck race with Sias. As of Wednesday afternoon, Hudak had a 332 vote lead, a difference of less than 1 percent with overseas and provisional ballots still to be counted. Hudak is vice chair of the Senate Education Committee, a long-time education activist and former member of the State Board of Education.

Senate District 22 (central Lakewood and Ken Caryl area) – Two House members, Democrat Andy Kerr and Republican Ken Summers, battled for this newly drawn Senate seat, with Kerr coming out on top. Kerr is a curriculum specialist and teacher. Summers has been an active participant in education debates of recent years but not an initiator of major legislation.

Other education-related races

House District 11 (Boulder) – Democratic Rep. Jonathan Singer, who was appointed to the seat, beat Ellyn Hilliard, who has a background as a teacher and administrator at Waldorf schools.

House District 24 (Wheat Ridge area) – Democratic Rep. Sue Schafer defeated Republican E.V. Leyendecker. Schafer is a member of House Education and worked as a teacher and state Department of Education administrator.

House District 35 (western Adams County) – Democratic Rep. Cherylin Peniston, a former teacher and veteran House Education member, won another term over Republican Brian Vande Krol, a businessman.

House District 50 (Greeley area) – Democratic Rep. Dave Young, a former teacher, defeated Republican insurance agent Skip Carlson.

House District 56 (Adams County) – Republican Rep. Kevin Priola, a former House Education member, beat Democrat David Rose, a former teacher and principal.

House District 57 (northwestern Colorado) – Democrat Jo Ann Baxter, a former teacher, Moffat County school board member and a member for the State Council for Educator Effectiveness, lost to Republican Robert Rankin, an engineer and former corporate executive.

House District 60 (Fremont and Chaffee counties) – Republican Jim Wilson, a former teacher and superintendent for districts in Kansas and Colorado, defeated Democrat Pier Cohen, a contractor.

Senate District 28 (Aurora) – Democrat Nancy Todd, a member of House Education and a retired teacher, is moving to the Senate after defeating Republican John Lyons, a retired diesel mechanic who is studying to become a teacher.

Implications of Amendment 64

The constitutional amendment would allow individuals over the age of 21 to possess and use an ounce or less of marijuana and to grow and possess up to six marijuana plants. It also would create of system of licensed marijuana outlets, much like liquor stores, and require the legislature to create a regulatory system and enact an excise tax on marijuana sales.

The amendment affects education because it requires that the first $40 million of excise tax revenues every year be funneled to the state fund that helps support school construction projects.

However, because the state constitution requires voter approval of new taxes, the marijuana excise tax would have to go to the voters at a later election.

Despite the prospect of more money for schools, the education establishment was leery of Amendment 64. Several school boards passed resolutions opposing the amendment while others declined to consider the issue. Both the Colorado Education Association and the Colorado Association of Schools Boards opposed the measure. (See this story for details.)

Many educators have cited concerns legalizing marijuana for adults would make it easier for teens to obtain the drug, increasing youth marijuana use. (See this EdNews package on medical marijuana and schools.)