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Posted: February 01, 2009

Speaker of the House ready for ‘legendary’ session

Cote's Colorado

Mike Cote

Over the past few years, Greenberg Traurig’s legislative preview luncheon has become an annual event, where Colorado House and Senate leaders of both parties offer an informal discussion about their priorities. This year, the law firm had one of its own on the panel: attorney and Democratic state Rep. Terrance Carroll, who was sworn in last month as the first black speaker of the House in Colorado history. Seated to Carroll’s left that day was Sen. Peter Groff, who last year became the first black president of the Senate. Carroll has been trying to take the magnitude of his new role in stride, but he appreciates the importance of his place in time, just as the nation’s first black president takes office.

“It’s pretty special for Colorado right now because it makes a strong statement about who we are and what this state believes in, that we value diversity but we also value the fact that we can look at someone’s character and not be concerned with their skin color, that we actually look for the best leaders in the state of Colorado,” Carroll said during an interview at the Greenberg Traurig offices in Denver. Carroll’s path to the Capitol was as unlikely as Barack Obama’s. Like Obama, he was raised by a single parent, though his chances for success were arguably slimmer. His mother, who gave birth to him at age 51 and died seven years ago, raised him in one of the toughest neighborhoods in Washington, D.C. But she instilled in him a sense of purpose. “She always invested a lot of time and energy in me, despite her lack of formal education and despite opportunities that never came her way,” says Carroll, 40. And she saw in her son not only the potential for achievement but for public service. “She always thought that I could do great work and that I could have a significant impact on the lives of others. And maybe because I had a mother who said that to me all the time, that changed my outlook on life,” he says.

Carroll took a roundabout path toward his professional and political career. Along the way the Eagle Scout and avid cyclist earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s in divinity. During a break from his education, he did a stint as a police officer at the University of Colorado. Before earning a law degree at the University of Denver, he became an ordained minister. “Some people would say I’m like Sybil because I couldn’t figure out which personality I  had,” he says laughing. But he sees those seemingly disparate elements working well together. “I believe it gives me a unique perspective on how I go about my political and my legal life. I’m a passionate advocate for my clients and my constituents,” says Carroll, who represents northeast Denver. “I’m also very gracious because I believe I can have disagreements with you, be in a very competitive environment with you, but at the end of the day I still have to be very civil toward you.”

Carroll assumes leadership in one of the toughest recessionary climates in decades, prompting him to refer to the coming session as “legendary” during the legislative preview luncheon. The economy, of course, will be the top priority. “We’re looking for transportation infrastructure to be the engine that actually rights this ship and drives things forward by creating new jobs,” he says. As to what he hopes to achieve during his fourth and final term in the House, Carroll refers to what he learned in the Boy Scouts. “Whenever you go camping, you leave the campground better than you found it. My goal is to leave the state better than it was when I’m done in two years.”

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Mike Cote is the former editor of ColoradoBiz. E-mail him at mcote@cobizmag.com.

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