DENVER - With a menacing economic crisis hanging over his head, a young black leader stepped onto the stage and accomplished a historic first in American politics.
His name is not Barack Obama. It's Terrance Carroll, and on Wednesday he became Colora-do's first black speaker of the House.
Carroll and Senate President Peter Gr-off make Colorado the first state to have black men at the helm of both chambers of the state Legislature. Groff became president in 2008.
By the numbers, the two Denver Democrats were unlikely candidates to accomplish what they did. Carroll and Groff are the Legislature's only two black members, and blacks make up just 4 percent of the Colorado population, compared with 12 percent nationally.
Republicans also celebrated the historic feat.
"As Americans, it is important that we acknowledge with national pride what the electoral rise of men named Obama, Groff and Carroll says about the progress of equality in our Republic," said Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction.
Carroll's election was the highlight of the first day of the Legislature's four-month session. In addition to the customary singing of "The Star-Spangled Banner" and recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, legislators also listened to "Lift Every Voice and Sing," known as the African-American national anthem.
But the celebration was muffled by the knowledge that lawmakers might need to cut $600 million out of this year's $8 billion budget - cuts so deep that they threaten to raise college tuitions and slash health care for the poor. None of the party leaders who spoke Wednesday went into detail about what could or should be cut from the budget.
"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," Carroll said.
The two parties are squaring off over exactly how to move forward. On Tuesday, Democrats and Republicans announced competing plans to raise money for roads and bridges.
The opening-day speeches included other hints of partisan arguments to come.
Carroll highlighted a Democratic bill that would require bosses to give employees unpaid time off to attend their children's school functions. Republicans have opposed past versions of the bill and held their applause for that line in Carroll's speech.
House Minority Leader Mike May began his comments about the budget by scolding Democrats for spending too much last year.
"Now more than ever, it is apparent that the state should have been more fiscally responsible. We should have created a rainy-day fund," said May, R-Parker.
May concluded by saying it's time to stop campaigning and come together to solve the state's problems.
Gov. Bill Ritter will address the Legislature today and lawmakers will start debating bills early next week.