You might have missed a small story in the Rocky Mountain News about Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald, but it’s worth bringing up again because of the implications it could have. From the News:

Colorado’s attorney general ruled Tuesday that state Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald can’t run for office again next year, setting up a court battle over term limits. Attorney General John Suthers’ opinion is not legally binding, and it contradicts an earlier opinion from former Secretary of State Donetta Davidson.

“I believe we’re all going off to court together,” said Fitz-Gerald, a Jefferson County Democrat and the first female Senate president.

Term limits restrict state senators to two four-year terms. Fitz-Gerald was first elected in 2000 to fill the two years remaining in the term of a senator who died in office. She was re-elected in 2004 to a full four-year term. At issue is whether her first two years of service count as a full term. Davidson, a Republican, said no. Suthers, also a Republican, said yes.

This might seem like “insider baseball,” as the saying goes, or nothing more than a legal argument. What the News doesn’t say, however, is what this story means two or three moves down the road. In fact, this is a very big deal to political insiders because the implications are many.

First, if Fitz-Gerald is not allowed to run again for re-election, that decision may be the final piece that makes her run for governor instead. Fitz-Gerald has said she will wait until after the November election to make a decision on running for governor, but in the meantime she is getting pressure to run for re-election to help the Democrats keep control of the state senate in 2006. Fitz-Gerald would likely keep her seat if she ran again, but more importantly, as the leader of the senate she is responsible for much of the strategy and fundraising that helps keep the overall numbers in the Democrats’ favor. Fitz-Gerald received a lot of the credit for helping Democrats turn over the senate in 2004, and without her leadership Democrats would need to a) find a new candidate to keep her seat, and b) find a new leader to direct efforts to hold the entire senate.

As for the governor’s race, Fitz-Gerald is one of the few remaining Democrats who could conceivably enter the race and challenge former Denver DA Bill Ritter for the Democratic Party’s nomination. If she can run for re-election and remain senate president, however, she might choose to do that because she has always had her eyes on running for congress in district two. Rep. Mark Udall will vacate his seat in CD-2 to run for the U.S. Senate, and as a sitting state senator Fitz-Gerald would be considered one of the favorites for the Democratic nomination to replace him. Fitz-Gerald may need to make a decision on running for governor sooner rather than later, however, because if a legal challenge lasts until late spring – and she loses – she’ll be left without an elected seat and no realistic chance to then run for governor.

It may seem like a minor story in passing, and the argument is far from final, but the news that Fitz-Gerald may not be allowed to run for re-election to the state senate is a much bigger story than it first appears.