By Marianne Goodland
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
The Democratic vacancy committee for House District 56 plans to decide this weekend on who will represent the three-county district in the General Assembly for the next two years. And two members of that 15-member body are among the candidates for the seat and will be allowed to vote.
Eight candidates have applied for the seat, and the committee, which includes current Rep. Christine Scanlan, D-Dillon; and Sen. Dan Gibbs, D-Silverthorne, will meet in Frisco Sunday to select a replacement for Scanlan, who was re-elected last month but since then named chief lobbyist for Gov.-elect John Hickenlooper.
With this selection, the HD 56 vacancy committee will have picked the two most recent representatives of the district. Scanlan was appointed to the seat by the vacancy committee in 2007, replacing Gibbs, who was selected by the SD 16 vacancy committee to replace Sen. Joan Fitz-Gerald, who stepped down to run for Congress.
The two vacancy committee members who are also candidates are former committee chair Liz Spetnagel, an acupuncturist in Edwards; and Pat Hammon, a nurse who is also from Edwards.
Spetnagel told The Colorado Statesman last month she would step down as chair of the committee and turn over the responsibility for running the election to vice-chair Lucinda Burns of Dillon. But Spetnagel did not step down from the committee, nor did Hammon.
Sunday’s meeting is set to begin at 8 a.m., starting with a committee meeting with all the candidates. Hammon said she and Spetnagel will be the first two to talk to the committee so that they will not be influenced by presentations from the other six candidates.
Initially, the portion of the meeting between the committee and the candidates was going to be closed to the public, according to former Summit County Democrat Party Chair Sandy Greenhut. That flies in the face of Colorado Democratic Party Article III(D), which said “All meetings at all levels of the Party are open.” Greenhut told The Statesman that she raised questions about the closed-door process, which she said also happened when Scanlan was chosen in 2007.
Greenhut said Burns told her the interview process for the candidates would be closed to the public but that voting would take place in public beginning at 11 a.m. But in the last day, Greenhut indicated pressure was brought to bear on the vacancy committee to follow state party rules and allow the entire meeting to be open to the public.
Both the state party chair and Burns confirmed that as of Thursday, the entire meeting would be open to anyone who wants to attend. Colorado Democratic Party Chair Pat Waak told The Statesman Thursday, “the vacancy committee is made up of local citizens who are going to make a thoughtful and careful choice in the best interests of Eagle, Summit and Lake Counties. It is a process that will be careful, transparent and will result in an able Democratic representative for the district.”
Burns, the HD 56 vacancy committee chair, said the public was certainly welcome to sit in and observe the proceedings. “It is open to the public,” Burns said, but added that members of the public may not ask questions of the candidates — that’s the committee’s job, she said.
Once the vacancy committee has finished its review of the candidates, they will vote. The vote will be done by secret ballot, and in accordance with state statutes, the winning candidate needs to get a majority of the votes, so more than one round of voting may be necessary.
Hammon said she did not step down from the vacancy committee as she said she was told the committee was “already set and that’s the way it had to be.”
Hammon and Spetnagel will also not be allowed to question the other candidates during the meeting, to avoid influencing the committee or the responses of the other candidates.
Hammon told The Statesman the committee had never held a meeting before this Sunday’s event, and she doesn’t know the other members, save Scanlan and Gibbs.
The candidates for the seat, in addition to Spetnagel and Hammon, are: Lake County Commissioner Ken Olsen; Emily Tracy of Breckenridge; Jill Ryan of Edwards, a former director of the Eagle County Dept. of Public Health; Avon Mayor Pro-Tem Brian Sipes, Denise Levy of Keystone; and Summit County School Superintendent Millie Hamner, who has announced her intention to retire from the school district, effective July 1, 2011.
Hamner may be the candidate to beat, in part because of her connection to Scanlan, a former teacher in the district who served on the Summit County Board of Education, including two years as its president. Scanlan and Hamner worked together for three years: Hamner as superintendent, beginning in March 2004; Scanlan as a member of the school board beginning the same year. Scanlan was selected to fill an unexpired term on the school board, was elected to a full four-year term the following year and served two years before being chosen for the HD 56 vacancy.
Current School Board President Jon Kreamelmeyer said that if Hamner is selected by the vacancy committee, she will have an “important but limited role with the transition” and the board would have to appoint an interim superintendent, most likely the district’s chief financial officer, while they continue to search for a new superintendent. Hamner also would come off the payroll, according to Kreamelmeyer.