Lautenberg quits HD 56 vacancy race after jumping in last week

By Marianne Goodland
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

The field of candidates hoping to replace House District 56, Rep. Christine Scanlan, D-Dillon, has gotten a lot bigger, and at the same time smaller by one.

Josh Lautenberg, son of New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg, threw his hat into the ring almost immediately after the Hickenlooper administration announced Scanlan would step down from her House seat to become the governor’s chief lobbyist.

But Lautenberg had a change of heart due to family commitments, and withdrew his name from consideration last Friday, according to Liz Spetnagel, chair of the HD 56 committee and co-vice-chair of the Eagle County Dems.

Lautenberg told The Colorado Statesman Tuesday that he thought long and hard about the consequences and responsibilities of taking on the seat. He said he jumped into the race initially after conversations with Scanlan and Sen. Dan Gibbs, D-Silverthorne, who encouraged Lautenberg to announce early if he was planning to go after the seat.

However, after that announcement, Lautenberg took a few days with his family, which includes two children, ages 7 and 10. He said he explained to them that he’d be in Denver for four months, and wouldn’t be able to get home at certain times when Vail Pass is closed (and he said it was closed a dozen times last session). Lautenberg also talked with his father, who said he missed time with Josh when he was younger because he was already in political life, and felt guilty for that. “One day you’ll do it, and you’ll be very good at it, but for now your children are too young,” Sen. Lautenberg said, according to Josh.

Josh Lautenberg said the decision to back out was painful and caused him heartache when he told Scanlan he would not seek the seat, for now. But he said he would consider it again when his children are a little older and his recently acquired real estate business is not so new.

It’s now left to the HD 56 committee to find more candidates, and Spetnagel has more than a committee chair’s interest in that process: she’s also vying to become the next House rep from the district. She told The Colorado Statesman that she recently decided to get into the race, and that as many as nine people may be going after the seat when the vacancy committee meets in about two weeks.

To date, she has firm commitments from Lake County Commissioner Ken Olsen and Emily Tracy of Breckenridge. In addition, four other people, whom she said did not want to be publicly identified yet, have spoken to Spetnagel about the vacancy, and she said she believes Scanlan has spoken to two others.

The vacancy committee has not yet set a date for its meeting, but it could be as early as December 12. Spetnagel said letters of commitment will have to be received by no later than five days before the meeting, and the meeting will be run by the district’s vice-chair, Lucinda Burns of Summit County, to avoid any possible conflicts of interest.

Tracy is no stranger to political office; she ran for HD 60 twice, in 2002 and 2004, and served on the city council of Cañon City for eight years. For nearly five years she has co-chaired the Legislative Affairs Council of the Summit Chamber of Commerce, and has served for four and one-half years on the Summit County Countywide Planning Commission. Olsen is in his second term on the Lake County Commission. Spetnagel, an acupuncturist, lives in Eagle and has previously run for Eagle Town Board.

Marianne@coloradostatesman.com