New Lawmaker Tips House Balance to Dem Women

Christine Scanlan’s appointment as Colorado’s newest lawmaker means Democratic women now outnumber their male counterparts. And — unlike new GOP appointee Douglas Bruce — Scanlan plans to start the job on time.Scanlan, 43, beat out eight other applicants to fill the House District 56 position left vacant by Rep. Dan Gibbs, who was appointed to replace Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald, who is running for Congress.

Scanlan is the senior vice president and chief operating officer for the Keystone Center, a nonprofit center in the central Rockies that focuses on science and public policy on health, energy and the environment, as well as serving as a science school for some 4,000 mostly middle-school students every year.

Married and the mother of three children, Scanlan was born in Littleton and moved to Summit County when she was three years old. She is currently the president of the Summit County Board of Education and plans to continue serving on the school board while in the Legislature, though not as president.

She and her colleagues at the Keystone Center are also revising her duties to make her job and work in the Legislature more manageable, she said.

“I recognize I can’t do it all,” she said.

District 56 represents the mountain counties of Eagle, Lake and Summit, and, in a pre-Christmas interview with Colorado Confidential, Scanlan said she hopes to carry the full five bills currently allowed every session by Colorado lawmakers. One of those will certainly focus on the bark beetle infestation that has ravaged much of Colorado’s high country forests, she said, and which has also been a focus of her predecessor, Gibbs.

Scanlan’s appointment gives female Democrats a 21-19 female-led majority in Colorado’s 65-member House of Representatives.

“You know, I don’t know that it will really make a difference [but] I do know it will be an exciting benchmark,” Scanlan said. “I don’t know that it matters a bit about the gender, but I do think it’s interesting.”

However, the increase in Democratic female lawmakers, including in leadership positions, stands in stark contrast to the Republican Party in Colorado.

In October, GOP state Rep. Debbie Stafford switched parties and became a Democrat. Colorado Confidential noted then that Stafford’s departure leaves just five Republican women lawmakers in Colorado’s 100-member body: four members of the House and one state senator.

Of the dwindling roster, Assistant Minority Leader Nancy Spence, from Arapahoe County, is the lone GOP woman left in a party leadership position in Colorado.

A lot has changed. Just five years ago, Republican Lola Spradley made history by becoming Colorado’s first female speaker of the House. That year, 2002, Rep. Norma Anderson, a Republican from Lakewood, was the House majority leader.

Meanwhile, newly appointed Scanlan said she fully intends to be on deck when the Colorado Legislature convenes on Jan. 9. That is in marked contrast to Bruce, a well-known Republican from El Paso County who was appointed Dec. 1 to fill out the term of Rep. Bill Cadman, now a state senator.

Bruce has drawn criticism for his refusal to be sworn into office until five days after the Legislature convenes. Postponing his inauguration allows Bruce to serve less than half of Cadman’s term, so that his 2008 time in office will not count toward the total number of terms he is permitted to serve. This will make him eligible to stand for election for a new two-year term after this session.

Cara DeGette is a senior fellow at Colorado Confidential and a columnist and contributing editor at the Colorado Springs Independent. E-mail her at

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