DENVER — Republicans looking to unseat Democratic Colorado Sen. Mark Udall this fall continue to focus attention on the senator’s role in possibly pressuring the state’s Dept. of Insurance to lower its estimate of how many Coloradans lost their insurance as a result of the Affordable Care Act.
But it’s a candidate for governor, Tom Tancredo, calling now for the resignation of the cabinet member whose agency investigated and cleared Udall of any wrongdoing.
And, on Monday, Republican state lawmakers called for a joint hearing of the House and Senate Health committees to investigate the Udall investigation, although it’ll be up to Democrats, who control both committees, whether a hearing is actually scheduled.
Barbara Kelley, the executive director of the Dept. of Regulatory Agencies, responded to a request for an ethics investigation from state Rep. Amy Stephens, one of the Republicans hoping to challenge Udall, earlier this month.
“There is no information to support an allegation of real (or perceived) intimidation, or inappropriate or undue pressure,” Kelley wrote to Stephens. “There was a disagreement among staff about how to characterize the data. However, the situation was neither received nor acted upon as coercive or intimidation.
But last week, Kelley reportedly refused to provide any information to news outlets about how her office conducted the review, including who served on the panel itself.
Kelley, of course, is part of the executive branch, appointed by Hickenlooper.
“The Hickenlooper Administration’s pattern of deception on this scandal is extremely troubling,” said Tancredo. “It suggests that the governor’s primary focus throughout this scandal has always been the political interest of protecting a fellow liberal Democrat.”
“The public deserves accountability and they deserve answers, and that starts with removing Barbara Kelley from her position, and allowing a bipartisan legislative committee open access to all of the records related to Senator Udall’s efforts to influence regulators to conceal the very real and negative consequences ObamaCare is having on Colorado. That is the only way to ensure a thorough, and truly ‘neutral and objective’ investigation of what really happened.”
“This political cover-up is unacceptable. Colorado deserves a governor who is serious about integrity and transparency – not an absentee leader who lets political appointees sweep serious ethical violations under the rug behind closed doors.”
Kelley responds, stands by investigation
On Monday afternoon, Kelley released a long statement on the fact-finding investigation, including the make-up of the panel, which included herself, her deputy Michelle Pederson and legislative liason John Cevette, who served as chief of staff under former Democratic Senate President Brandon Shaffer.
According to Kelley, her office “fully complied” with the open records request.
“The Department subsequently received media requests under CORA for various documents ‘related to the Department’s investigation’,” Kelley said. “After consultation with the Attorney General’s Office as our counsel, which is routine to ensure compliance with the requirements of CORA, we determined and replied there were no documents responsive to the request. Simply put, the records requested under CORA were not created and do not exist.”
In addition, Kelley explained that she chose not to release the names of the individuals on the panel to protect them from further political attacks.
“I choose not to release this personnel information so as to protect the department’s employees from potential politically motivated challenges or inquisitions,” Kelley said. “It’s clear to me, -not only from the manner in which the request for an inquiry was initiated, but also from subsequent comments in social media and by bloggers, that publishing the names of the employees involved would only subject them to scurrilous accusations of partisanship or worse.”
Republicans scoffed at the investigation, especially after Kelley’s revelation Monday that it was conducted by three Democratic appointees.
“It’s clear that Gov. Hickenlooper never wanted to get to the bottom of this scandal,” said Colorado GOP Chairman Ryan Call in a statement Monday afternoon. “Instead, it appears he had his administration do everything in their power to protect Sen. Udall, even if that meant misleading the press and the public.
“Coloradans deserve better. The lies and misinformation coming from Gov. Hickenlooper and Sen. Udall’s offices must stop, and they must stop now.”
Stephens, who called for the investigation in the first place, released a statement Monday afternoon via her Senate campaign alleging that Hickenlooper and Udall are involved in a cover-up.
“Sen. Udall’s allies in the Hickenlooper Administration deliberately misled the public,” Stephens said. “A panel comprised of a Hicklenooper appointee, her deputy, and a former top Democrat legislative staffer is clearly a biased group that was designed to run interference for Senator Udall and thwart any attempt to impartially review his troubling behavior.
“It’s obvious that Hickenlooper staffers vigorously fought to keep this panel secret because they knew that it would be exposed as nothing more than a shameful farce if its members were publicly identified.”
Republicans hammer away at Udall
Republicans, planning to make Obamacare a central campaign issue this fall, continue to allege that Udall requested the state to revise its November estimate of some 249,000 policy cancellations for political reasons — and, at the same time, relish pointing out that the actual number of cancellations has grown.
“Udall told Coloradans they could keep their plans if they liked them, but apparently has quietly intended to force all Coloradans onto the exchange,” said Kelly Maher, executive director of Compass Colorado, in a press release emailed to reporters Monday afternoon.
“Coloradans need a straight answer from Udall. He can’t simply bully his way to reelection and get away with abusing his power.”
Democrats continue to point out that, of the 335,000 Coloradans whose existing plans were “cancelled”, more than 90 percent of them were offered renewals.
As much as Republicans can increase pressure on Udall, they still are forced to confront the political reality that they’ve yet to find a candidate to take him on.
With GOP Senate hopefuls Ken Buck, Stephens, Owen Hill and Randy Baumgardner all reportedly struggling to raise money on their own ahead of party caucuses in March, there are still rumors of another candidate entering the race.