DENVER—Colorado Republicans were stunned late Monday upon learning that the “neutral and objective panel” that cleared Sen. Mark Udall of bullying state insurance regulators in fact consisted of three Democrats in the Hickenlooper administration.
Barbara Kelley, executive director of the Department of Regulatory Affairs, released a statement to Fox31 saying that the three members of the panel were herself, her deputy Michelle Pederson, and legislative liaison John Cevette, former chief of staff to Democratic Senate President Brandon Shaffer.
State Rep. Amy Stephens (R-Monument), who requested the investigation into whether Udall’s staff pressured state regulators to revise downward the number of policy cancellations under Obamacare, called the panel “a clearly biased group.”
“Sen. Udall’s allies in the Hickenlooper administration deliberately misled the public when they claimed that a ‘neutral and objective panel’ had ‘investigated’ attempts by his staff to coerce state employees into altering Obamacare insurance cancellation data,” said Stephens in a statement.
Kelley said she decided not to release the names of the panel members in response to open-records requests from the Colorado Observer and other media outlets “to protect the department’s employees from potential politically motivated challenges of inquisitions.”
“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,” said Kelley.
Republicans were quick to accuse the Democratic appointees of trying to protect one of their own by clearing Udall’s office of misconduct. Stephens said the panel “was designed to run interference for Sen. 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,” said Stephens.
The scandal broke three weeks ago when Complete Colorado released emails illustrating a tug-of-war between state insurance regulators who had pegged the number of cancellations at nearly 250,000, and Udall staffers who wanted to subtract from the figure those who were offered new policies.
Meanwhile, the ranking Republicans on the House and Senate health committees called for a joint hearing to review the allegations against state agencies and Sen. Mark Udall’s office.
“Allegations of intimidation against a state employee by the staff of a member of Colorado’s congressional delegation and questions about the honesty of an executive branch appointee toward a member of the General Assembly deserve serious legislative review,” said the letter to the Democratic committee chairs.
The letter was signed by Sen. Kevin Lundberg (R-Colorado Springs), ranking member on the Senate Health & Human Services Committee, and Rep. Janak Joshi (R-Colorado Springs), ranking member on the House Health, Insurance & Environment Committee, and Rep. Lois Landgraf (R-Fountain), ranking member on the House Public Health Care & Human Services Committee.
Former Rep. Tom Tancredo, seeking the GOP nomination for governor, reiterated his call for Kelley’s resignation, noting that she first claimed a “neutral and objective panel” would review the accusations against Udall’s staff, then said that her review of the emails made such an investigation unnecessary.
“How long is Gov. Hickenlooper going to let this circus continue?” said Tancredo in a statement. “How many more lies is he going to allow his political appointees to tell before he demands accountability? Who is in charge here–John Hickenlooper or Barbara Kelley?”
So far Hickenlooper has not commented publicly on the scandal, although top aide Alan Salazar did send a Tweet on Monday defending Kelley, saying her “accountability/integrity” were “clear.”
“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. “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.”