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March 14, 2006 09:00 AM UTC

Stengel Doesn't Get It

  • by: Colorado Pols

Former House Minority Leader Joe Stengel today responded to an ethics complaint stemming from the fact that he billed taxpayers for working 240 out of 247 possible days in 2005, which was 56 more days than anybody else had billed since former majority leader Doug Dean in 2000.

Stengel still isn’t helping Republicans on this one; by stubbornly refusing to admit any real guilt, he makes it sound like it was okay to bill for that many days. Stengel says that he didn’t break the law, and he’s right — what he did was technically legal — but the “If you don’t like the law, change it defense” that he continues to employ makes him sound like a complete prick — and reflects poorly on the Republican Party. Stengel still doesn’t understand that there is a HUGE difference between what you legally can do and what you should do.

Take a look at some of his quotes as reported by the Rocky Mountain News:

Former House Minority Leader Joe Stengel said he should have handled his leadership pay “differently and with better judgment” but he did nothing to violate the law. The Littleton Republican, under fire for his payroll billing last year, on Monday formally answered an ethics complaint filed against him by five of his constituents…

…”I am confident that you will not find any probable cause to believe that I have failed to adhere to the Constitution and laws of the state of Colorado and applicable House rules,” Stengel wrote.

“I customarily spend the better part of my day reviewing press clippings, communicating with staff and providing strategic guidance and support to staff and caucus members on legislative issues. The obligation of leadership is constant and unrelenting.”

Fine, Joe, but that doesn’t change the fact that NOBODY else billed for that many hours, and it wasn’t even close.

…Stengel later reimbursed taxpayers for nine days  seven spent in Hawaii and two for taking the bar exam, although he maintains in his letter he handled legislative matters those days. “The trip was an opportunity for me to work in isolation on strategy, committee assignments, legislation and staff research assignments,” he stated.

“One area of my personal legislative focus on this trip was preparing for legislation on property rights. I read several legal materials/books I took with me and found in Hawaii on the topic of private property rights … in preparation of the upcoming issue before the General Assembly. Hawaii is a trend setter on eminent domain, so this material I located was valuable to me.”

This is so patently absurd that Stengel is just embarrassing himself. He traveled to Hawaii so he could get more work done and learn from the way Hawaii handles matters of state? Really? That’s your defense?

…The law doesn’t spell out how much of the day has to be spent on legislative matters, nor does it restrict the number of days that can be billed. That has been left up to the individual legislator.

No other legislative leader has come close to Stengels billing. Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald last year billed for 59 days. The Coal Creek Canyon Democrat said she regularly checked in with her staff but only charged the taxpayers if a significant part of the day was spent on legislative matters.

Stengel was elected minority leader in November 2004. Since then, he wrote in his letter, “I have attended to the all consuming work of leading my caucus, forming legislative strategy, continuing constituent contact, supervision of the minority leaders staff and reviewing with scrutiny every piece of legislation or possible legislation of which I have been made aware.”

“I customarily spend the better part of my day reviewing press clippings, communicating with staff and providing strategic guidance and support to staff and caucus members on legislative issues,” he said.

Stengel is backing his fellow Republicans into a corner at this point. What he did, while not actually illegal, was so far out of the bounds of what he should have done that there is no explanation for it. If Republicans continue to stand behind Stengel on this, it’s going to cost them in November.


15 thoughts on “Stengel Doesn’t Get It

  1. Actually what Stengel did was NOT technically legal. The law only allows his to bill the state for days he works for the legislature. There is no way I will believe he worked every day, 7 days a week except for 7. Checking your messages once a day does not count as a day worked for the legislature.

    Even though he paid back the money he collected while on vacation in Hawaii, he still has not admitted any wrong doing.

    Removing him from the leadership position only serves to stop him from committing the same offense. It does not adequately reprimand him for committing the first one.

    If he were a gentleman, he would resign. We already know he isn’t, so it is time to remove him him.

  2. They are definitely still standing behind him – in conversation after conversation with elected R’s not one of them thinks Joe did anything wrong.


  3. What I don’t get is that Deanna asks for money doesn’t get it and loses her seat, but Joe gets the money, keeps most of it and is still a Rep.  Strange World.

  4. Removing him from the leadership position only serves to stop him from committing the same offense.

    Not exactly. It keeps him from charging $99/day but he can still charge $45/day as a member of the legislature.

  5. Well both got caught with their hands in the cookie jar… and both tried to “put it back”.

    The rapid way every DEM in the State immediately threw Hanna under the bus, kinda speaks to the fact that such a blatant shakedown is not something that can be put back. It actually would have been better if she had gotten the money, so that she could have given it back too. I think that is the root of what she “did wrong” though. She made a demand that she had no right to, nor did she actually hold enough power to enforce her will (the Fitzgerald style of leadership).

    Stengel? 1) People thought he was not entitled to money… He gives it back.
    2) People thought his claim was unbecoming of a party leader… He resigns as Republican Leader in the House.

    He had something to give back to “make reparations”. Hanna didn’t.

  6. The long and short of it is this:  As long as Stengle sticks around he gives Dems fodder and talking points about why it is a very bad idea for Republiocans to have control of the House and Senate again anytime soon.

    They are only hurting themselves.  What Stengle did smacks of “big government conservatism” a term I NEVER thought I would hear.  It is high profile news of the worst sort for Republicans in Colorado.

    The Dems made their move with Hanna.  Check.

  7. Hanna’s move went unjudged, since she resigned before the panel could issue a recommendation.  And no, I don’t think the Realtors were likely to press charges since they were apparently in it somehow, too.  So the proper term is “allegedly illegal”.

    Stengel’s move I also reserve judgement on; we don’t know if there’s anything he can be charged with under House Rules or law…

  8. What do you mean “What Stengel did is NOT illegal”? When he billed the legislature for “Work” and then made a few phone calls and called it “work” ……d’uh….. illegal. YOU saying, “It wasn’t illegal” doesn’t make it legal. AND he ONLY paid back a very small amount of the money he took illegaly. He took 270 days worth and paid back 9 days worth, brilliant.

  9. Did Stengel charge for days he campaigned against Ref C?  That would be an interesting legal question if he did.

    Legality aside, legislators have to do the right thing.  They have to exhibit integrity and honesty beyond question.  They must have a trust relationship with the voters they represent as well as with their fellow members.  Hanna didn’t resign over legalities.  She violated a trust.  I understand the politics of her resignation but those were based in violating a trust relationship.

    Bottom line for Stengel…an arrogant, self-centered elected offical got caught acting like he is better than the little people who elected him.  He ought to resign.  His party ought to demand he resign.  Would you trust him to do the right thing on any subject?

  10. watcher, there is no dispute about Stengel collecting his $99 every day he campaigned against Ref C.  He claims, however, that he was also doing party business on the side.

  11. So what if Stengel made token restitution for his fradulent claims? He did so only after he was caught. Bank robbers go to jail, even if they later return some loot. Stengel abused his position of trust to knowingly and fradulently submit false claims for his Hawaii vacation. The plain fact is that he stole from Colorado taxpayers. He should be in jail.

  12. I know it’s hard for politicos and bureaucrats to believe, but people do work as hard as Stengel claims. He had his own business and probably worked every day on that, and he claims he took those habits to the legislature.

    I’ve worked almost that much most of my life, putting in some hours on work almost every day. He’s not saying he worked 11-18 hours every day. He’s saying that almost every day, he worked on state biz, and that’s probably true. When lawyers do that, they account for ever 10 or 15 minutes at $100 to $600 or more an hour. That makes Stengel’s claims puny by comparison.

    The unionized media and Dems don’t relate and don’t believe (not for attribution, anyway), but anyone who’s owned a business or worked as a consultant believes. We’re just not hearing from them.

    Now, was it politically smart to charge for every day worked?

    The current uproar says a big fat NO!

  13. Most of Joe’s work consisted of trading phone calls and e-mails, probably answering a lot more than he sent, watcher.  I doubt that many people interrupted Thanksgiving or Christmas to share some piece of political  with him.  His not taking the $99 per diem on the seven holidays is thus completely consistent with his defense.  The issue isn’t why he didn’t claim those seven, Watcher, it’s whether he earned the $99 on the 240 days he did file.  For me, I am incensed he had the nerve to bill the taxpayers while working all but full-time against Ref C.  None of the advocates, Anderson, Gordon, Fitz-Gerald,
    Romanoff, etc., billed the state while promoting C and D.  That said, I’d let this issue die a natural death.  The lege adjourns May 10 and Stengel is term-limited so he’s gone then.  What would be the point of kicking him out a month early? 

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