Republican Rep. Joe Stengel today resigned his post as House Minority Leader over a scandal in which he billed taxpayers for working 240 out of 247 possible days last year when he was out of session — including when he was on vacation in Hawaii and when he was taking the bar exam (which he failed, ironically). If you haven’t been following the story, here’s a brief explanation from the Rocky Mountain News:
The six lawmakers who serve in leadership – three from the Senate and three from the House – are eligible to receive $99 a day in the off- session when handling legislative matters. Stengel last year billed a record 240 out of 247 days in the off-session collecting $23,760 in addition to the $30,000 pay all lawmakers receive.
He earlier told the News that the only days he took off were for seven major holidays and that he worked all the other days, including weekends. “I take this job very seriously. I work 24-7,” he said at the time.
When later questioned about the Hawaii trip, Stengel said he billed taxpayers because he worked every day he was on his vacation. “There is no vacation from this job,” he said. “I worked every day I was in Hawaii.”
To put that in perspective, the previous record for a legislator billing for days worked outside of the legislature was in 2000, when Republican Doug Dean billed for 184 days. Obviously Stengel’s claim that he worked all but seven days in 2005 is ludicrous, and despite his stubborn claims that he had done nothing wrong there was really no way out of this for him.
Stengel’s resignation is a major PR disaster for Republicans because he was in a leadership position. The headline “Republican House Leader Resigns Amid Scandal” will be seen all over the state and will no doubt be distributed to voters in the fall and made out as an example of Republican corruption.
Interestingly, Stengel’s resignation from his leadership post may also put more pressure on Democrats to deal with a scandal of their own. State Sen. Deanna Hanna, who requested that a realtor’s group pay her “reparations” for endorsing her opponent in 2004 after telling her that they would stay out of her race, has sounded a lot like a potential shakedown. Republicans have pounced on the story and called for her resignation, which could be a bigger deal in the bigger picture.
Stengel did not resign his post as a legislator — only his leadership position — and while he is term-limted this year anyway, he sits in a Republican district that is likely to remain Republican. Hanna, meanwhile, is not term-limited in 2004, but if forced to resign the Democrats will have to appoint an interim candidate for her position who will have to run for re-election in 2006. That would give Republicans the opportunity to win a senate seat that ordinarily would not be available, and in an election year that could see control of the legislature hinge on just a few races, the bigger picture could see a net benefit for Republicans.