Rep. Balmer apologizes, says he ‘lost his cool'

The Colorado Statesman

Rep. David Balmer, a co-chair of the Joint Committee on Redistricting, formally apologized Monday morning to the full House for behavior last week that earned him a ban from the Senate for the duration of the session.

According to a statement last week from Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, Balmer, R-Centennial, was banned from the Senate for “aggressive behavior” toward a fellow redistricting committee member, Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village.

Balmer’s apology was at Shaffer’s request and avoided a formal Senate investigation into the Jan. 26 incident. In his apology, Balmer described the incident as a conversation between himself and Schwartz that got out of hand. Schwartz, who has spoken little about the incident, told The Colorado Statesman once the conversation started she “couldn’t get a word in edgewise.”

Sources also said Balmer was waving his arms around during the conversation, and that, along with his raised tone of voice, was what prompted the complaint.

“The Senate chamber must be a sanctuary for the exchange of ideas in an atmosphere free of intimidation,” Shaffer said. “I will not tolerate a breech in decorum. We have real work to do for the people of Colorado.”

“Regrettably, I lost my patience. I lost my cool,” Balmer said in his apology on Monday. “I told Sen. Schwartz ‘I am done with this conversation’ and I walked off in a huff. That was my fault. That was wrong.”

In a constituent newsletter last weekend, Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp described Balmer’s behavior as “boisterous and demonstrative,” and said that an apology by Balmer to Schwartz and the Senate leadership should have ended the matter. Instead, he said, a legislative panel was formed by the Democratic majority. After Balmer’s apology, the panel was dropped, but Balmer was still denied access to the Senate chamber. “Why?” Kopp asked. “If the apology was sufficient to eliminate the need for the investigatory panel in the first place, should it have not also been sufficient to maintain access to the senate chamber?”

Kopp added that if one legislator threatens another, form a panel and investigate, and “use the rules to correct the offending member.” Kopp called the entire incident a “circus” that wasted “time and energy” in the capitol last week.

It’s not the first time Balmer has been in trouble at the capitol, nor even the second. A little more than two years ago, Balmer was involved in an ethics complaint related to leadership elections for minority Republicans in the House. Then House Minority Leader Mike May, R-Parker, filed the complaint that said Balmer was suspected of attempting to influence another legislator to vote for him for the minority leader position. May had announced he would step down as minority leader to focus on his business, and the announcement prompted a battle between Balmer and then Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highland Ranch, for the leadership post. In the end, the ethics complaint was dismissed against Balmer, but a lobbyist for the Colorado Chiropractor’s Association was formally admonished for his involvement. And in the wake of the incident, May decided not to step down from his leadership position.

In another incident in late March 2007, Balmer allegedly told Rep. Debbie Stafford, R-Aurora, she would be targeted by the construction industry in the next election if she supported a bill on construction defects. The incident prompted Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver, to ask that the General Assembly adopt rules similar to those for lobbyists, who are prohibited from making threats of “violence or economic or political reprisal” to legislators.

A 2006 panel of non-legislative ethics experts, requested by Romanoff, generally addressed ethical misconduct by legislators but without the specificity Romanoff asked for.

In 2006, in the wake of three ethics complaints filed during that session against Colorado lawmakers, Romanoff empanelled a group to look at the ethics laws of the Colorado House. The panel, which included former Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Love Kourlis and Roy Wood, later a member of the Independent Ethics Commission, recommended changes but the changes were more about the ethics processes rather than the nature of the complaints. One member of the panel, who was not identified in the group’s July 2006 report, suggested the House develop a “code of ethics that would deal with conflict of interest, gifts, and matters of employment in the context of the ethical pressure that abound in today’s legislative climate.” (Emphasis added) The changes suggested by the panel were not implemented, according to Legislative Legal Services, although legislators are now encouraged to take an online ethics tutorial every two years. One of the tutorial’s sections addresses the issue of remarks made by legislators in the heat of debate, and even when an apology is made, the tutorial says, a legislator may still file an ethics complaint alleging misconduct.

A little more than three months after the release of the report, Colorado voters approved Amendment 41, which made sweeping changes to the laws governing the ethical behavior of state employees, lawmakers, and lobbyists, and which included a ban on gifts, later clarified by the IEC.

Shaffer told The Statesman this week that he did not believe the rules needed to be changed. “We have the rules we need, both in statute and in rule, to manage the chamber effectively [and] to maintain decorum in the respective chambers. We just have to exercise them, and that’s what we did recently,” he said.

Text of Balmer’s House apology

Mr. Speaker, Madam Majority Leader, Mr. Minority Leader, President Shaffer, Majority Leader Morse, Minority Leader Kopp, Senator Schwartz, members of the Senate and House: with humility, thank you for allowing me an opportunity to apologize.

Last Wednesday, I went over to the Senate chamber to look for Senator Heath. The Senate had adjourned and the chamber was virtually empty. Senator Heath was not there so I turned around to come back over to the House.

Senator Schwartz stopped me to ask me a question. Her question was about some of the public hearings for congressional redistricting. Senator Heath and I originally recommended three public hearings for the third congressional district: Pueblo, Alamosa and Glenwood Springs. But upon receiving input from a number of legislators, including Speaker McNulty, Senator Heath and I changed the recommendation to three public hearings in Pueblo, Alamosa and Grand Junction. Sen. Schwartz had some serious concerns about this change from Glenwood to Grand Junction. We were discussing this change for about five minutes. Then, regrettably, I lost my patience. I lost my cool. I told Sen. Schwartz ‘I am done with this conversation’ and I walked off in a huff. That was my fault. That was wrong.

About two hours later I felt bad about how I treated Sen. Schwartz, so I went to go find her. I didn’t actually know where her office was. As sometimes House members do, I was wandering around on the third floor trying to find her office. Interestingly, she was on her way to get her picture made and so I ran into her in the hall. We sat down on a bench and I apologized to her and she was so gracious in accepting my apology, it meant a lot to me. Sen. Shaffer was very gracious in accepting my apology, Sen. Morse was very gracious in accepting my apology.

My behavior towards Sen. Schwartz was wrong. I accept full responsibility for my actions. To President Shaffer and the 35 members of the Senate, to Speaker McNulty and my 64 colleagues in the House, to Sen. Schwartz, but most importantly, to the people of Colorado I truly apologize.