Personality conflicts disrupt Appropriations

Tit for tat antics of Reps. Duran, Gerou stall bills
The Colorado Statesman

Tensions between Reps. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, and Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, escalated during a House Appropriations Committee meeting Wednesday morning, stalling several bills that require funding just as Senate discussions over the budget kicked into high gear.

The multiple divisive exchanges between Gerou and Duran sparked calls by Duran for an ethics investigation on Gerou, though that threat had not mounted as of press time.

The Appropriations Committee was scheduled to hear 19 bills in an effort to get ahead of Senate budget negotiations and to allow Joint Budget Committee staff to work with Senate leadership on the budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

The Senate broke into caucuses later on Wednesday to begin discussing the so-called “Long Bill” after the House passed it last Friday by a mostly partisan vote. Gerou, a member of the JBC, voted for the Long Bill in an effort to stay united with the JBC.

But the Appropriations Committee on Wednesday only voted on one bill, House Bill 1001, sponsored by Rep. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont. The bill would offer a tax credit to victims of natural disasters for property destroyed. Singer introduced the bill to offer relief to constituents and others who suffered property loss as a result of last year’s devastating floods.

The measure passed appropriations by a 10-3 vote.

But before the committee even began, Duran and Gerou were pointing fingers at each other. Much of the animosity predated the meeting, a result of friction between the two following JBC negotiations. Duran is the chairwoman of the JBC.

The 7:30 a.m. meeting kicked off with Gerou and Duran bickering over procedure, including Gerou calling for Republican colleagues to be excused from the start of the meeting as they were still arriving at the Legislative Services Building across from the Capitol.

“Are we going to start like this?” Gerou asked Duran, who also chairs the Appropriations Committee.

As Gerou continued to publically prod Duran, Duran became increasingly irritated, sometimes turning to Twitter to vent her frustration. She accused Gerou and other Republicans of filibustering the meeting, though the sense of that alleged strategy never became clear.

“Until you are called on, I would appreciate it if you didn’t interject,” Duran chastised Gerou.

Gerou pointed out that Duran had said earlier, “Questions are always in order in a democracy.”

“I’m not sure if I’m part of the democracy… there could be a little area around my seat that puts me and my constituents in the I-don’t-deserve-democracy zone,” alleged Gerou.

Duran responded, “All your comments and questions… we’ll look to them with anticipation to see what you’re going to say next.”

The meeting went on like this for just about the entire hour-and-a-half duration, coming to an even more tense ending when Duran accused Gerou of trying to strike a deal in committee on another bill.

The committee had moved past Singer’s flood recovery bill by this point, with only about 15 minutes left in the meeting. They were discussing House Bill 1013, sponsored by Reps. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, and Mike Foote, D-Lafayette. The measure would allow the state to reimburse a business for one-half of its expenses related to a qualifying internship.

Gerou suggested that the bill does not have funding for Fiscal Year 2015-16, and so she proposed a deal on another advanced industries bill she is running with Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley, that would accelerate funding for economic development programs. That bill was also parked in Appropriations as of Wednesday.

“I’m looking at your fiscal note and I’m really confused… From what I understand is going to happen is you won’t have funding for [Fiscal Year] 2015-16, so gentleman, do you have a plan? Can we work together? Can I get my second-year funding? I can make a deal with you if you can make a deal with me,” said Gerou.

Duran couldn’t stop herself from laughing out loud, saying, “I’m pretty sure that quid pro quo is not in compliance with the law.”

Gerou then escalated ill feelings when she alleged that House Democrats had taken a caucus vote on what bills should live or die in Appropriations given the looming Long Bill. The committee can only approve about $20 million worth of measures, despite an estimated $200 million in requests.

“I know that your caucus has taken a vote on what bills will pass and what bills will fail out of this committee… that’s what I was talking about,” Gerou explained. “You don’t have any second-year funding.”

Lee first questioned Gerou’s facts on the caucus meeting, pointing out that there was never a vote on the fate of any bills that are parked in Appropriations. He also said his advanced industry bill does have funding for next year.

“Contrary to that statement, we have not taken votes on bills, and I was just told by JBC staff that in fact there is funding in the out year for that bill,” explained Lee.

Duran added again, “Quid pro quo is completely wrong.” Via Twitter she suggested that an ethics investigation might be in order.

To which Gerou fiercely responded, “There’s nothing that I said that was quid pro quo, and if you are imputing my nature, my ethics, madam chair, I object!”

Following the meeting, Gerou maintained when asked by The Colorado Statesman that Democrats had predetermined what Appropriations bills would live or die. She even insinuated that Duran was positioning her own bill for funding that would expand access to childcare assistance.

“She’s doing this because she’s afraid that we’re going to not get to her bill, and that’s the whole point of all of this, because she’s worried about her child care bill,” surmised Gerou.

“She’s trying to put her personal bill before the budget for the state of Colorado,” she added. “That’s the problem. I have a problem with selfishness, I have a problem with the fact that we’re here to serve our constituents, not to forward our political futures.”

The fighting did not end with the committee meeting. Even as The Statesman was interviewing Gerou, Duran interrupted to say, “Let the record speak for itself.”

She later clarified, “For all of us it’s been a priority this session to drive down the high cost of child care. I don’t even have a child, but I want to do this for the state.”

Duran said the Appropriations meeting was carefully scheduled to give JBC staff time to work on budget negotiations.

“I spoke to JBC staff, the speaker spoke to JBC staff to make sure that we are not overburdening them,” said Duran. “This has been planned for a long time… It’s unfortunate the way that she proceeds and the way she acts, but this is what we get paid the big bucks to do.”

The JBC chairwoman said her battles with Gerou are not personal, adding, “I don’t know how she comes to the conclusions that she comes to, but it’s not personal for me at all.”

Suggesting that she still has a sense of humor about it, Duran sent a tweet later in the day that read, “A high % of women are buying guns. May not be a bad idea to purchase one for self defense after this morning Approps meeting. (Joke) #coleg.”

House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, said the Appropriations Committee would take up all of the remaining bills on Friday, and perhaps even take the bills up on second reading during a marathon day of legislative action.

The Senate is expected to debate the Long Bill on Thursday and Friday, but Ferrandino does not believe that the work of the Appropriations Committee on Friday would impact the Senate’s version of the bill.

He acknowledged that his caucus has met to discuss Appropriations bills, but he said no informal vote on whether those bills should live or die was taken.

“We had caucus yesterday and we went through all the bills that are out there and talked about it as a caucus…” explained the speaker. “We just had a conversation to get a sense of where people were on things and we told everyone you have to do what you think is right or wrong.”

Ferrandino is not rushing to attempt to ease the tensions on the Appropriations Committee. But he agreed that the political drama has been holding up the process.

“This has been a challenging issue for a while…” he acknowledged. “We’ll see Friday if the process starts to move, and if it doesn’t, then there might need to be some things resolved or changed.”

Peter@coloradostatesman.com