BOISE — The House Ethics Committee unanimously recommended that Rep. Priscilla Giddings be censured Tuesday, saying she lied to the committee and to the public and engaged in other behavior detrimental to the Idaho House.
The rare decision to discipline a fellow legislator came after 24 House members filed two formal ethics complaints against the White Bird Republican.
Both complaints say Giddings’ decision to disseminate the identity of an alleged sexual assault victim on her Facebook page constituted conduct unbecoming an elected representative.
Giddings, who did not attend Tuesday’s committee hearing, denied all the allegations. She acknowledged posting a link to a Redoubt News story that included the name and photo of the 19-year-old House intern who accused then-Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger of rape, but said that was within her First Amendment rights.
Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, one of five lawmakers on the bipartisan committee, suggested that was a lame excuse.
“All the evidence says you don’t disclose the name of a person who filed (a sexual assault) complaint,” he said. “You don’t put their picture on social media. You don’t do that if you’re involved in the organization. So I don’t see that we really have any choice but to find that what was done was wrong.”
The committee also recommended that Giddings be stripped of her seat on the House Commerce and Human Resources Committee.
Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, one of three Republicans on the Ethics Committee, accused Giddings of making “bald-faced lies,” both in her testimony to the committee and in public interviews she’s given.
For example, she has repeatedly characterized the complaints as political attacks prompted by her decision to run for lieutenant governor, even though both complaints were filed weeks before she announced her candidacy.
She also said they were signed by “the entire (House) Democratic caucus” as well as a handful of “very progressive” Republicans.
That’s demonstrably false, Crane said. Only eight of the 12 House Democrats signed the complaints, and no one could reasonably characterize all the Republicans who signed them as progressive.
Giddings “also said this committee selectively decides who it goes after,” Crane said. “That’s patently false. We have to take up every single complaint that’s brought to this committee. We don’t get to select. We don’t get to choose.”
In a July radio interview, Giddings alleged that the chairman of the Ethics Committee “works hand-in-hand” with Speaker of the House Scott Bedke — her opponent in next year’s lieutenant governor’s race — to decide which ethics complaints move forward.
“That is patently false,” Crane said. “It is an outright lie.”
Giddings didn’t immediately respond to a text message seeking comment.
Besides characterizing the ethics complaints as politically motivated attacks, she questioned the independence of the Ethics Committee itself. During a five-hour hearing Monday, she read an opening statement suggesting that the committee had already arrived at a “predetermined verdict” and subsequently walked out.
Giddings later returned to answer questions. However, committee members said they found her testimony to be “evasive” and filled with “half-truths.”
Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, noted that the 24 lawmakers who signed the second complaint against Giddings alleged similar behavior on her part during an April hearing regarding von Ehlinger.
“Witnesses testified that they believe she didn’t tell the whole truth, that she was less than forthcoming and evasive in her responses (during the April hearing),” Horman said. “What concerns me is I saw that pattern repeated yesterday (Monday).”
For example, Horman noted that Giddings told the committee she’d “skimmed” the Redoubt News article, but hadn’t read it thoroughly.
“I struggle to reconcile that with her previous testimony (in April) that the article would fulfill her desire to accurately represent both sides of (von Ehlinger’s) story. I’m not sure how she’d know that if she hadn’t read the story.”
Horman also found it disturbing that Giddings is using the ethics complaints to raise funds for her political campaign.
Following Monday’s hearing, for example, Giddings posted a message on Facebook saying, “What a day! Donate now to help me defeat this dirty attack, and to take my message of freedom statewide.”
House Ethics Chairman Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay, said the strongest testimony he heard Monday was about owning what you do and admitting when you make a mistake.
“If there had been any remorse or repentance, all would have been forgiven,” Dixon said.
Giddings, by contrast, went so far as to say “there was no victim” in the von Ehlinger case, because criminal charges have yet to be filed.
Dixon said lawmakers shouldn’t help perpetuate distrust in government through their statements or actions.
“There will always be some mistrust in government, but we shouldn’t be responsible or perpetuating that by misleading the public,” he said. “Being less than truthful when testifying under oath can clearly be construed as conduct unbecoming.”
The full House still needs to vote on the committee’s recommendations before they take effect. It isn’t clear when that will happen. Dixon said that decision will be made by House leadership.
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