State Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, has an answer for everything.
Everything, that is, except when the father of an Idaho Senate page essentially asks Giddings, who is running for lieutenant governor, to do what any responsible adult in her situation would: apologize.
Giddings is facing an Aug. 2 hearing before the House Ethics Committee, a process that could end with penalties ranging from a reprimand to expulsion.
As far as the facts go, there’s not much in dispute. Giddings’ transgressions were there for all to see during the April 28-29 Ethics Committee hearings into former Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger’s mistreatment of a 19-year-old intern. She said it was rape. He said it was consensual. A criminal investigation is underway. But the stipulated facts — a 38-year-old lawmaker luring a younger subordinate to his apartment and then his bed — were sufficient for the ethics panel to conclude von Ehlinger was guilty of “conduct unbecoming a representative which is detrimental to the integrity of the House as a legislative body.” Before the full House could act on its recommended suspension of the Lewiston lawmaker, von Ehlinger quit.
Two weeks earlier, Giddings revictimized the woman known as Jane Doe: On her Facebook page, she posted a Redoubt News article that included a photograph of the young woman and named her in its opening paragraph. She also included the Redoubt News link in a weekly newsletter.
During her testimony before the Ethics Committee, Giddings was caught flat-footed when Reps. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, and John Gannon, D-Boise, pressed her about doxing the victim.
Two dozen House members filed a complaint against her, alleging she violated a state law against sexual harassment, may have discouraged other victims of sexual abuse from coming forward and also misled the committee about her social media activities.
But Giddings can offer a litany of technical, legalistic and political spin:
l She was exercising her First Amendment rights to print the other side of the story. “They can use this word ‘doxing’ all they want, but it means nothing and it has no ramifications in Idaho law.”
l It’s a political smear by House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, who is also running for lieutenant governor. Sure, neither candidate entered the race until weeks after the complaint was filed. But this hearing is set against the context of a deeply divided Idaho GOP, with Bedke and many of the complaining parties on one side while Giddings and her allies within the Idaho Freedom Foundation wing are on the other. Despite her years as a military leader, Giddings is prepared to play the victim card.
l There’s some question about whether the House formally adopted the Legislature’s Respectful Workplace Policy, which admonishes lawmakers to respect the confidentiality of anyone making a complaint and bans them from retaliating. So if Giddings can’t be pinned on a specific rule violation, the question will come down to an interpretation: Is this how Idaho’s elected lawmakers should behave? Is this “conduct unbecoming?”
To Giddings, those are just “empty words.”
But consider Kevin from Caldwell. While Giddings was appearing on Boise talk show host Nate Shelman’s program last week, Kevin called in, describing himself as someone who agrees with the White Bird Republican’s politics.
“As the father of a Senate page during an era when the state Capitol is basically a meat wagon for young women and it’s still prolific up there, I have a real issue with what’s going on at the Statehouse. And I don’t think he’s (von Ehlinger) innocent. ... So my question to you is: Are you willing to apologize now for what you did to this young lady or is it a case that you can’t say anything because of legal action that you may be basically incriminating yourself if you apologize?”
Giddings asserted that the intern was not a page — in other words, she was an adult.
“But also, I’m sure there are a lot of fathers out there of sons who have been falsely accused of something,” she said.
Shelman followed up: Did Giddings think she did anything wrong?
“Posting a news story. First Amendment right. I’ll stand for it every time,” she said.
Legally, she may be right, Shelman continued. But “morally, ethically, opinion-wise, opinions might differ.”
“Everybody’s got an opinion,” Giddings replied, “just like a belly button.”
Belly buttons are ubiquitous.
A sense of shame is harder to come by. — M.T.