Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, walked away the winner on Tuesday in her brush with the House Ethics Committee — in spite of her own laziness, incompetence, surliness and just plain bad faith.
Giddings doxed former Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger’s accuser in the sexual abuse case that led to his recommended censure and ultimate resignation last spring. Tuesday, the committee deemed her to be guilty of “conduct unbecoming a representative which is detrimental to the integrity of the House as a legislative body.” But she’s not going to lose much sleep over the recommended sanction — censure and losing her seat on the House Commerce and Human Resources Committee.
Giddings won’t be suspended — even for one day. She won’t be stripped of her major committee assignments, notably the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, where she remains free to sabotage education budgets on behalf of the Idaho Freedom Foundation. Getting booted off a minor afternoon committee assignment will give Giddings more free time to campaign for lieutenant governor.
None of the facts were in dispute here. Two dozen House members — Republicans and Democrats — issued a formal complaint about Giddings recklessly republishing a Redoubt News article with the name and face of von Ehlinger’s accuser on social media and then lying about it while testifying at the Lewiston Republican’s ethics hearing.
But at every turn, she compounded her errors.
Committee members repeatedly urged her to meet with them privately. She stonewalled.
Time and again, she rebuffed any suggestion that she apologize.
Into the hearing, she brought no lawyer — although she raised funds to hire one.
On Monday, she stormed out of the committee’s meeting room after issuing a bombastic 1,800-word opening statement.
She refused to engage with House members who signed the complaint against her and then testified on Monday.
She promised two lines of defense: Von Ehlinger’s attorneys released the victim’s name. Had that not happened, there would have been no way for Redoubt News or anyone else to reprint the expose. And because Idaho politicians police themselves — only a fellow legislator can bring an ethics complaint against another — the system is far too subjective.
But Giddings called not one witness on her behalf — even though she went through the motions of naming them and asking that the committee go to the trouble of preparing last-minute subpoenas.
All she brought was snarkiness, arrogance, a bad temper, evasiveness and the flimsiest of arguments. How could she be guilty, Giddings suggested, when von Ehlinger has yet to be formally charged with a crime? No crime means no criminal victim. And besides, the U.S. Air Force Academy graduate maintained, the young woman was no legislative intern or employee, merely a volunteer.
Consternation among the Ethics Committee members was palatable:
l Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise — “You know, I don’t see where I really have a choice but to find that what was done was wrong because I don’t have any evidence to the contrary.”
l Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls — “She was elusive and evasive in her responses in the previous hearings. ... What does concern me is that I saw that pattern repeated yesterday.”
l Rep. John McCrostie, D-Garden City — “If she had owned her actions and apologized, it’s entirely conceivable that the complaints could have been dismissed.”
l Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa. — “When a legislator repeatedly tells half-truths, outright lies, fails to answer questions or be honest with the committee, this type of behavior will not be tolerated.”
l Chairman Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay — “Being less than truthful during a public hearing while under oath abridges the trust of both the public and fellow members of the House of Representatives and can justly be construed as conduct unbecoming and detrimental to the House of Representatives.”
Such eloquence will be forgotten the minute Giddings and her base expose this feeble verdict on their way toward putting her one heartbeat away from the governor’s desk.
A new standard has been set. In the Idaho House, exposing the victim of sexual abuse to ridicule is now conduct becoming of an Idaho legislator — provided she doesn’t want to serve on the House Commerce and Human Resources Committee. — M.T.