Ethics committee said legislator accused of rape should face sanctions

Ethics committee members recommend censuring and suspending von Ehlinger

Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger (R, Lewiston) at the Idaho Capitol on April 6, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

UPDATE: Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger, R-Lewiston, has resigned his seat. Von Ehlinger submitted his letter of resignation Thursday afternoon and it was read on the floor of the House of Representatives by House Chief Clerk Carrie Maulin.

After most committee members condemned the behavior of Idaho Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger, R-Lewiston, the Ethics and House Policy Committee unanimously recommended his censure — which would include suspension without pay — by the full House of Representatives.

The decision came Thursday morning following nearly six hours of testimony on Wednesday, during which the committee heard from a 19-year-old legislative intern who has reported to the Boise Police Department and other legislative staffers and representatives that von Ehlinger raped her by forcing her to perform oral sex on him. Idaho Code includes oral sex in the definition of rape. The committee was tasked with determining whether von Ehlinger’s conduct was unbecoming of a legislator and detrimental to the House of Representatives.

During the hearings, other women testified that von Ehlinger had approached them asking to go on dates. One former Capitol mall security guard said they went on two dates. A journal clerk said he asked her out, and she told him she was married. Majority Caucus Chairwoman Megan Blanksma, R-Hammett, said a lobbyist also reported that von Ehlinger followed her to the bathroom and waited outside to ask her out during the August special session, then followed her again during a reception in the 2021 legislative session.

Von Ehlinger has denied the allegations and says the sexual activity was consensual. 

Committee members from both parties condemned von Ehlinger’s behavior and said it reflected poorly on the body. Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, mostly remained quiet during Wednesday’s hearing but read a statement that said she believed the committee’s investigation was never about whether von Ehlinger was a Republican or a Democrat, or whether a sexual assault occurred, which she said will be for the police and potentially the courts to decide.

“What is the business of the committee and the House is the representative’s integrity before this committee and a pattern of behavior with subordinates in the workplace, whether there was a formal rule about it or not … and whether that constitutes conduct unbecoming that is detrimental to the integrity of the Idaho House of Representatives,” Horman said. “This is a trust that none of us have undertaken lightly, but with the utmost diligence and gravity.”

Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, said the House will likely take up the matter in Friday’s session. The committee also said it supports expulsion of von Ehlinger from the Legislature, but that requires an additional resolution to be brought forward by a House member and approval of a two-thirds majority of the House.

The move to censure von Ehlinger would come with the restrictions that he is immediately suspended without pay until at least the end of the spring 2022 session. He would immediately vacate his office in the Idaho Capitol and not return until after the 66th session. A substitute representative would serve in his place. A simple majority of the House of Representatives is needed to censure.

Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, said according to his understanding of Idaho statute, the substitute representative would either be von Ehlinger’s personally selected substitute, or one of three emergency substitutes that are submitted at the beginning of a legislator’s term in case he or she is somehow incapacitated.

If von Ehlinger is expelled from the Legislature or resigns his seat voluntarily, then the legislative central committee in Lewiston would send a list of names to Gov. Brad Little to choose a replacement. Of note, von Ehlinger himself was appointed by Little in June 2020 following the death of Rep. Thyra Stevenson. 

“I applaud Jane Doe and the other brave women for their courage in telling their stories and participating in this process to hold Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger accountable for his deeply damaging and shameful actions,” Little said in an emailed statement. “Rep. von Ehlinger’s inappropriate and alarming actions stand in opposition to the values and behavior state elected officials must uphold. … As a former state senator and Lieutenant Governor, I personally understand the importance of preserving the credibility of the legislative institution so the people of Idaho can have confidence in their state government. Now, the public expects the full Idaho House Representatives to carry out the recommendation of the committee and ensure the integrity of the Idaho Legislature.”