House ethics committee recommends censure for North Idaho representative
Recommendation includes removal of Rep. Priscilla Giddings from House Commerce committee
House Ethics and Policy Committee hearing about Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, at the Idaho State Capitol in Boise on August 2, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
The House Ethics and Policy Committee voted unanimously Tuesday morning to recommend Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, be censured by the full House of Representatives and removed from one of her three assigned committees.
Under the recommendation, Giddings would be removed from the House Commerce and Human Resources Committee but remain on the Agricultural Affairs and the powerful budget-setting Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.
In strongly worded statements, the five committee members — three Republicans and two Democrats — said Giddings’ behavior was unbecoming of a legislator and detrimental to the legislative body.
Two ethics complaints were referred to the committee in April and May, the first of which was filed by Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, stating Giddings could be charged with misdemeanors for creating a hostile work environment for a legislative staffer and filing a false report. That complaint was dismissed by the committee because it dealt with criminal matters.
The second complaint was signed by 25 legislators, including 17 Republicans and eight Democrats, stating it was inappropriate and unbecoming of a legislator for Giddings to post on Facebook the name and photo of the 19-year-old legislative staffer who accused former Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger, R-Lewiston, of rape in April.
Von Ehlinger resigned his seat after the ethics committee recommended his suspension from the Legislature but has denied the allegations of rape.
The Boise Police Department investigated the rape allegations against von Ehlinger and referred the case to the Ada County Prosecutor’s Office for a decision on charges. Emily Lowe, spokesperson for the prosecutor’s office, told the Idaho Capital Sun on Tuesday that they have received the police reports and further investigation is ongoing. No charges have been filed.
The five committee members read statements outlining their reasoning for the recommendation, including Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, who said Giddings repeatedly lied to the committee and to media outlets about the committee’s actions. Although Giddings was not present for the meeting, Crane directed his statement at her.
He took issue with Giddings’ statements at Monday’s hearing that the committee had not given her the opportunity to review the evidence against her or to call her own witnesses.
“You don’t know this, representative, but we spent over an hour on Friday when I was in the mountains with my family … to take not one, but two calls to deal with the issue of your (list of) witnesses that we received five minutes before the deadline of 8 a.m. on Friday morning,” Crane said. “Representative, you’re entitled to your own narrative, but you’re not entitled to make up your own facts.”
Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, said the original action of naming the alleged victim was unbecoming in itself, but Giddings’ lack of civility toward the committee and her fellow legislators was detrimental to the integrity of the House.
“The lack of regard for her colleagues who took the time to come here yesterday to explain why they signed the ethics complaint, and then claiming it to be a political stunt because she’s a candidate for statewide office when she definitely was not a candidate for statewide office at the time of the filing of the complaints,” Horman said. “This pattern of lack of respect for the dignity of other human beings.”
Chairman Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay, said elected officials have to be held accountable for the things they say, regardless of the First Amendment right to free speech. Dixon said it would have been different if Giddings had taken responsibility for her actions.
“‘Own what you did,’ I think that’s the most strong testimony that I heard yesterday,” Dixon said. “If there was some contrition, if there was a bit of remorse or repentance on behalf of what had happened, all would be forgiven. I think everybody on this dais feels that way, let alone (the rest of the House). We are a very forgiving group.”
Giddings maintains ethics probe was politically motivated
In a statement emailed to the Idaho Capital Sun from Giddings’ campaign manager, Zach Lautenschlager, Giddings did not apologize and has denied all allegations against her. She said the committee acted in “blatant conflict of interest” because it is beholden to Speaker of the House Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, who is one of her 2022 Republican primary opponents in the campaign for lieutenant governor.
Giddings has previously claimed the ethics complaint was politically motivated, saying Bedke’s name and signature was listed first on the bipartisan complaint. Rep. Brooke Green, D-Boise, said she authored the complaint and the names were listed in alphabetical order. The complaints were also filed weeks before Giddings or Bedke announced they were running.
Giddings said in her statement that the recommendation for committee removal was politically motivated as well with regard to vaccines.
“And removing me from the committee through which I passed (House Bill 140), the bill to shut down Speaker Bedke’s forced vaccine agenda, does not silence the voice of the people as Bedke hopes, it just brings new focus on this vital issue,” Giddings wrote.
House Bill 140 did pass the House, and Bedke — along with the three Republican members of the ethics committee — voted in favor of it, but it did not receive a hearing in the Senate.
Chaney, who co-signed the second complaint and authored the first complaint that was dismissed by the committee, said he thinks the recommendation to censure versus expel Giddings was a pragmatic one.
“It recognizes the political reality, and it respects the voters that sent her there,” Chaney told the Capital Sun. “She creates an awful lot of support by making up conspiracy stories about what happens in Boise, and about how people are being silenced and having their voices taken away, and to then void the votes of her district when she’s declared for this other office would be a bit of a minefield.”
The Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence issued a statement expressing disappointment with the committee’s decision.
“The recommendation does not demonstrate the level of accountability we expected for absolutely abhorrent behavior of pushing out private information about someone who reported a rape,” the statement said. “It certainly won’t undo the chilling effects on future reporting of sexual assault that was created by the postings at the center of the complaints.”
Censure requires a simple majority of the House of Representatives, but a substitute motion to expel Giddings could be drafted by a House member for consideration once it moves to the floor. In April, the committee members said they supported a substitute motion to expel von Ehlinger but did not express the same support for such an action against Giddings.
To bring the issue before the full House, Speaker of the House Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, will be responsible for calling the members back into session from recess.
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