By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports
Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger has resigned hours after the Ethics and House Policy Committee voted unanimously on Thursday to recommend his censure and suspension after he was accused of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old intern.
The resignation was confirmed to Idaho Reports by multiple lawmakers on Wednesday afternoon. We will update the story as more information becomes available.
The committee’s vote came after taking testimony all day Wednesday, hearing from the intern as well as others who said von Ehlinger repeatedly asked subordinates on dates or made women feel uncomfortable, including a former Capitol Mall security guard and a House clerk.
Throughout their remarks on Thursday, committee members reiterated that the purpose of the ethics proceeding was not to determine whether a crime had occurred; Rather, committee members were tasked with deciding whether von Ehlinger’s conduct was unbecoming for a member of the House of Representatives. All five members said they believed his conduct was unbecoming.
The committee also stated they intend to bring forward a resolution citing von Ehlinger for contempt. The document, signed by all five committee members, says “he appeared before the Committee but refused to testify as to the events of the night that primarily gave rise to the complaint.”
Committee member statements
Rep. John McCrostie, D-Garden City, was the first to speak, outlining that he was not persuaded by the idea that there is no written policy stating lawmakers can’t date staff.
“Common sense and basic morality dictates that an elected representative should not date a student intern, regardless of who initiated the relationship,” McCrostie said in committee.
Since joining the legislature last year, von Ehlinger was accused of pursuing four different women in the Idaho House, despite warning, he said.
“(It) creates an unsafe work environment for any women in the House that the representative may be interested in dating,” McCrostie said.
Committee member Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, said in her motion the committee also supports expulsion from the House of Representatives.
“What is the business of the committee and the House is the representative’s integrity before the committee and a pattern of behavior with subordinates in the workplace, whether there was a formal rule about it or not,” Horman said.
Horman said von Ehlinger misled the ethics committee with inconsistencies in his story and he refused to testify on some subjects in the committee.
“It shows tremendous disrespect for those colleagues who also want to make a fair decision based on the facts of the case,” Horman said. “…The representative has a pattern of dating, attempted dating and sexual relationships with subordinates in the capital. And concerns serious enough from a lobbyist that she spoke with a member of House leadership.”
Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, acknowledged von Ehlinger does have legal rights, but said interns have rights and expectations, too.
“They have a right to have a respectful, helpful workplace and a safe workplace for them,” said Gannon, an attorney. “And a good, positive experience.”
Gannon said his daughter was an intern in the Statehouse at one point, becoming emotional while speaking about the subject.
“We have to consider what we would want for our children if they came to the Idaho Legislature to serve as intern,” Gannon said.
Because of von Enlinger’s pattern of behavior, Gannon said he thought the legislature needed to do more than censure.
Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, talked at length about the impact the actions have on the integrity of the House.
“I did not feel like the defense yesterday was able to prove the conduct was becoming to a member of the House of Representatives,” Crane said Thursday. “I find the actions the representative took were extremely detrimental to the integrity of the House.”
He also noted that von Ehlinger’s actions were not isolated.
“There was indeed a predatory pattern that was established,” Crane said.
Crane also argued the facts of von Ehlinger’s relationship with the former capitol security guard were “almost identical” to the sexual interaction von Ehlinger had with the intern.
“The Idaho House of Representatives existed long before we arrived and it will be here long after we leave,” he said. “But history will judge us by the actions today.”
Crane stressed that the body should hold members to the highest ethical standards.
Chairman Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay, said lawmakers “have a responsibility to the state and this institution.”
“Whether we like it or not, in the public eye, we are held to a higher standard and that’s a standard we should embrace,” Dixon said. “It is an honor to gain the trust of your constituency and the people that voted for you.”
Dixon told Idaho Reports that the committee will draft a report today to bring it to the full House of Representatives. The body will likely take up the vote tomorrow, Dixon told Idaho Reports after the hearing.
Under the motion, made by Horman, the censure would suspend von Ehlinger without pay and benefits. He would be required to leave his office immediately and a substitute could be appointed to represent the district. His suspension would last through the 66th Legislative Session, which would last through this year, and the 2022 legislative session.
The censure requires a majority vote from the House, while an expulsion requires a two-thirds support vote from the House.
Von Ehlinger said nothing during the hearing and left immediately after the vote. He acknowledges that the sexual interaction between him and the woman did occur, but maintains it was consensual.
Boise Police have an open investigation regarding the interaction.
Gov. Brad Little issued a statement after the vote, saying he fully supported the committee’s recommendations.
“I applaud Jane Doe and the other brave women for their courage in telling their stories and participating in this process to hold Representative Aaron von Ehlinger accountable for his deeply damaging and shameful actions,” according to the statement. “I fully support the House Ethics and House Policy Committee’s recommendation to expel Representative Aaron von Ehlinger.”
“Representative von Ehlinger’s inappropriate and alarming actions stand in opposition to the values and behavior state elected officials must uphold. Being elected by the people and serving in a legislative body carries immense weight and responsibility to act with dignity, civility, and integrity at all times. State elected officials are held to a higher standard. 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.”