By Ruth Brown and Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports
The Idaho House of Representatives voted 49-19 on Monday to censure Rep. Priscilla Giddings, of White Bird, after the House Ethics Committee conducted a public hearing this summer.
The vote came after a tense debate. At the beginning, members of the committee, as well as House Speaker Scott Bedke, declined to answer questions from Rep. Heather Scott about financing of the committee. Scott pointed out that the legislature spent $63,000 on an attorney “to go after a member of this body.”
Scott also questioned the integrity of the report, in which the committee accused Giddings of lying, being evasive, combative and publicly disrespectful.
“There’s a lot of people in here I don’t respect completely,” Scott said. “I don’t understand how disrespect is a problem with ethics.”
Rep. Megan Blanksma, R-Hammett, objected several times, stating the body “is not going after anyone” when discussing whether to adopt a report from the committee.
Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, twice asked if it was appropriate for House Speaker Scott Bedke to preside over debate, as Bedke and Giddings are both running for lieutenant governor, and Bedke signed the initial complaint filed against Giddings with the Ethics Committee. At one point, Bedke gaveled down some cheers from observers in the gallery.
Giddings, a Republican, was accused of publicly identifying the suspected victim of former Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger. Von Ehlinger resigned after being accused of sexually assaulting a legislative intern and the ethics committee recommended he be immediately suspended.
Nate questioned the motives of the committee, alleging it was trying to punish Giddings for her lack of cooperation. He called the ethics committee process “broken.”
“This committee has been weaponized to go after political opponents,” Nate said. The suggestion raised objections from other House members.
Giddings also rose to defend herself during debate, bringing up multiple concerns with the report, including financing, conflicting accusations, and what she called unclear ethics committee proceedings.
Giddings also questioned why the committee recommended removing her from the House Commerce Committee, and said it would only impact her constituents.
“This doesn’t hurt me. This actually frees up my schedule, and I’ve got a lot going on,” she said.
She also defended linking to the blog post that revealed the name of von Ehlinger’s accuser, saying in her closing remarks that she wouldn’t have done anything differently.
“The reason I linked to that article is it was the only article in the press that shared both sides of the story,” Giddings said.
After she sat down, her supporters cheered from the gallery.
A handful of members from both parties debated in favor of the committee’s decision.
“I have full support for the committee report and believe they did the right thing under difficult circumstances,” said Rep. Gary Marshall, R-Idaho Falls.
“If you lie, you lie. If you’re not truthful, you’re not truthful. And that’s really the crux of the issue here,” said Rep. Scott Syme, R-Caldwell.
Von Ehlinger, 39, resigned within hours of the ethics committee vote. Giddings publicly supported von Ehlinger during his ethics investigation.
Giddings was accused of sharing a link to a conservative blog post on social media and in her legislative newsletter that identified the woman by name and shared her photo, as well as lying to the ethics committee during von Ehlinger’s hearing. In August, the ethics committee deemed her conduct “unbecoming of a legislator.”
The committee unanimously voted to recommend she be censured by the House and removed from her post on the Commerce and Human Resources Committee.
Censure is a formal expression of disapproval. House Rule 45 states that censure may come with additional conditions or restrictions — in this case removal from the House Commerce Committee.
The allegations made against Giddings are not criminal.
The majority of the House Republican caucus, including the entire majority leadership, voted to censure Giddings. All House Democrats voted in favor of censure as well.
No votes included Reps. Adams, Barbieri, Boyle, Christensen, Ehardt, Ferch, Gestrin, Giddings, Hanks, Holtzclaw, Kingsley, Mendive, Moon, Nate, Nichols, Okuniewicz, Scott, Wisniewski, and Young.
Von Ehlinger is charged accusations of rape and forcible penetration with a foreign object. He pleaded not guilty and awaits trial in April.