Tensions were high between legislators Monday morning as they debated and ultimately voted to censure Rep. Priscilla Giddings and remove her from one of her three assigned committees over conduct unbecoming of a legislator.
The Idaho House of Representatives voted 49-19 to accept the recommendation of the Ethics on House Policy Committee that was formally issued in September. Republicans and Democrats in the House lodged a complaint against Giddings, R-White Bird, over the summer that said she engaged in conduct unbecoming of a legislator. On her Facebook page, Giddings posted a link to a blog that named and included the photo of a 19-year-old legislative intern who accused former Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger of rape in April.
Those who voted in favor of accepting the report from the ethics committee included many Republicans and all 12 House Democrats.
House members debated the matter for nearly two hours on Monday morning as one of the first orders of business for the reconvened legislative session. Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, spoke first and attempted to ask questions of Reps. Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay, and Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, who are members of the ethics committee. The two declined to yield to her question, which she said was about the costs of the committee hearings.
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After that, Scott listed Giddings’ accomplishments during her time with the U.S. Air Force over the objections of several other legislators who said it was not relevant to the matter of the report.
Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, repeatedly made comments about the fact that Speaker of the House Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, was presiding over the debate as one of Giddings’ opponents in the 2022 Republican primary in the race for lieutenant governor.
Nate questioned the appropriateness of Bedke’s role, at one point calling him “Mr. Speaker, and candidate” during debate, which elicited gasps and rumbles of disapproval from other legislators.
Presiding over the House is the speaker’s usual role. Neither Bedke nor Giddings announced they were running for the post until after the ethics complaint was filed.
Rep. Gary Marshall, R-Idaho Falls, spoke in favor of accepting the report. He said he fully supported the ethics committee members and said he believed they acted honorably, honestly and forthrightly.
“I’m grateful for the willingness of the committee members to do what they did,” Marshall said. “It’s a difficult situation. But I do support their conclusions and I support this report, and I support the responsibility of this body to do difficult things so that we might maintain the kind of decorum and behavior that is becoming of the House of Representatives.”
Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, spoke against accepting the recommendations in the report, but said she didn’t think it was politically motivated. Ehardt said she was concerned further action would amount to censorship, and that the process of the ethics investigation was punishment enough.
Giddings spoke toward the end of the debate, taking issue with the ethics investigation process and refuting the allegations made in the report that she lied to the committee during the hearings. Giddings said she wanted to share a news article that she said was the only one that told “both sides of the story” in the matter of the accusations against von Ehlinger.
“I would not have done anything differently,” Giddings said during debate. “I think my intentions were pure. But I also know this is so much bigger than me. I know that nothing I say here today or anything I’ve said in the past is going to change your mind. So vote your conscience.”
Supporters of Giddings in the House gallery seats loudly cheered when she finished her debate, prompting Bedke to admonish them to maintain decorum or be removed.
Giddings remains on the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee and the Agricultural Affairs Committee.
Von Ehlinger, who represented the Lewiston area and resigned his legislative seat following the ethics hearings on his behavior, was arrested on felony charges of rape and forcible penetration with a foreign object on Oct. 8. He pleaded not guilty to those charges last week, and the case is scheduled to go to a jury trial on April 26. Von Ehlinger has maintained his innocence and testified before the ethics committee in April that the sexual contact was consensual.