IDAHO FALLS • Senate Pro Tem Brent Hill confirmed reports that fellow lawmaker Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, secretly recorded a private conversation the two had following the May primary.
Top legislative leaders say that amounts to “conduct unbecoming” a state representative.
Nate didn’t respond to requests to speak about the allegation, but a public records request confirms that Nate has a record of a conversation between himself and Hill. Nate, accused of recording the private conversation, says releasing it would violate his own right to privacy.
The Post Register submitted the request based on tips from multiple sources saying Nate had invited Hill, his seatmate and the leader of the Senate, to talk sometime after the May primary, and that he secretly recorded their conversation. At some point during the conversation, Hill is reported to have asked if the conversation was being recorded, to which Nate said it was.
After being contacted by the Post Register, Hill confirmed that the incident took place, but declined to comment further. Hill did not approach the Post Register.
Hill had lent public support to Nate’s challenger, Brigham Young University-Idaho employee Doug Ricks, during the primary. He also donated $1,000 to Ricks’ campaign.
The Post Register requested from Nate “all records, including video or audio recordings, in your possession, custody or control of a conversation between yourself and Senate Pro Tem Brent Hill between April 1 and June 9.”
Nate declined to release the such records, but in doing so, confirmed a record exists.
“I am aware of only one such document that falls within the category that you are requesting,” he wrote in an email. “However, this is not a ‘public record.’”
The form of that record and its contents are unknown.
Releasing the record, Nate argued, would infringe on his privacy rights.
“The record you request relates to ‘personal business’ and as such its disclosure further would constitute an unwarranted invasion of my personal privacy,” Nate wrote.
The denial cites a section of the Idaho Public Records Act which has been repealed.
Before the Post Register submitted the public records request, Nate declined to say whether he had secretly recorded a conversation with Hill, again citing privacy concerns.
“Was there a conversation with (Hill) that you taped without his knowledge?” the Post Register asked last week.
“When I talk with Brent Hill, that’s between me and Brent Hill,” Nate responded. “I don’t want to talk about any of our private conversations.”
“I’m not asking you to talk about what was said or anything like that, just about whether something was taped,” the Post Register said.
“I just don’t want to talk about any conversations I’ve had with Brent Hill,” Nate said.
Speaking in general terms, not about a particular case, top House leaders condemned the practice of lawmakers covertly recording one another.
“Lawmakers that secretly record one another have no other motive than to set their colleagues up and play ‘gotcha’ with them down the road,” said House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley. “It’s conduct unbecoming a member of the House of Representatives, and I believe that it is misconduct.”
“Conduct unbecoming a representative which is detrimental to the integrity of the House as a legislative body” is a formal charge that would be reviewed by the House Committee on Ethics. It carries a possible penalty of formal reprimand or censure. A written complaint would have to be made by another member of the House to set that process in motion.
“People, including legislators, don’t like sneakiness,” Bedke added. “…It’s destructive and on most levels dishonest.”
House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, echoed those sentiments.
“Being a legislator is like being in a marriage,” he said. “If you lose trust it’s over.
“You still have to have that trust, and without that trust you become very ineffective. So if the allegations are true, I have concerns that people will be unlikely to trust a legislator who is in some way secretly recording conversations.”
Majority Caucus Chairman John VanderWoude, R-Nampa, who along with Assistant Majority Leader Brent Crane, R-Nampa, last week authored a guest column defending Nate’s contributions at the Legislature, said he plans to “have a conversation with Rep. Nate” about the incident.
“I think it’s unfortunate,” VanderWoude said.
Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, said if Nate did record a conversation with Hill, it will undermine his effectiveness as a lawmaker.
“In the event that the allegations are true … then that House member has a very serious credibility problem with all of his legislative colleagues, especially with the Idaho Senate,” Davis said. “I am doubtful that that legislator will have any influence for some time to come in the Idaho Senate.”
Nate did not respond to repeated calls and emails seeking further comment, along with an offer to fact check the Post Register’s story.
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