Idaho House member denies allegations of conduct unbecoming of a legislator at ethics hearing

Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, reads her opening statement before the House Ethics and Policy Committee at the Idaho State Capitol in Boise on August 2, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

Idaho Rep. Priscilla Giddings denied all allegations of conduct unbecoming of a legislator at Monday’s House ethics hearing, calling them unfounded, politically motivated attacks by “woke cancel culture.”

Two complaints were filed in April and May against Giddings, R-White Bird, for revealing the name and photo of the 19-year-old legislative staffer who accused former Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger, R-Lewiston, of rape in April. 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 July 20 that they have received the police reports and further investigation is ongoing. No charges have been filed.

Giddings posted a link to a blog article with the woman’s name on her Facebook page, which included a thumbnail showing a picture of the staffer. In addition, the complaints said Giddings misrepresented her actions when she appeared before the ethics committee during von Ehlinger’s hearing.

At Monday’s hearing, Giddings gave an opening statement and said she shared the link to the blog post because she thought media outlets were not presenting both sides of the story. She said she posted the link on Facebook on April 17 and deleted it on April 28, after the ethics committee requested that the woman’s identity be protected. She said she had no control over the thumbnail that showed the woman’s photo, and she said she did not read the article thoroughly.

Giddings said she would represent herself at Monday’s ethics hearing rather than having legal representation present. She said she does not have a wealthy family or lucrative career that would provide the means to spend money on legal counsel, and she did not anticipate it would have any bearing on the committee’s actions.

“These allegations are nothing more than crass attempts by my political opponents to take advantage of the woke cancel culture movement that wants to destroy Idahoans’ individual rights for their own personal gain,” Giddings said.

After reading her statement, Giddings said she would only do what was legally required with regard to the proceedings and would appear for opening remarks and as a witness, since she was subpoenaed to appear.

When she did take the witness stand, Giddings made several accusations that the rules surrounding the Rule 45 ethics process had not been followed, but it wasn’t clear how the committee had broken rules outlined in statute. Committee members, including Reps. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, and Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, said they attempted to contact Giddings several times about holding a private, informal meeting with her on the matter before it advanced to a formal hearing. Horman said Giddings did not respond to those invitations.

As an answer to many questions that were asked about the incident or oaths about honesty and dignity that she has taken as a member of the Air Force and Legislature, Giddings said they were irrelevant to the hearing or didn’t answer the question, at one point asking the committee’s counsel where he went to law school. Giddings said there was no victim in the incident because formal charges have not been filed against von Ehlinger.

After more than an hour of heated questioning, Crane said Giddings was “playing games” and not answering questions, which would make the ethics committee’s job more difficult. In response, Giddings asked the chairman if she could accuse them of playing games in return.

“I think you have, representative,” said Committee Chairman Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay. “In misstating the rules and … little allusions that we’re not doing things according to House Rule 45 and that you’re being impugned somehow. In doing that, you’ve impugned the committee.”

Fellow Republican legislators detail why they signed ethics complaint

Giddings has accused Speaker of the House Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, of playing dirty politics with the investigation because they are opponents in the Republican primary for lieutenant governor. Bedke was a co-signer of the second complaint, which was filed in May, but Bedke has said the timeline doesn’t match her claims because he didn’t announce his candidacy until June.

During Monday’s hearing, Rep. Brooke Green, D-Boise, said she was the one who authored the complaint and offered the opportunity to sign it to many legislators, except the members of the ethics committee. Bedke’s name appeared first among the co-signers because it was listed in alphabetical order, Green said.

Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, filed the first complaint in April against Giddings and said he didn’t know Giddings had any plans to run for lieutenant governor when he drafted the complaint.

The committee’s counsel, Jeff Hepworth, also called Reps. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, Chris Mathias, D-Boise and Julie Yamamoto, R-Caldwell, as witnesses. The three were among more than 20 legislators from both parties who signed the second complaint.

Vander Woude said he signed on to the complaint because he was concerned about the outing of the woman who filed the complaint against von Ehlinger.

“I get a little troubled by the idea this hearing is about conduct unbecoming (of a legislator),” Vander Woude said. “To me, this is conduct unbecoming any member of society. … You do not out somebody in the middle of a process when there’s a sexual harassment complaint.”

Yamamoto said in her experience as an educator, allegations of sexual misconduct were handled carefully for all parties involved and she would expect the same of this situation. While it was reasonable for Giddings to want to stand up for von Ehlinger in the name of fairness, Yamamoto said, it was out of line to post the alleged victim’s information. But she said if Giddings had apologized for the action and said it was a mistake instead of doubling down, Yamamoto would have removed her name from the complaint.

“You can do whatever you want, you can say whatever you want, but you need to be willing to accept the consequences for whatever that is,” Yamamoto said.

What’s next for Idaho House

An ethics complaint only becomes known to the public if, through the course of an investigation, there is probable cause that misconduct may have occurred. If no such probable cause is found, the matter is filed with the chief clerk of the House of Representatives and isn’t subject to public record.

Now the committee has three options for recommended action: dismiss the complaint, recommend a form of reprimand or censure, or expel Giddings from the House of Representatives. Four of the five members of the committee must vote in favor of the action for it to be referred to the rest of the body. A vote for expulsion would require a two-thirds majority of the full House.

The committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. Tuesday in room EW42 to determine the recommendation.

Idaho Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Idaho Capital Sun maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Christine Lords for questions: [email protected] Follow Idaho Capital Sun on Facebook and Twitter.

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