Idaho House ethics committee maintains transparency


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The House Ethics Committee has yet to draft and vote on final rules for its conduct of business, but it is to be commended for go in the right direction.

It was a dark time for the Legislative Assembly, especially with regard to the personal and professional conduct of its members.

Earlier this year, Representative Aaron von Ehlinger, R-Lewiston, made repeated romantic advances towards various women in junior positions on Capitol Hill before being accused of raping a 19-year-old intern. He resigned before he could be deported and faces felony charges.

Representative Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, then posted a link to a right-wing blog with the woman’s name, a photo and information about her family, in what we believe is retaliation for reporting the alleged rape . She was censored following hearings last month.

The ethics committee has conducted its activities with care and professionalism this year, as it has dealt with some of the most publicized ethical violations by lawmakers in recent memory. The process was not flawless, but in the end, lawmakers were held accountable for their wrongdoing.

But the political allies of these lawmakers are unhappy with the functioning of the committee. There was too much public unrest, they say. Better to keep the entire process of collecting testimony and deciding whether to recommend sanctions for an ethical violation, they argued, secret.

This view was flatly rejected by the overwhelming majority of the committee last week.

The only plea to hear complaints in a smoky room came from Rep. Julianne Young, R-Blackfoot, and Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, both close political allies to the two recently disciplined lawmakers. They were the only two committee members to vote against Giddings’ censorship when the matter came to the House.

At recent ethics committee meetings, Young noted that school boards use private hearings when considering expelling a student; certainly the legislature could do the same. It seems the difference between an elected government official and an uncontrollable child has escaped him. To be sure, the line has been blurred more than once in recent years.

Fortunately, there were more rational people than Young in the room.

Representative Wendy Horman of R-Idaho Falls explained the question well: “At some point, the public deserves the answers as much as every member of the House deserves those answers because that’s who employs us. “

Representative John Gannon, R-Idaho Falls, agreed.

“The hearings are public,” he said. “The trials are public. This is how we do business in this country.

So, in a dark political time, Idahoans can at least take comfort in the fact that the House ethics process will remain professional and transparent at a time when accountability is more important than ever.

Elected officials are not just held to the same standards as the rest of us, but to higher standards, because of their status. When they break basic ethical rules, and especially when they are totally unrepentant, as von Ehlinger and Giddings were, it is vital to put things right by disciplining them.

And it is vital that the discipline is public.

Statesman Editorials are the unsigned opinion expressing consensus of the Idaho Statesman Editorial Board. Board members are Opinion Writer Scott McIntosh, Opinion Writer Bryan Clark, Editor Chadd Cripe, Newsroom Editors Dana Oland and Jim Keyser, and community members JJ Saldaña and Christy Perry.

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