Editorial Roundup: Idaho

Recent editorials from Idaho newspapers:

Belly buttons are more common than a sense of shame

July 28

The Lewiston Tribune

State Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, has an answer for everything.

Everything, that is, except when the father of an Idaho Senate page essentially asks Giddings, who is running for lieutenant governor, to do what any responsible adult in her situation would: apologize.

Giddings is facing an Aug. 2 hearing before the House Ethics Committee, a process that could end with penalties ranging from a reprimand to expulsion.

As far as the facts go, there’s not much in dispute. Giddings’ transgressions were there for all to see during the April 28-29 Ethics Committee hearings into former Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger’s mistreatment of a 19-year-old intern. She said it was rape. He said it was consensual. A criminal investigation is underway. But the stipulated facts — a 38-year-old lawmaker luring a younger subordinate to his apartment and then his bed — were sufficient for the ethics panel to conclude von Ehlinger was guilty of “conduct unbecoming a representative which is detrimental to the integrity of the House as a legislative body.” Before the full House could act on its recommended suspension of the Lewiston lawmaker, von Ehlinger quit.

Two weeks earlier, Giddings revictimized the woman known as Jane Doe: On her Facebook page, she posted a Redoubt News article that included a photograph of the young woman and named her in its opening paragraph. She also included the Redoubt News link in a weekly newsletter.

During her testimony before the Ethics Committee, Giddings was caught flat-footed when Reps. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, and John Gannon, D-Boise, pressed her about doxing the victim.

Two dozen House members filed a complaint against her, alleging she violated a state law against sexual harassment, may have discouraged other victims of sexual abuse from coming forward and also misled the committee about her social media activities.

But Giddings can offer a litany of technical, legalistic and political spin:

- She was exercising her First Amendment rights to print the other side of the story. “They can use this word ‘doxing’ all they want, but it means nothing and it has no ramifications in Idaho law.”

- It’s a political smear by House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, who is also running for lieutenant governor. Sure, neither candidate entered the race until weeks after the complaint was filed. But this hearing is set against the context of a deeply divided Idaho GOP, with Bedke and many of the complaining parties on one side while Giddings and her allies within the Idaho Freedom Foundation wing are on the other. Despite her years as a military leader, Giddings is prepared to play the victim card.

- There’s some question about whether the House formally adopted the Legislature’s Respectful Workplace Policy, which admonishes lawmakers to respect the confidentiality of anyone making a complaint and bans them from retaliating. So if Giddings can’t be pinned on a specific rule violation, the question will come down to an interpretation: Is this how Idaho’s elected lawmakers should behave? Is this “conduct unbecoming?”

To Giddings, those are just “empty words.”

But consider Kevin from Caldwell. While Giddings was appearing on Boise talk show host Nate Shelman’s program last week, Kevin called in, describing himself as someone who agrees with the White Bird Republican’s politics.

“As the father of a Senate page during an era when the state Capitol is basically a meat wagon for young women and it’s still prolific up there, I have a real issue with what’s going on at the Statehouse. And I don’t think he’s (von Ehlinger) innocent. ... So my question to you is: Are you willing to apologize now for what you did to this young lady or is it a case that you can’t say anything because of legal action that you may be basically incriminating yourself if you apologize?”

Giddings asserted that the intern was not a page — in other words, she was an adult.

“But also, I’m sure there are a lot of fathers out there of sons who have been falsely accused of something,” she said.

Shelman followed up: Did Giddings think she did anything wrong?

“Posting a news story. First Amendment right. I’ll stand for it every time,” she said.

Legally, she may be right, Shelman continued. But “morally, ethically, opinion-wise, opinions might differ.”

“Everybody’s got an opinion,” Giddings replied, “just like a belly button.”

Belly buttons are ubiquitous.

A sense of shame is harder to come by.

Online: The Lewiston Tribune


House Ethics Committee shows it’s serious

July 25

Post Register

We were glad to learn this week that Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, will face a formal ethics hearing on Aug. 2 for conduct unbecoming a representative.

During the Legislative session, a 19-year-old woman, who this year worked as a legislative intern and last year was a high-school page, reported that she had been lured by then-Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger to his apartment and raped.

The House Ethics Committee recommended that he be expelled. He resigned before the full House could vote on the matter.

During this process, some of von Ehlinger’s political allies behaved disgracefully — cackling during the hearing, for example. None behaved in a more wicked manner than Giddings, who publicly identified the woman called Jane Doe and posted an article from a right-wing blog that contained Doe’s photograph and information about her family.

It would be easy not to have a hearing, or to delay the matter until the next legislative session.

The easy way out would be to say to themselves, “She’s running for lieutenant governor. She’ll be out of our hair soon enough, one way or another.”

But they didn’t take the easy way out.

On Aug. 2, Giddings will have her reckoning. The decision to convene a hearing shows a serious commitment to accountability, and the House Ethics Committee should be commended for it.

Giddings appears also to be under investigation by the Air Force Academy, another institution that takes conduct unbecoming seriously, according to reporting from Boise State Public Radio.

The hearing should be relatively straightforward.

In many ways, the case against Giddings has even less room for dispute than von Ehlinger’s, because all of Giddings’ despicable behavior took place in full public view. Von Ehlinger denied that he raped Jane Doe, so the committee had to weigh the credibility of that denial. But they all saw with their own eyes what Giddings did.

Giddings had an obligation as a lawmaker to conduct herself with dignity, in a manner fitting to the elected office she holds. She instead behaved like a thug.

Giddings had an obligation as a senior member of Jane Doe’s workplace to establish a respectful and safe work environment. Instead, she demeaned and laughed at a 19-year-old reporting she was forcibly raped by a lawmaker and made it easier for Doe to be subject to further harassment.

And Giddings had a basic, human ethical obligation to treat Jane Doe with decency. She failed to meet the ethical standards to which we hold even small children.

Giddings has no place among decent people, let alone in a position of great power. She should be expelled from the House.

And if the people of Idaho were somehow to elect her as lieutenant governor, that would not speak well of them either.

Online: Post Register


Don’t like CDC mask recommendation in Idaho? Then get the COVID-19 vaccine

July 27

Idaho Statesman

Our little taste of life as somewhat normal has been short-lived.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Tuesday that fully vaccinated people begin wearing masks indoors again in places with high COVID-19 transmission rates. It also recommended that students and educators in K-12 wear masks when school starts nationwide over the next month.

Really, CDC’s earlier guidance in May that it was safe for vaccinated people to go without masks in most settings didn’t have its intended effect. The idea was that vaccinated people would shed their masks like Mary Tyler Moore tossing her hat in the air in downtown Minneapolis, while unvaccinated people would look on haplessly and keep wearing their masks. The problem is that unvaccinated people shed their masks, too — if they were even wearing them to begin with.

The past couple of months have felt like borrowed time. Going into any public setting where no one is wearing a mask, yet knowing 60% of the people have not been vaccinated, created a sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop.

The other shoe is dropping.

With the delta variant spreading like wildfire across the country, there is growing concern and evidence about the ability for vaccinated people to carry the virus and transmit it to others, even if the vaccinated people don’t really get sick themselves.

The CDC’s guidance to put those masks back on is an effort to head off another wave in this pandemic. But Idaho is likely to get caught flat-footed.

Our numbers already are headed in the wrong direction. Idaho’s vaccination rate of 46% for all residents 12 and older is among the worst in the nation. As of Tuesday, 687,760 Idahoans were fully vaccinated, leaving another million or so unvaccinated. That’s still a lot of people among whom the novel coronavirus can spread, pushing up hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19.

More than 600 new cases of COVID-19 were reported Monday, a tally that includes the weekend. Idaho’s seven-day moving average is now at 232, the highest it’s been since April.

We want to send our children back to school safely next month, but Idaho has set itself up for disaster. The CDC also recommends masks for schools. We doubt there will be much of an appetite among some school districts to follow that guidance, with Idaho parents already having called for the resignation of school board members over health safety measures.

Unlike other states, Idaho never did have a statewide mask mandate. Any mask mandates were a patchwork of health orders issued around the state, and were met with derision and often noncompliance.

Even with CDC guidance, we don’t expect a statewide mandate from Gov. Brad Little, who has left such decisions to the state’s seven public health districts.

Unfortunately, the Republican-dominated Idaho Legislature took the teeth out of their power to protect the public, giving veto power to county commissioners over any countywide or districtwide mask health orders they could issue.

Since last year’s pandemic response, the commission in Ada County has changed dramatically, with two Republicans, Rod Beck and Ryan Davidson, elected into office. They have criticized the public health measures ordered by the previous members of the Central District Health Board. After Davidson defeated Diana Lachiondo in the last election, Davidson and Beck replaced her on the health board with former Republican U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, who has been vocal against mask mandates and even the very use of masks.

And last month, Beck and Davidson ousted Dr. Ted Epperly from that same board, criticizing his support for public health measures, such as mask mandates. Epperly’s replacement on the board will be chosen in the next couple of weeks. One of the candidates, Dr. Ryan Cole, has voiced skepticism about the vaccine and criticized the CDC, and speculated the Food and Drug Administration makes decisions based on a profit motive.

Ada County doesn’t seem like a bastion of reason and safety in Idaho anymore amid the ongoing pandemic.

And just as the U.S. economy is recovering, we risk another shutdown because of a surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths. That means people once again might stop going to the movies, stop going out to eat, stop going on road trips, stop visiting friends and family.

Those of you who have always done the right thing will continue to do the right thing. You will follow CDC guidance and go back to wearing masks while indoors to help in any way you can to prevent another surge, and to prevent a major spike in deaths and hospitalizations.

That surely will help.

In the meantime, there’s another simple thing that Idahoans can do to make sure we come out the other side of this. If you haven’t gotten the vaccine yet, please go get the vaccine. It’s safe and effective. But if not enough people get it, this isn’t going away anytime soon. We’ll continue to fight about mask policies, public health orders and rules for children in schools.

But if enough people do get the vaccine, we’ll be able to avoid a big COVID-19 surge, keep the economy going, go back to the office, protect the health of our communities, and — once and for all — go back to normal.

The delta variant is upon us, and the two-dose regimen for the vaccine takes a few weeks.

Go get the vaccine before it’s too late.

Online: Idaho Statesman