On Thursday the Idaho House voted unanimously to tell one of it members, John Green, a Republican from Post Falls, that his services there would no longer be required. In the corporate world, you might say he was terminated.
As a practical matter, there was little choice about doing something in Green’s case unless the House was willing to change the law for the specific benefit of a convicted felon.
That is what Green became as of Wednesday, when he was found guilty, in a federal court in Texas, of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government, which is a felony. He hasn’t been sentenced yet, but the prospect of prison time apparently is real. The case had to do with his law practice in that state in 2005, and an effort aimed at avoiding paying federal income taxes.
The Idaho Legislature does not allow convicted felons (which Green is and will be unless his case is overturned on appeal) to hold one of its elective offices. Legislators in legally problematic situations often take the hint and tender their resignations. Green did not, forcing the House to act.
It had choices to make, which are reflective of its character.
It presumably could have looked the other way and done nothing, and allowed Green to keep his seat. That might have set up a fascinating series of legal squabbles and thrown the whole 2020 session off its rails. To its credit the Idaho House didn’t do that, and recognized that Green had to go.
But then the Idaho House had another choice to make.
It could have expelled him, and that is what a number of news articles said happened. There’s authority in the House rules for expelling members: “Expulsion of a House member shall require the affirmative vote of two-thirds of the members elected to the House, as provided by Section 11 of Article III of the Constitution.” Presumably the House easily could have done so, since its ultimate vote was unanimous.
But the news articles to the contrary, he wasn’t expelled. Not exactly.
Instead, according to House records: “Mr. Bedke [House Speaker Scott Bedke] moved that Legislative District 2, Seat B of the Idaho House of Representatives be declared vacant due to disqualification of the representative pursuant to Article 6, Section 3 of the Idaho Constitution. Seconded by Mr. [Jason] Monks.”
The end result of this was, as Bedke later told a reporter, the same as an expulsion in that Green was kicked out of his legislative seat. And that’s the case.
Then why not “expel” him, since that would be the action most people might expect?
One reason comes to mind. It’s the difference between “he made a mistake” and “mistakes were made” - or, to put it into the immediate terms, “Green was expelled” as opposed to “Green’s name was deleted from the House roll call.” The latter is a lot less in-his-face than the former. And it would allow Green to say henceforth that no, he was not expelled from the House.
Hang around most state legislators for very long and you will find that few of them like to diss fellow members, even those of another party and even those they dislike, at least in public. (You’ll often hear a good deal more in private or off the record.) A few do, but they’re rarely among the most influential or leading members. Those who value their standing in the group dislike bashing a colleague.
There may be another explanation for why the House vacated Green’s presence among them rather than expelled him.
But this one seems the most likely.