It took less than a minute a week ago Monday for the Idaho House to vote to leave in place the censorship of Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, for conduct “unbecoming of a legislator” for outing a 19-year-old sexual assault victim.
For a deliberative body that often takes things slowly, the two hours of debate preceding the vote was taken up mostly by Giddings’ supporters. They mostly cited her military record but ignored her own actions that brought her to this point.
These appeals didn’t stir many votes if any from the coalition of centrist Republicans and Democrats who saw through Giddings’ fake arguments that she had done nothing wrong in posting the young woman’s picture and personal life details on her legislative newsletter.
Other supporters had previously tried to make the case that the young intern was voluntarily involved with a 38-year-old now former legislator, who just happened to be one of the hard rightists and House monkey wrench gang. That’s because the facts of the case are clear, and Giddings made no effort at contrition.
The 49 to 19 vote margin was wider than many expected, given the intense right wing pressure legislators got from the peanut gallery of conspiracy theories and distorted politics. That margin in itself should tell Idaho citizens that the Legislature is running out of steam when it comes to strident appeals of ideology. (Lewiston Tribune, 11/18)
Giddings took the vote as a challenge, defiantly saying that being removed from a committee would just give her more time in her busy schedule as she runs for Idaho’s Lt. Gov. position. But you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes here to see the House vote as perhaps a highwater mark of radical politics in the Idaho Republican Party.
Yes, some of those voting to uphold the censure will draw primary challenges, as they were threatened in postings. It’s the nature of these harpies and their followers to intimidate others when they don’t get their way. Loud, vicious, and mean-spirited. But the censure supporters probably would have been tarred anyway, given the rifts between party ideologues and party centrists. A vote against Giddings was a line in the sand, but a needed one.
Giddings’ explanation for her postings struck many as pure revenge against the young intern. Why was Giddings protecting another rightist legislator who has now been charged with rape? She and others on the far right leave that question untouched.
As the three-day session wound down on November 17, the hard rightists tried once again to get the last word. Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, asked for “unanimous consent” for three minutes to make a speech presumably on the failures of the session. But he was objected to, and that was that; legislators snatched up their laptops and headed home. With former Rep. Luke Malek dropping out of the Lt. Gov. contest, that leaves Giddings with little chance against House Speaker Scott Bedke.
The race now is likely to send Giddings to Idaho’s political history as an angry and losing charlatan. Even Giddings’ running mate, Janice McGeachin, saw the session as “incredibly disappointing” and blamed it all on “conservative Idaho voters (who) were betrayed by cowardly RINOs who chose to sell their souls….” (11/22).
Maybe. But our guess is that people have heard enough of McGeachin, Giddings, Nate and the other malcontents in the Legislature who spent most of last year promoting bizarre theories of government and complaining about state and federal overreach.
If anything, the wide vote margin on the Giddings ethics issue shows that many legislators looked at the facts rather than the emotion of the case. Some 24 legislators had previously signed a complaint against Giddings, and the fence-sitters doubled that number.
Some losses are worse than some victories. These fence-sitters knew they would likely get primary challenges in secret efforts against them by the Idaho Slavery Foundation, but a no vote here would have been worse signal to state voters overall.
Supporting Giddings really came down to whether legislators would give themselves a free pass for further harming a sexual assault victim. As one legislator put it, what Giddings did was just plain wrong.
This sordid conclusion will leave the hard rightists looking for new ways to raise havoc. All their ranting resulted in just one nonbinding resolution opposing vaccine mandates from the federal government, a position Idaho is already taking in joining a court suit.
When push came to shove, almost 50 House members stood by their own committee’s decision on Giddings and in the case of the other actions, left poorly-drafted fruitcake bills Dead on Arrival. With redistricting shaking up many of the state’s legislative seats, the malcontents will certainly try to pick off more centrist senators and install more kookies in both bodies. But make no mistake, this was a clear, three days of defeat for the Idaho Slavery Foundation and their puppies.
Stephen Hartgen, Twin Falls, is a retired five-term Republican member of the Idaho House of Representatives, where he served as chairman of the Commerce & Human Resources Committee. Previously, he was editor and publisher of The Times-News (1982-2005). He can be reached at Stephen_Hartgen@hotmail.com