Giddings Ethics Committee hearing

Rep. John Gannon looks on while Rep. Priscilla Giddings reads a statement as she faces the House Ethics Committee in a hearing room at the Idaho State Capitol, Monday, Aug. 2, 2021.

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The first Ethics Committee member to speak this morning on why the panel is condemning the behavior of Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, was Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, an attorney. “There’s nothing easy about this case,” Gannon said. “There’s nothing easy about a decision like this, especially when you know the individuals involved and have had, I would say, a pleasant working relationship, even though many times they would not end up agreeing. But in the end, I have to look at the evidence and the law and the rules in this case, and set aside some of the personalities and maybe frustrations people have had on one side or the other. And for me, this is a basic personnel matter.”

He said it goes to what rights an employee has when he or she files a whistleblower complaint, and how people in positions of authority within the organization respond to that complaint, and in this case, whether that response is “conduct unbecoming a member of the Legislature.”

Idaho, unlike some states, has no rape shield law to protect victims’ identities, Gannon said. But it does have whistleblower laws to protect public employees from retaliation when they report suspected wrongdoing; and it does have the Idaho Human Rights Act, which has some similar provisions. Though those laws “may not be specifically applicable to the Legislature, it … gives us some guidance on what the public policy is overall in the state of Idaho,” Gannon said. He also pointed to legislative rules and procedural guidance, including a provision in Mason’s Manual of Legislative Procedure, and said, “we look to custom, usage and precedence in determining the standard of conduct.”

It is clear from both precedent and all testimony the Ethics Committee received, Gannon said, that the custom is not to publicize the name of an employee who has alleged sexual assault or harassment. When a senator was accused of sexually harassing a staffer in 2012, the senator, John McGee, resigned under threat of an ethics investigation; the staffer’s name was never revealed. No other member of the Legislature revealed the identity of “Jane Doe,” who accused former Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger of rape, testimony to the Ethics Committee showed, Gannon said.

“All the evidence was that you don’t disclose the name of a person who has filed a whistleblower-type complaint, which is essentially what this is,” he said. “You don’t put their picture on social media. You don’t do that if you’re involved in the organization. So I don’t see where I really have a choice but to find that what was done was wrong.”

“This is an issue that needs to be addressed,” Gannon said. “We want people to make good-faith complaints, but we want them to feel like they’re not going to be punished” for making those complaints. “You don’t disclose the name of the complaining party.”

“The evidence … was just overwhelming that what was done was improper. It requires that we take some very strong action,” Gannon said.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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