Rep. Priscilla Giddings faces House ethics hearing, complaints of ‘conduct unbecoming’

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After months of calls from sexual assault survivors and advocates, a Republican House lawmaker now faces an ethics hearing over her behavior as a representative.

Rep. Priscilla Giddings, a White Bird Republican running for lieutenant governor, will face a hearing on Aug. 2 over her conduct when a 19-year-old legislative intern alleged that another Republican lawmaker sexually assaulted her. The hearing was first reported by the Idaho Capital Sun.

The Ethics and House Policy Committee received two complaints against Giddings alleging “conduct unbecoming” a House member. The complaints alleged that she retaliated against the intern by disseminating “defamatory writings” that identified her and making “defamatory statements herself” through Facebook and a government newsletter.

Complaints also said Giddings misrepresented her actions to the ethics committee during Republican Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger’s hearing. Von Ehlinger eventually resigned.

Rep. Greg Chaney, a Caldwell Republican, made an initial complaint on April 19. A total of 25 House members — Republicans and Democrats alike — filed another complaint against Giddings on May 3. House Speaker Scott Bedke, an Oakley Republican, and Majority Caucus Chair Megan Blanksma, a Hammett Republican, both signed the second complaint.

Representatives who filed the complaint said the House must be able to respond to reports without interference to maintain a safe workplace.

“Additionally, people working at the Statehouse must be able to report abuse without the threat of bullying, threats, or invasion of privacy,” the complaint stated. “Rep. Giddings’ behavior invaded Jane Doe’s privacy and threatened her safety. It also threatened the integrity of the investigation.”

Complaints are made public only when the committee unanimously finds probable cause. The committee is made up of three Republicans and two Democrats, with Rep. Sage Dixon, a Ponderay Republican, as the chair.

Giddings, in a strongly worded statement, called it “dirty politics” that’s “par for the course,” blaming Bedke, who is also running for lieutenant governor.

“While it’s disheartening to see him abuse his position in an attempt to smear a political rival, this is the way he has run the Statehouse, and it’s how he will operate if he is elected lieutenant governor,” Giddings said. “The people of Idaho deserve better than business-as-usual in Boise.”

Giddings also said that she’s “a recognized women’s advocate” and takes “a back seat to no one in standing up for the rights of victims.”

Bedke said the timeline of events doesn’t match Giddings’ claim that there’s “some type of political smear campaign targeting her.” Bedke pointed out that he signed on to the ethics complaint before she declared her run for office on May 21, and said he did so because her conduct warrants an inquiry by the panel.

“Rep. Giddings is now attempting to deflect and use the investigation as a fundraising tactic,” Bedke said.

A ‘chilling’ effect for sexual assault survivors

Giddings faced complaints shortly after she shared an article from a far-right blog that disclosed identifying information of the 19-year-old woman who accused von Ehlinger of rape. Advocates for sexual assault survivors demonstrated in front of the Idaho Capitol in May, when they urged holding Giddings accountable.

Annie Hightower, one of the woman’s attorneys and director of law and policy at the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, said Giddings should be removed from her seat.

“I think as a community, if we are invested in ensuring that people who experience sexual violence can report and report safely, then we cannot have people in positions of authority outing the people who report ... in the way that Priscilla Giddings did,” Hightower told the Statesman on Tuesday. “All that will do is result in chilling reports for anyone in the future in similar situations.”

Throughout an ethics hearing against von Ehlinger, the accuser was referred to as Jane Doe and kept anonymous by the ethics committee. She testified publicly from behind a black curtain. This was after Giddings had shared the information identifying her.

The committee unanimously recommended expulsion for von Ehlinger, who resigned hours later, before the House could formally vote on the recommendation.

House Republican leaders didn’t directly respond to a request for comment but pointed to a statement from House members who brought the complaint.

“Members of the Idaho House of Representatives are expected and required to uphold high standards of ethical conduct as part of their commitment to the people of Idaho,” wrote the lawmakers. “The Ethics and House Policy Committee is conducting an ongoing ethics investigation into one of our members, and we are looking forward to a transparent and fair hearing. We respect the committee’s process and are looking forward to seeing it through to the end.”

House members say Giddings ‘misrepresented’ her actions

During Giddings’ testimony in von Ehlinger’s hearing, she was questioned about whether she shared Jane Doe’s name and photo. Giddings denied the accusations and didn’t answer whether she was the administrator of her own Facebook account.

The House members’ complaint said Giddings misrepresented her actions and “feigned ignorance as to whether she had posted the image” of the woman.

In a Facebook post, Giddings posted an article that included Jane Doe’s full name and photo, with the statement, “Follow the Money!” Chaney said the post created a hostile environment for Jane Doe, misled the public and accused House leaders of a conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor violation.

The second complaint also pointed out the harassment Jane Doe received at the hearing. A group followed the woman after her testimony and took video footage of her. Her screams in the hallway could be heard from the Lincoln Auditorium.

The hearing for Giddings has been scheduled for 9 a.m. on Aug. 2.

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