Someone has altered the official records of Idaho’s state Senate. This revision of history pushed a moderate state senator higher up the chain to eventually lead the powerful Finance Committee, and that has angered some members of the Senate.
The Senate Journal is the official record of what transpires on the Senate floor. Floor events are captured on video, which can be viewed on the Legislature’s website. From a video in December 2014, you can see the secretary of the Senate, Jennifer Novak, reading aloud the names of the members of the Senate Finance Committee in order of seniority. She read Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron’s name, then Shawn Keough’s, the panel’s vice chairman. Next came Dean Mortimer and then Steve Bair. That’s the order as it appeared in the official record throughout the session: Cameron, Keough, Mortimer, Bair.
After the Legislature adjourned, the journal was changed. It’s unclear if the change took place before or after Cameron resigned to lead the Department of Insurance. Keough, No. 2 in seniority, is still positioned to chair the Finance Committee. However, the altered journal entry now lists Bair’s name ahead of Mortimer’s, even though that’s not how the names were publicly presented when the Senate organized in December. The change means Bair, a consistently moderate Republican from Blackfoot, is more likely to have a future shot at the chairmanship before Mortimer, a consistently more conservative member from Idaho Falls.
Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill of Rexburg said he doesn’t know anything about why the journal was changed nor why it records history as it did not happen. He said he does know there were conflicting Senate seniority lists, and said he told his colleagues recently that there should be just one.
“I didn’t know (the journal) was changed,” Hill said. “That was not at my direction.” He deferred one of his lieutenants, Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis of Idaho Falls.
Davis said the changes “were made without any input from me.” But Davis also discounted the importance of the alteration.
“All you have is the secretary of the Senate making a correction,” Davis said. The senators may have been listed incorrectly, in the bustle of the Legislature’s organization, prompting the re-ordering. Indeed, the question of who has more seniority, Bair or Mortimer, was a minor subplot in the theater of last session’s budget committee, and in that setting, Bair came out ahead.
“We do the best we can in that moment to get the seniority order correct,” Davis said. Going in reverse and re-doing the journal, even months after the fact, would not be unusual, he said. Other senators, however, privately lament the move, with some noting that the alteration of an official state government record is, under state law, a felony. They want an explanation as to why a seemingly substantive journal entry was altered following the session.
Hill, Davis and Senate Assistant Majority Leader Chuck Winder all claim to know nothing about the journal change, though. That leaves Secretary Novak, who did not return phone calls about the issue.
Hill said the question of seniority is overplayed; it’s not the only favor used to decide who will lead a committee.
Seniority and its place in Senate decorum is more a function of Senate custom than of rules. The only mention of seniority as part of the chamber’s official rulebook is on seating assignment.
I’m not a fan of the Senate or House journals. Both are full of, shall we say, imaginative processing of legislative history. Today, however, we’re stuck pondering the secretive doctoring of the Senate’s official record. The intent appears to be to elevate one legislator at the expense of another. That’s a move that deserves public scrutiny and explanation that is lacking so far.