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Insider perspective: Legislative ethics committees weaponized to target conservatives

Insider perspective: Legislative ethics committees weaponized to target conservatives

Idaho Freedom Foundation staff
August 5, 2021

By Daniel D. Foreman | Special to the Idaho Freedom Foundation

I was the duly elected Idaho state senator for District 5 for the 2017 and 2018 legislative sessions, and I wish to make it clear I have no proverbial axe to grind against any past or present member of the Idaho Legislature. I wish them all the best, and may the Almighty guide their decision making as they steer Idaho’s course into our collective future. My comments represent my opinion, and are intended to be informative and hopefully motivational, because corrective changes in attitude, function, and sense of purpose in Idaho’s Legislature are sorely needed.

Having witnessed the recent House of Representatives ethics proceeding involving Rep. Priscilla Giddings, and in light of state government’s failure to follow state code and support the constitutional rights of the people of Idaho during the ongoing pandemic episode, I feel compelled to express my concerns over not just this most recent ethics-based event, but also a similar situation I endured while a member of Idaho’s Senate.

I entered the Senate with the intention of fully representing the people of Idaho and specifically my district by protecting their constitutional rights, being a watchdog against wasteful spending and expansion of government, and advocating for the abolition of abortion. I spoke out in support of all these objectives. I regularly voted against inflated spending bills, increased regulation, and fee increases on small businesses. 

I consistently stressed the need to amend Idaho law to eliminate the existing affirmative defense to having an abortion in Idaho. I know my public stance on these issues did not endear me to the Senate leadership of the time, namely President Pro Tempore Brent Hill and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Winder. My numerous contacts with these men, although cordial, left no doubt in my mind my advocacy for — and subsequent Senate voting record and floor speeches in support of — my stated objectives made them concerned. They did not want the ripples on the political pond my efforts generated. It seems the Prime Directive of politics is to avoid contentious issues and make no waves.

Having served two legislative sessions in the Senate, it became quite noticeable that senators were reluctant to speak their minds on the Senate floor and/or vote their true feelings on various issues. I know this because I saw it. I was there. I talked to senators about the issues up for vote, and I knew their true feelings. Yet, quite often I saw senators vote in opposition to their privately stated intentions. They justified their voting records to me by claiming concern for resisting the intended political outcomes of leadership. They also expressed extreme concern for voting contrary to the preferences expressed by the governor. This defines a reality of overcontrol by Senate leadership and unconstitutional interference in legislative affairs by the state executive branch.

Many times I was told by a committee chairman my function on the committee was to vote in accordance with the wishes of the governor and/or the head of whatever state agency was primarily interfacing with the committee. I witnessed committee hearings on issues opposed by the executive branch or agency chiefs cancelled with no notice to the dozens of citizens who had travelled to the statehouse to attend those hearings. These scheduled hearings dealt with things like state vaccination requirements for schools and the regulated use of CBD oil for medical purposes. I publicly and officially called out leadership for these representative government interferences . I know this irritated Senate leadership, because it publicized how the people were being denied a voice in state government. It is hard to participate in government when your invitation to exercise your constitutional right to speak at a hearing is revoked at the last minute with no reason given and no avenue for redress offered. 

Throughout my tenure as a state senator, I observed a process of subtle but effective control being employed. Many senators, myself included, felt as if key information on important legislative bills was kept from us until very late in the legislative session. Major budget bills were introduced to the Senate floor late in the session, and great emphasis was placed on voting in the affirmative with little or no debate on these critical and expensive pieces of legislation in an effort to end the session on schedule. Key bills that should have garnered long and intense debate were introduced so late in the session as to be summarily rushed through the voting process. It was not a simple matter of what leadership did or did not do. It was more a matter of how they did some things. I publicly opposed this short shrift approach with many “No” votes on the senate floor. 

Well, I was certain my vocal and public efforts to fully live up to my commitment to stand up for the constitutional rights of Idaho’s citizens by voting against wasteful spending, advocating for the right to life, and opposing the expansion of government was irritating the powers that be in the Senate – and likely the governor’s office. At approximately one month into my second session I was called into Sen. Hill’s office. Sen. Winder was in attendance as well. Hill asked me if I had authored a very unprofessional and mean spirited tweet in reference to a senator I shall refer to as Senator X. The tweet referenced the subject of abortion.

I told Hill and Winder I did not author the tweet, did not have a Twitter account, and had no idea as to the source of the tweet. Hill told me the Twitter account had my name on it, and I was to be investigated by a Senate ethics panel, because Senator X had filed an ethics complaint against me in reference to the tweet. Hill stated the investigation was a confidential and internal Senate matter and was not to be discussed in any way outside of his office. 

Shortly after my meeting with Hill and Winder, I started to receive numerous press inquiries related to the ethics charge in the matter. I saw an interview by CBS news during which Senator X accused me of ethics violations, stating I behaved in a disgraceful and unethical manner resulting in embarrassment to the Senate. No action was ever taken by leadership against Senator X for violating the Senate rules on confidentiality in regards to the ethics investigation. 

The ethics investigation dragged on for more than a month, during which I was subjected to an onslaught of press inquiries, telephonic harassment, death threats, and suggestions from Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian Kane that I submit to a polygraph test. I refused the test because I had done nothing wrong, and it was up to the investigators to prove just that. On one occasion, Kane was speaking to me when he pointed to his cell phone and stated there was activity occurring on the suspect Twitter account. He showed me a post printing on that account in real time. I asked him how I could be posting on a Twitter account when I had my cell phone in my hand, and he could clearly see I was not using it to post. Deputy Assistant Attorney General Kane told me the Idaho State Police as well as detectives from a local police department would be investigating my ethics case.

I eventually met with the ethics panel headed by Sen. Steve Bair. I told the panel I had nothing to do with the tweet, had no idea who was using this clearly parody Twitter account to impersonate me, and I had nothing further to add. Approximately one month later, Bair gave me the findings of the ethics panel. He said the panel concluded there was no probable cause to continue the investigation. He said they could not establish whether I had done anything improper or not. Bair also referenced other unfounded incidents about me that may not be in keeping with ethical standards of the Senate – even though the ethics panel was not empowered to look into anything other than the alleged tweet incident. He went on to say if I was accused of any further unethical behavior, the results of the tweet incident would be brought back to life and possibly used against me in further proceedings. His final admonition was to inform me he would not release the findings of the ethics panel, and I could not do so, even though Senator X had leaked the entire incident and made accusations to the media. 

Kane met with me in my office the same day I met with Bair. Kane told me the results of the ethics investigation could not be released to anyone, because it involved an internal Senate proceeding. He said I, as a member of the Senate, was prohibited from discussing the findings of the panel with anyone. My wife, who was present during this meeting, promptly informed him she was a private citizen and was under no obligation to keep secret the results of the ethics panel. She stated she was going to release an account of the entire episode to every major news outlet in the area. Approximately 15 minutes later, I was called to Hill’s office and told he was going to release a public statement to the media indicating there was no probable cause to continue the ethics investigation.

Again, with no animosity toward anyone, I feel justified in stating I was subjected to a weaponized and systemically flawed system of due process with regard to the investigation of a groundless and unsustainable ethics charge. I was the victim of a clear double standard in the sense I was sworn to secrecy while enduring a barrage of harassment, yet Senator X was allowed to speak at length to the media, making harmful personal accusations and charges against me later proven to be false. I was asked to take a polygraph test, made to interview with police detectives and left twisting in the wind for over a month for an investigation that should have taken at best one day. The use of social media parody accounts being falsely set up in the name of people in the public eye is well known. These phony accounts have been falsely used in the past in an attempt to embarrass sitting governors and other political figures. It was obvious it was a parody account with no bearing on me or my position as a state senator.

So, why was this non-incident made into a long ordeal for me? It was done for the same reasons Rep. Giddings is being dragged through what certainly appears to be a kangaroo court process of intimidation and warning to anyone contemplating standing up to a jaded, self-protective system of self-centered politicians that holds a death grip on the free expression of ideas and constitutionally mandated representative government. The message is quite simple and clear: If you speak out in support of the people’s issues; if you vote against bloated budgets; if you are pro-life; if you fight against expansion of government; if you stand for representative government and the “little guy” — they will endeavor to destroy your political career.

The separation of powers in government as mandated by the Constitution has been violated and perverted into a system dominated by the executive branch. Career politicians who serve themselves have replaced holders of public office who serve the people under the guidance supplied by our Constitution. Those like Rep. Giddings who know this is true are feared by those who value careers over service and prefer helping themselves over serving you, the citizens of Idaho. 

My friends, Idaho is worth the fight. We live in the greatest state with the finest people you will find anywhere. We have an absolutely beautiful system of government. Let us endeavor to fix what is wrong. Let us bring back the spirit of public service by public servants to our great state. It is past time to root out the selfish, self-protecting career politicians who long ago simply forgot it is an honor to serve. We must support our dedicated warrior-heroes like Rep. Giddings, for they fight to restore our system of government to the thing of beauty and freedom it once was and could still be.

Daniel D. Foreman, Colonel USAF, (Ret.)
Idaho State Senator, Dist. 5 (former)

Idaho Freedom Foundation
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