When Idaho’s 2014 legislative session began in January, Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, was unable to fulfill his duties due to an injury. In his place, a fill-in representative was seated and fulfilled Henderson’s duties for the first few weeks of the session.
Now, however, IdahoReporter.com has learned that the person chosen as Henderson’s substitute was not qualified to be sworn in to Henderson’s seat. John Chambers, who substituted for Henderson during the first few weeks of the session, does not live in Henderson’s legislative district.
“It was a mistake, no question about it,” Henderson told Idaho Reporter.com.
Chambers agrees with Henderson, saying his appointment while living outside the district “was a mistake, a horrible mistake."
He said he thought he lived in the district, but has since learned "I'm only about 200 feet from the border and I thought I was in District 3. Frank recently called me and asked me to start putting together a timeline for my campaign. That's when I went to the county elections office, and it was there that I realized that I'm out of the district."
“I vacationed last summer in Hawaii and Mr. Chambers traveled with me,” Henderson said. “When I fell and broke my hip, John helped me get around, helped me get back home, and so forth.”
But Henderson said that he had already begun to think of Chambers as a candidate for public office, even before his injury. “I had also begun to think last summer that I might not run for re-election in 2014. My three big considerations in making that decision were, for one, my health, two, my physical energy level, and three, could I find somebody that I felt was qualified to replace me.”
Henderson also told IdahoReporter.com that as an elected member of the Legislature, he has to identify three people whom he would like to have fill-in for him in the event of an emergency.
“I admit that Chambers was not on my list of fill-ins, but I wanted him because of his business expertise,” explained Henderson. “My district is an emerging manufacturing region and I had begun to think of John as a prospective candidate. Then when I fell and broke my hip, he seemed like a natural to stand-in for me.”
Henderson was not the only person who was enthusiastic about Chambers’ fill-in service. On Jan. 7 Gov. Butch Otter announced in a press release “like Frank (Henderson), John (Chambers) has the background and savvy he needs for this task. I look forward to working with him.”
Henderson said he did not make any effort to verify if Chambers lived in his legislative district. “John had told me that he voted for me and Nonini (Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, also of Henderson’s district) in the past, so I took him at his word and I presumed that he lived in my district.”
Carrie Phillips, Kootenai County elections manager, told IdahoReporter.com that Chambers may very well have voted for Henderson in prior years. “Mr. Chambers probably did encounter Rep. Henderson on a ballot in past elections, but that was prior to our recent redistricting that took effect in January of 2012.”
Henderson said that Chambers’ residence is only a few hundred feet outside the legislative district borders, and was easily confused for being in his legislative district.
IdahoReporter.com spoke with Speaker of the House Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, asking how residency requirements are verified before fill-in legislators are sworn-in. “That’s a good question, but I honestly don’t know,” he said. “I think this is a problem we’re just now finding out about from the Kootenai County officials.”
Henderson told IdahoReporter.com “I honestly don’t think anybody around here (the Capitol) checks that stuff. I mean, we should check it, but the staffing it would require to check all those details would be cost prohibitive. I think they just took my word for it, and I made a mistake.”