Our View: Rep. Patterson finally makes right move

December 19, 2013 

For the first time in weeks, we believe embattled Rep. Mark Patterson, R-Boise, made the right call: He announced he will resign after serving only one year in the Idaho House of Representatives. He reportedly will send a letter stating his intentions to Gov. Butch Otter in the coming days.

We'd like to think that Patterson realized he had become ineffective as an elected official and a distraction to his constituents and the Republican Party, but we aren't betting on such an epiphany.

Patterson has faced intense scrutiny after it was revealed in an Idaho Statesman story last month that during the 1970s, he twice had been charged with rape, and had pleaded guilty to assault with intent to commit rape related to one of those charges (in Florida in 1974).

This information came to light as a result of action by Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney to revoke Patterson's concealed weapons permit. On applications for CWPs before Patterson was elected in 2012, the Boise businessman failed to acknowledge the guilty plea or the resulting withheld judgment - which brought about the revocation of the gun permit by Raney.

We believe the Patterson episode presented a number of dilemmas - some of which have been avoided and some that still loom and should be considered by the Legislature.

What exactly would the Ethics Committee of the House of Representatives have been able to do since most of Patterson's known questionable behavior had occurred prior to his election? House Rule 76 states that the Ethics Committee "shall dismiss any ethics complaint that ... alleges violations that occurred either before the accused member was first elected to the House of Representatives or for which an applicable statute of limitation has run."

Perhaps the mere threat of sanction or expulsion under House Rule 76 was enough to convince Patterson to resign. We don't know, and we wonder whether another Rule 76 provision would have allowed the committee to consider past or present behavior that could constitute "a violation of any state law or House rule that brings discredit to the House of Representatives or that constitutes a breach of public trust."

The ethics process is carried out in secret, unless and until the committee finds probable cause. Only House members can bring complaints, and the House can choose to keep much of the process private. We wonder whether this is the best path.

Our other concern is that Patterson is an example of what's wrong with a system that grants some 3,000 Idaho elected officials authority to carry and conceal weapons without a permit. Even though Patterson's had been revoked, he could still carry because he is exempt due to his elected status.

We are never going to warm to a process that favors elected officials over the people who put them there.

We have no issue with law-abiding citizens, legislators or any other elected officials having concealed weapons. That privilege is not being questioned. Our issue is that somebody such as Patterson - whose permit would otherwise be revoked - is allowed to carry a concealed weapon until his resignation becomes effective merely because he got elected to an office. This loophole needs to be closed.

The Patterson saga brought out the worst in Patterson and some of his supporters, but it also brought out concerned people in District 15 who wanted to do the right thing and create a forum to discuss the matter.

Credit goes to those who tried to get Patterson to explain himself (to no avail) so they could judge what the next step should be. Chief among them was Sen. Fred Martin - a District 15 and Republican colleague of Patterson's - who led this charge with little to gain.

"Our View" is the editorial position of the Idaho Statesman. It is an unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman's editorial board. To comment on an editorial or suggest a topic, email editorial@idahostatesman.com.

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