A North Idaho lawmaker who made sexually charged remarks to a colleague was stripped of her committee assignments Thursday, a day that also saw at least one threat of violence against a female lawmaker and release of a letter from another expressing safety fears among House members.
The rebuke was House Speaker Scott Bedke’s formal response to Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, who told Agriculture Committee Chairman Judy Boyle Dec. 1 that female lawmakers rose to obtain committee chairmanships and other plum appointments if they “spread their legs.”
Boyle declined comment Thursday but told other lawmakers and reported to House leaders that she received a telephone threat in the morning from someone who knows both her and Scott. Boyle, R-Midvale, spent part of the day in the Statehouse accompanied by Capitol security.
Scott’s actions also prompted Rep. Christy Perry to write to Bedke with “grave concerns” about Scott’s “behavior patterns.” Perry, R-Nampa, asked the speaker to “make necessary adjustments to secure a comfortable and safe work environment.”
Particularly women lawmakers “do not feel safe working in her presence,” Perry wrote. She said Scott “displayed paranoid and aggressive behavior,” including damaging the Capitol in a search for bugs she was convinced were installed by leadership to spy on her.
“A number of the lady legislators are very upset about this,” Perry told the Spokesman-Review.
“They don’t feel very safe. Rep. Scott carries a gun,” said Perry, who also carries a gun and who owns a gun store.
SCOTT: HOUSE INTEGRITY ‘IN JEOPARDY’
Scott was advised of the actions against her in a meeting in Bedke’s office just prior to the start of the morning’s session.
She declined to talk to reporters, but later on Facebook blasted the media and “establishment” Republicans, claiming they were drumming up false allegations to sidetrack her campaign to promote positions such as repealing the state health insurance exchange, banning abortion at six weeks, declaring Idaho a “sovereign state” and amending the state’s “Castle Doctrine” to expand self-defense claims for homeowners who shoot intruders.
“The words I used to express a legitimate concern may have been too harsh, and I apologize for that as I never intended to offend anyone,” Scott wrote. “There are some within the Idaho Legislature who believe the only way to make a problem go away is to either hide it and pretend it never happened or to stir up a distraction by finding a scapegoat.
“... I think many legislators realized the integrity of our body is in jeopardy based on the unethical conduct of many of its own members, a taboo topic.”
Scott was disciplined under rules that forbid members from disparaging colleagues or the legislative body as a whole. Scott has denied making the remark, but other lawmakers who were present confirmed what she said, adding that she had publicly repeated the slur since.
In the House, committee appointments are ultimately at the will of the speaker, and Bedke said the decision to remove Scott was his. “The buck stops here,” he said.
He said the action might not be permanent, adding “it will just all depend.” He said he considered the “internal matter” closed.
Bedke, R-Oakley, is in his third two-year turn as speaker. “This is as hard a decision and as hard a situation as I’ve faced as speaker,” he said, adding: “I did not set these events into action.”
In the Idaho Legislature, virtually all bills that get introduced pass through hearings in at least one committee. Committee service is where much of the legislative work gets done. It’s where lawmakers stay abreast of bills moving through the Capitol, advocate for their causes or constituents, hone their expertise on legislative subjects or work to defeat measures they oppose.
Scott had served on the Commerce, Environment and State Affairs committees. With no committee assignments, she now can vote on legislation only once it makes it onto the House floor.
The action on the House floor Thursday was a simple announcement of new memberships for those committees without Scott. After the clerk read the new assignments, Scott ally Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, asked Bedke if there was a way he could object. Bedke admonished him to be careful, then told him to take his seat. With little business to conduct in the first week of the 2017 Legislature, the entire session lasted just five minutes.
‘I JUST FELT I NEEDED TO SPEAK UP’
Rep. Stephen Hartgen, a Twin Falls Republican, told the Times-News that Scott and Nate visited his district a few months after news spread of a sexual assault of a young girl by three underaged refugee boys. He said the two were critical of him and his district-mates at that meeting, and said lawmakers should not travel the state to trash each other in their districts.
“It’s apparent what the objective is, to undermine the integrity of ... the Legislature as an institution,” Hartgen told the Twin Falls newspaper.
Perry said Thursday it “didn’t cross my mind” to make a formal ethics complaint against Scott.
“I really looked at this as an internal matter, almost a personnel issue, where we’re trying to make sure that we have an environment here where people can operate freely,” she said. “I was discreet about it. I just felt I needed to speak up for my colleagues, people who have come to me and expressed some concern.”
Scott, in her Thursday afternoon Facebook post, called Perry’s letter “completely false and slanderous and a typical diversion tactic.” She said Perry is struggling with “an emotional and infidelity issue of her own,” an apparent reference to an affair Perry had with a state senator that came to light last summer.
Scott, an arch-conservative lawmaker and vocal tea party activist, won her second House term in November representing Idaho’s northernmost district. She has stirred controversy for actions that include displaying a Confederate battle flag at a community parade in 2015 and visited the occupiers of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge standoff in Oregon last year. Her supporters were accused of intimidating and harassing her challenger’s supporters in the November election.
“The speaker has my full support,” said Rep. Tom Loertscher, chairman of the House State Affairs Committee. “There’s a cloud hanging over you. Accusations with no founding to them can become a huge problem for the whole body.”
LEGISLATORS SANCTIONED BEFORE
This is not the first time a legislator has been stripped of a committee assignment or chairmanship.
In 2006, House Speaker Bruce Newcomb, R-Burley, threatened to strip committee assignments from Rep. Bill Sali, R-Kuna, and Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, after Sali tried to get the House to overthrow Newcomb over a vote procedure; Loertscher was the only House member to vote with Sali.
In 2002, Newcomb removed Reps. Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, and Jim Clark, R-Hayden, from the budget-writing Appropriations Committee for challenging his authority.
In 2001, Senate leadership stripped Sen. Ric Branch, R-Midvale, of his Agriculture Committee chairmanship for too many absences.
Read Scott’s full Facebook post:
Nate Poppino, Cynthia Sewell, Spokesman-Review and the Associated Press contributed.
Scandals can lead to resignation, retirement
▪ State Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, refused to pay federal and state taxes for years, and ended up owing more than $600,000. Hart also stole timber from state school endowment land, arguing he had a right to it as a citizen, and used it to build a home — which the federal government later sold to help cover what he owed in back taxes. In 2012, Hart lost a close primary election in his bid for a fifth term in the Idaho House.
▪ In 2013, the Statesman reported that Rep. Mark Patterson, R-Boise, had pleaded guilty in 1974 to assault with intent to commit rape in Tampa. He was also charged with rape three years later in Ohio, but acquitted. Patterson did not run for re-election in 2014, leaving office after one term.
▪ Sen. John McGee resigned in 2012 after an Idaho Senate staffer accused him of sexual harassment, just months after McGee pleaded guilty to drunken driving. McGee later pleaded guilty to disturbing the peace in connection with the harassment claim.