In November, producer Seth Ogilvie and I were in Challis for work, when Ogilvie ran into Brandon Hixon in the parking lot of our roadside motel. They exchanged brief looks, then Hixon left without saying a word. We learned from the woman working the front desk that he was on his way to his hometown of Salmon.
Under different circumstances, I imagine Hixon would have been happy to see us. We had a good working relationship, and he was always eager to tell us about upcoming legislation he was working on.
But this chance meeting was different. Hixon had just resigned two weeks prior, as news had broken that he was under investigation for alleged sexual abuse. A month later, he would be arrested for the driving under the influence.
And a few weeks after that, on Tuesday, Hixon died by suicide.
We have a small press corps in Idaho. We have fantastic access to our elected officials. That doesn’t stop us from holding them accountable when they’re accused of impropriety, or worse.
But we also know they’re human beings, with lives outside of politics and policy. Sometimes, those lives are messy.
Hixon faced serious accusations, and this tragedy doesn’t excuse the gravity of those. That wouldn’t be fair to the alleged victims, or any victims of abuse.
As of Tuesday, Hixon faced no charges related to that investigation — just charges related to two episodes of driving under the influence. And let’s be clear. Those charges are also serious. Drunken driving kills.
But that wasn’t the only part of Hixon’s story. When I first met him in fall of 2012, he had recently turned 30, and was quick to tell me that he would be the youngest serving lawmaker in the Idaho Legislature. He was proud of that. Hixon was ambitious, and he viewed himself as a rising star in the Republican Party.
He had children. He had family. He had friends here in the Legislature. I’ve spoken to some of those colleagues, who are grieving even as they acknowledge, and struggle with, the accusations he faced.
Those are complicated feelings. We can recognize the grave dangers of drunken driving and the damage caused by sexual abuse, while also wishing Hixon’s family and friends comfort.
We can also acknowledge the importance of mental health care. When mental health and suicide came up at Friday’s Associated Press pre-session preview, Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill stressed the importance of family, friends and schools offering support.
That’s important, but the burden of preventing deaths doesn’t, and shouldn’t, rest solely with loved ones. Idaho has the lowest number of psychiatrists per capita in the United States, and has the fifth highest suicide rate. As Gov. Butch Otter requested the opening of three new crisis centers throughout the state, others questioned whether that would be enough. We still have a rural doctor shortage. We still have tens of thousands of uninsured Idahoans. Hixon’s death might not make a difference in those policy discussions, but today, it’s on everyone’s minds.
Tragedies don’t always offer lessons or silver linings. Sometimes, events are just awful and sad. But if anything comes out of Hixon’s death, let it be this: If you see someone struggling, reach out.
FOR HELP: If you or anyone you know needs help, please call 1-800-273-8255 to speak to someone at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or 1-208-398-4357 to speak to someone at the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline.
Davlin is host of Idaho Public Television’s Idaho Reports program, which focuses on the Legislature.