State Politics

‘Epic’ miscommunication led to Statehouse harassment claim, Idaho lawmaker says

Rep. James Holtzclaw
Rep. James Holtzclaw

An Idaho lawmaker was the subject of a complaint for allegedly making inappropriate comments to at least two people during the 2017 legislative session, according to a heavily redacted document obtained by The Associated Press and the Statesman.

The complaint states that Rep. James Holtzclaw, R-Meridian, 42, made a woman feel uncomfortable and asked her how she used the Snapchat app. A separate person in the complaint says they told Holtzclaw that his flirty comments would not be tolerated. Neither person was identified in the document; their ages and positions also were not provided.

“After witnessing (redacted) taking selfies using the app Snapchat, Holtzclaw approached (redacted) in my absence to ask if she was on Snapchat and asking her what she does with it, telling her that he uses the app himself,” according to the complaint, dated Feb. 9.

“Rep. Holtzclaw has also made mildly flirty comments to me, such as asking me, ‘Hello, have we met?’ slyly and repeatedly, but I have shown him that I will not tolerate it,” the complaint continued.

The matter was reported to House Speaker Scott Bedke, who forwarded it to the Idaho Attorney General’s Office. Bedke, R-Oakley, earlier told the Statesman that he received a complaint and addressed it immediately. He declined to name any lawmakers involved, but said he spoke with the parties involved in the complaint, with a deputy attorney general present. The situation apparently ended there.

Holtzclaw, a three-term Republican from Meridian, called the matter “a communication mistake of epic proportion” in a phone interview with the Statesman earlier this month. He said that he didn’t even know what interactions the complaint covered at the time he spoke with Bedke, and that he did not realize anything he had said was inappropriate.

“It was a huge misunderstanding and at no one time was it my intent to make anyone think I was anything but a gentleman,” he said. “I didn’t mean to offend anyone. I’m sorry for my conversation to be misconstrued.”

Rep. Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, chairs the transportation committee. He said he was notified of the complaint, it was “handled” and he didn’t hear of any other problems.

Allegations against national political, entertainment and media figures have swept across the country, as well as sexual misconduct concerns in many statehouses.

The Associated Press obtained the one-page document after sending a public record request to the Legislative Services Office earlier this month asking for any documents regarding complaints or allegations of sexual misconduct. The office responded saying it had nothing responsive to that request, in part because Bedke had already turned over any related documents to the attorney general.

Separately, the Statesman received the document through a similar process.

“I give you my word that this matter was handled directly and immediately,” Bedke told the AP. “We addressed it immediately and assumed the issue was closed. It was a valuable learning experience for all.”

Bedke added that actions in the document weren’t as “egregious” as others reported across the country, but maintained that the situation had been an eye-opener and not ignored. He told the Statesman that he has an “open-door policy” for anyone who wishes to report harassment: “There is no room at all for that.”

Both the Idaho House and Senate have sexual harassment policies that include details for reporting offensive behavior and examples of behaviors to avoid, such as excessive compliments, compliments about an employee’s body and hugs.

“Any employee who files a sexual harassment complaint shall not be subject to retaliation of any kind,” the House’s policy reads.

Lawmakers will undergo training in 2018 that addresses sexual harassment. Fourteen female lawmakers recently sent a letter to legislative leadership asking that the annual training lawmakers undergo include a sexual harassment component for lawmakers, lobbyists and staffers. Bedke said that he and other leaders had been planning to address the issue before he received the letter.

Meanwhile, Gov. Butch Otter and first lady Lori Otter recently came out in support of the popular “me too” social media campaign, pledging to bring awareness to stop sexual assault and harassment, and encouraging Idahoans to step up in their efforts.