State Politics

From Coles to Craig to Crane: 8 Idaho scandals

From left: Former Boise Mayor Brent Coles, former state Rep. Phil Hart, former U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, former state Sen. John McGee.
From left: Former Boise Mayor Brent Coles, former state Rep. Phil Hart, former U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, former state Sen. John McGee.

A long line of scandals involving Idaho politicians precedes the one in which state Sen. Jim Guthrie, R-McCammon, and Rep. Christy Perry, R-Nampa, now find themselves.

Many involved misuse of power or disregard for the law. Sex sometimes provoked the public’s attention, as in the case of Guthrie’s and Perry’s affair.

[Who is the blogger who broke the story of an affair between Idaho lawmakers?]

Here’s a look at eight of Idaho’s more notable scandals in recent years:

▪ Idaho State Treasurer Ron Crane has been the object of a variety of accusations over the years. His alleged missteps include padding expenses, excessive state-funded travel and mismanagement of taxpayer money. In May, a former deputy filed a wrongful-termination claim against Crane, accusing the treasurer of firing him for exposing and trying to rein in the office’s excesses. A second employee later confirmed details of that claim and added he was fired for refusing to doctor official meeting minutes to make Crane look good. Crane is still in office.

▪ Brent Coles was a popular, effective Boise mayor and rising star in Republican circles until late 2002. That was when a City Council member’s question about suspicious travel expenses led to an Idaho attorney general’s investigation. The state’s probe uncovered a pattern of misuse of public money at City Hall. Coles and two members of his administration spent time in jail.

▪ 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 of Representatives. But he has has remained active in politics for the Republican party.

▪ The Idaho Statesman broke a story in 2013 that state 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 two-year term.

▪ Sen. John McGee resigned in February 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 sexual harassment claim. Idaho Supreme Court candidate Curt McKenzie tapped McGee and his wife this year to help with his campaign.

▪ Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, did not initially disclose oil and gas leases on his property while his Senate Resources and Environment Committee considered oil and gas legislation and rules in 2012. But the Senate’s ethics committee cleared him of wrongdoing. Pearce lost a primary challenge in his bid for re-election in 2014.

▪ U.S. Sen. Larry Craig was the most influential member of Idaho’s congressional delegation when he was caught in 2007 in a gay sex sting in a bathroom at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Even after pleading guilty to disorderly conduct relating to the sting, Craig insisted he was not gay. Though he did not run for re-election, he served out his term, which ended in 2009. He has since worked as a lobbyist for the timber and energy industries.

▪ State Sen. Jack Noble, R-Kuna, introduced a bill to allow liquor sales closer to schools and churches. Noble owned a store close to a school and wanted a liquor license, so he introduced a bill and told colleagues “industry” and “retailers” had sought it — a lie. In 2005, the state Senate appointed an ethics committee chaired by now-President Pro Tem Brent Hill. Noble lied again, under oath, saying a state liquor official had sought the bill. The Senate censured him, and he resigned.

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