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Wed., Jan. 11, 2012, 11:58 a.m.

McGee retains GOP leadership post

Senate GOP Caucus Chairman John McGee, R-Caldwell, retained his leadership post today after a closed-door caucus in which GOP senators voted on whether or not to oust him after a bizarre drunken driving incident. It took nearly two hours, with the overlong caucus pushing back the Senate's plan to convene at 11:30 today to nearly noon. Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill said afterward, "I'm confident we came out united," the AP reports. 

As he emerged from the caucus, McGee told reporters, "My actions on that night showed clearly a lack of judgment. I've been humbled by the support that the community has given me, and I'm particularly humbled by the support that the caucus has just shown me. I made mistakes, and I've paid the price for those mistakes, and every day now that I wake up, the first thing that I think of is how can I make this better. For the rest of my life I'll be working on making this better. ... As difficult as the day has been, I'm very humbled and thankful to the caucus for their support." KTVB-TV has the video posted here.

It's customary in the Senate for senators to introduce their guests who are in the gallery; just before adjournment today, McGee rose to acknowledge his wife and two young children in the gallery. "For some of you it's been a year since you've seen them; senator from 7, you've never seen them, perhaps," he said with emotion. "My beautiful wife, Hanna. I've heard from the senator from 33 that once upon a time his mother was given the Mother of the Year award in the state of Idaho. Well, I don't know if I can formally submit this or not, Mr. President, but I would submit today the Mother of the Year and the Wife of the Year to my wife Hanna, and I thank her and my family for being very, very patient over the last several months, as I do all of you." The Senate welcomed McGee's young family with a sturdy round of applause. She had arrived midway through the caucus, pushing the youngsters in a stroller, and waited for McGee in his office, which adjoins the caucus room.

McGee, 38, is a fourth-term senator and is the marketing director for a Canyon County hospital. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Sen. McGee keeps job as GOP caucus chairman
By JOHN MILLER, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Senate Republicans on Wednesday retained Sen. John McGee as caucus chairman, the fourth-highest ranking post in the GOP-controlled chamber.

Republican senators met privately in the state Capitol to determine whether McGee should keep the leadership position in the wake of his drunken driving arrest last year.

The closed session was the first chance for the Caldwell Republican to address his colleagues regarding the arrest and make a case to maintain his post.

Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, said the caucus supported a motion to retain McGee. Hill did not share the results of the vote.

"I'm confident we came out united," Hill said after the meeting.

For McGee, 38, the outcome could be a sign that the political free-fall that began with his Father's Day 2011 arrest has reached an end. Last summer, he pleaded guilty to drunken driving in a deal that erased accompanying auto theft charges. He served jail time and paid restitution for a stranger's vehicle that he damaged.

But because the Legislature was out, the start of the 2012 session marked the first chance to formally stand before his colleagues to seek a vote of confidence.

A day ahead of the caucus, McGee said, "I really messed up. I showed poor judgment. And I have only myself to blame. Now, I want to earn back trust and respect."

McGee said senators shared with him disappointment in his behavior, but said before the meeting he was unaware of any challenges to his post, which he's held since last year.

From the framed 2009 article in a local bank publication titled "A Balanced Man" to the photos of his wife and daughters near his desk, the four-term senator's office underscores the public image he's cultivated since his days as a junior staffer for then-U.S. Sen. Dirk Kempthorne in Washington D.C.

That image was damaged the night of June 19, when McGee began drinking at a Boise golf tournament. McGee says he largely blacked out and simply doesn't remember the details of what happened next.

According to police, McGee took a Ford Excursion and cargo trailer from the southwest Boise home of a "complete stranger" and got it stuck in a yard. A breath test showed McGee's blood-alcohol content at nearly twice the legal limit.

In 4th District Court in Boise on July 1, McGee's lawyer, Scott McKay, told a judge there was a medical explanation: The young senator had too much to drink, had fallen and — according to a respected neurologist — sustained a concussion prior to the events leading to his arrest. That accounted for his erratic behavior, McKay suggested.

But Ada County sheriff's officials said they would have provided appropriate treatment for a suspected concussion, not only for an inmate's welfare, but also to protect the law enforcement agency from liability.

No such concerns emerged while McGee was behind bars.

On Tuesday, McGee again declined to provide his medical records to reporters, saying he didn't want it to become a "slippery slope." He did show four enlarged photographs illustrating a cut on his head under his hair, as well as bruising and lacerations on his abdomen and knee.

"I agree 100 percent with what my lawyer said in court," McGee said.

McGee's reputation was further bruised over the summer when the AP reported that despite having a home just 26 miles from the Capitol, he had been claiming a $122 per diem during the Legislature that adds up to some $6,000 annually. The money is meant to defray the cost of a second residence in Boise, but McGee was spending nights at his parents' house in Boise.

Most southwestern Idaho lawmakers claim a $49 per diem.

Following the scrutiny, McGee this year is claiming just $49.

"There's been enough discussion about this that until the policy has more clarification, I won't be claiming a second residence this year," he said.

Will he run for a fifth term in the May primary?

McGee isn't ready to say. Instead, he's concentrating on making sure he's right with his family, has the respect of the Senate and fulfills his responsibilities to constituents over the next three months.

"I have a job to do right now," he said. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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