Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has appointed Tony Potts, a property manager and salesman at Bish’s RV Supercenter in Idaho Falls, to replace longtime Sen. Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls.
The District 33 GOP committee gave Otter three choices: Potts; current state Rep. Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls; and Bonneville County GOP Chairman Mark Fuller, an attorney who was listed as the committee’s top pick.
So why did Otter pick Potts over Zollinger and Fuller? He’s not saying, noting only in a news release that Potts, 40, has a bachelor’s degree in communication from Brigham Young University and is active as a local Boy Scouts leader, and also has been a GOP precinct committeeman and vice chair of the District 33 legislative committee, as well as an unsuccessful candidate for county commission in the 2016 GOP primary.
It may or may not be relevant that Fuller, a longtime ally of former county Chair Doyle Beck, was the leading opponent of forming the College of Eastern Idaho, a new community college that eastern Idaho residents approved in May with 71 percent of the vote. Otter was a major proponent of the new community college.
Zollinger is a first-term state representative whose long-ago criminal record has been drawing some attention. He was convicted of five misdemeanors and one felony – grand theft – between 1994 and 1999. The misdemeanors included DUI, for which he was sentenced to 90 days in jail; malicious injury to property, which was reduced from a felony charge of arson and drew him 10 days in jail; another malicious injury to property charge that drew him a 90-day jail term, with 30 days suspended; and various alcohol-related offenses.
"When I was a teenager and college student I made some bad choices, and I'm thankful to live in America, the land of redemption," Zollinger said. "I'm thankful for the mentors I had along the way who believed in me and helped me get through those tough years."
Zollinger, 41, was just 19 years old when he was convicted of grand theft in Madison County in July of 1995 and sentenced to 90 days in jail and $564 in fines; that was the same year he incurred both the malicious injury to property convictions. He was 23 in 1999 when he had the DUI conviction. A Rexburg native, he’s now an attorney and former Idaho Falls school board member; he was elected to represent Bonneville County’s District 33 in the Idaho House in 2016.
In a Facebook post today, he said he’s been warned in recent months that political opponents planned to make much of “a few of my teenage escapades.”
"I figured one day it'd come up," he said this afternoon. "Everyone probably makes mistakes when they're young and dumb, and I was definitely young and dumb."
In addition to those convictions, Zollinger has had four other misdemeanor charges dropped by prosecutors, all during the same time frame; and his court record shows 18 infractions, mostly speeding tickets, with two of those occurring in the past two years.
This is all public record; anyone who logs onto the state court system’s public records repository can see it. I became aware of it because someone sent me an anonymous letter about it over the weekend. So I called Zollinger this morning, because I understand that there are lots of Zollingers in eastern Idaho, and it could’ve been someone else with the same name. “It’s me,” he told me.
By the way, I checked the public records for Fuller and Potts as well. Though there are others with similar names, the Idaho court records repository appears to show that Fuller had a speeding ticket in 2006 and an expired-registration ticket in 2013; and Potts had a single speeding ticket in 2002.