BOISE – Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, who filed an ethics complaint against Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, says Hart confronted him over it during the Dec. 2 organizational session of the Legislature, and Anderson subsequently was punished in his committee assignments, losing the vice-chairmanship of the House State Affairs Committee and being denied a third committee assignment he’d requested.
“They made this very personal with me,” Anderson said.
Hart denies confronting Anderson, but acknowledges he approached him and initiated a conversation about the ethics complaint.
“I did approach him and I did say, ‘Eric, if you need to get together or if you see a need for us to get together and talk, I want you to know that I’m open to doing that and available,’ ” Hart said. “We talked for a little while. I do remember that that’s the way I initiated the conversation. It was not confrontational and it didn’t go on for too long. I did not tell him he’s being watched.”
That’s now how Anderson describes the exchange.
“He confronted me, right coming out of the chambers, right there at those doors where you come out of the (House) chambers,” Anderson said. He said Hart told him “that he’s been cleared of all these things, it’s ridiculous that I’m doing it, and no one is that pure.” Anderson responded, he said, by asking about Hart allies who’ve been looking into Anderson’s record with a state milfoil fund and checking into his service on a local utility board. “He says, ‘There’s people watching you all over,’ ” Anderson said.
Hart said, “I did tell him that I felt that in these types of situations, it should’ve started with a one-on-one conversation between he and I, I do remember telling him that.”
House Speaker Lawerence Denney said he’s not concerned about the exchange.
“Well, you know, I think people are watching all of us,” Denney said with a chuckle. He added of the clash between the two lawmakers, “You know, I think it would be hard not to do when they’re together.”
Denney, who has authority over committee assignments, said Anderson’s removal as vice-chairman of the House State Affairs Committee was merely an oversight, but he also said he’d warned Anderson of “fallout” if he filed the ethics complaint against Hart.
“You know, I don’t have a problem with him filing the ethics complaint,” Denney said. “When he came and asked me about it, I suggested that he have somebody else do it, because there could be fallout. You know, there are people in our caucus who fully support Phil Hart and there are people in our caucus who do not. So, you know, for one of our members to do that, I think it could be tough.”
As for the vice-chairmanship, Denney said, “What’s done is done, and we’ll continue for two years as it is.” He said, “When you get those names and everything out there, things change and sometimes we miss things. … Sometimes people who should get something don’t. It’s not that we’re punishing anybody, it’s that sometimes we miss it.”
He added, “No one was punished, even those who ran for leadership; we didn’t punish anyone.”
Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, who unsuccessfully challenged House Majority Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts, kept his chairmanship of the House Education Committee. But Rep. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, who unsuccessfully challenged House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, lost his seat on the key Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee; Bayer said it was his choice to move to the House Revenue and Taxation Committee.
Anderson didn’t run for leadership, though he was rumored to be a candidate in the weeks before party leadership elections were held. But after he filed the ethics complaint, he lost his committee vice-chairmanship and also was denied his request for a third committee assignment, a seat on the judiciary committee. Anderson is a fourth-term representative; the vice chairmanship went to third-term Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa.
Hart, meanwhile, lost his seat on the Revenue and Taxation Committee – as recommended unanimously by the House Ethics Committee after it reviewed an earlier ethics complaint against Hart – but kept his vice-chairmanship of the House Transportation Committee.
Denney said, “In Phil’s case, we were very careful – I didn’t want to show that we were rewarding him, and I didn’t want to show that we were punishing him.” Hart was simply reduced to two committee assignments instead of three; he saw no other changes. “That was his choice,” Denney said.
Anderson’s complaint against Hart charged that Hart violated his oath of office by fighting against paying his state and federal income taxes and declaring that they’re unconstitutional; by invoking legislative privilege to try to win delays in his state and federal tax fights; and by illegally cutting trees from state school endowment land and using them to build his log home in Athol in 1996, and never paying an outstanding judgment over the theft.
The Ethics Committee last week voted 6-1 to launch a full investigation into the complaint and meet again in January.
The previous week, 1st District Judge John Mitchell tossed out Hart’s appeal of a state Tax Commission order to pay $53,000 in back state income taxes, penalties and interest, calling Hart’s arguments “wholly unsupported,” “unthinkable,” and, in his arguments that an Arizona case showed legislative privilege should exempt him from time limits to file his state tax appeal, making an “attempt to deceive this Court.”
Denney said, “I think Phil has every right to pursue all of his legal avenues.”