December 23, 2010 in Idaho

Hart backer targets Anderson in complaint

By The Spokesman-Review
 

BOISE - A North Idaho political activist and backer of embattled Rep. Phil Hart is trying to file a House ethics complaint against Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake - though only House members can file such complaints.

Anderson filed an ethics complaint against Hart last month, charging that the Athol Republican has violated his oath of office by refusing to pay state and federal income taxes and contending they’re unconstitutional; by invoking legislative privilege to try to win delays in his tax cases; and by illegally logging state school endowment land to build a log home and then refusing to pay a still-outstanding judgment for the 1996 timber theft.

Activist Larry Spencer, in a five-page letter to House Speaker Lawerence Denney dated Dec. 20, claims Anderson has a conflict of interest because he’s a contractor and voted for contractor licensing legislation that Spencer opposes; and because he worked on a state milfoil eradication program and lives on Priest Lake, which is among the lakes where milfoil is now being eradicated.

Spencer also said in the letter that he could find no evidence that Anderson ever registered as a contractor under the new law. Anderson said that’s because he hasn’t worked as a contractor since he was elected to the Legislature in 2004.

“I kinda dove into this legislative thing head-first and never had any time any more,” Anderson said.

He was so persistent in pushing the milfoil issue that for a while Anderson was tagged with the Statehouse nickname of “Morty Milfoil.”

“We have so many lakes up north, and you get those things in the lake, you’re going to be in trouble,” Anderson said. He noted that after helping launch the program against milfoil, an invasive and fast-spreading aquatic weed, he worked hard on legislation to combat invasive quagga and zebra mussels.

“I do live at a lake where it’s, I think, one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, and as an elected official I certainly think I have a responsibility to try to keep it that way,” Anderson said.

Denney said Thursday that he forwarded Spencer’s letter to Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, chairman of the House Ethics Committee. “I really didn’t look at it,” Denney said. “They can take care of that, and then I don’t have to deal with it. I’ve got enough on my plate already.”

Denney said, “Our rules on ethics are basically for the House, and I think the attorney general will say that a complaint from other than a House member is not acceptable.” But, he said, “I want him to tell ‘em that rather than me.”

Spencer wrote in his letter that he understood the Idaho Attorney General had taken the position that non-House members can’t file such complaints, but he charged that the Attorney General’s office itself has a conflict of interest and shouldn’t represent the Legislature.

Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane said it’s not a matter of taking a position. “The general rule is that the House rules apply only to members of the House,” Kane said. That’s why questions of compliance with internal rules are handled by the legislative house in question, and as long as there’s no constitutional violation, aren’t reviewable by the courts.

The Ethics Committee voted on Dec. 13 to launch a full investigation into Anderson’s complaint against Hart on all three counts.

Spencer, a frequent participant in lawsuits who’s known for sending out last-minute campaign fliers in various North Idaho races and who backed a primary challenger against Anderson four years ago, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Anderson said, “I did know that he was out sniffing around trying to find any dirt that he can on me.” He added, “I don’t know if there’s anything I can think about what Larry Spencer does. I have a hard enough time keeping my sanity without letting him into my head.”

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