February 22, 2012 in Idaho

Idaho Senate leader resigns amid sex harassment charges

John Miller Associated Press
Betsy Russell photo

Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, center, announces the resignation Wednesday of Senate Majority Caucus Chairman John McGee, R-Caldwell, after sexual harassment allegations involving a Senate staffer.
(Full-size photo)

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For more on this story, see the Eye on Boise blog here

BOISE — Republican Sen. John McGee resigned from the Idaho Legislature on Wednesday amid allegations of sexual harassment involving a female senate aide, capping a political free-fall that began last year with a drunken driving arrest.

McGee, a four-term senator from Caldwell and the fourth ranking member of the chamber, submitted his resignation letter this morning.

Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, said it was McGee’s decision to step down. But Hill and other GOP leaders also made it clear it would be difficult for McGee to keep his seat and leadership post amid the new allegations.

“My first priority is to ensure the safe secure and professional work environment of the senate employees,” Hill told reporters after meeting with the Senate GOP caucus. “My second priority is to protect the integrity of the institution.”

Hill did not share details of the allegations, but said the case was brought to his attention Saturday. McGee did not admit to any wrongdoing, Hill said.

The Idaho Attorney General’s Office is investigating the claims.

McGee did not immediately return telephone messages today. McGee was absent from the Senate and Idaho on Capitol today and missed several votes, including an opportunity to break a 17-17 tie on a wolf hunting measure.

Minority Democrats said they were informed of McGee’s resignation this morning and were shocked by the news.

“Whenever any of our members has this happen, it’s sobering,” said Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum. “It’s a sad day for the Senate.”

McGee’s sunny disposition and rapid rise in the Senate at just 38 made him constant fodder for talk that he’d seek higher elected office. His departure from the Senate likely means any further political aspirations he had are over.

The resignation caps a difficult year for McGee, who was arrested on June 19 — Father’s Day. McGee began drinking at a Boise golf tournament, and 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.

Last summer, McGee 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.

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.

At the start of the 2012 session, McGee apologized to his colleagues for his actions and survived efforts calling for him to step down from his leadership post.

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