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News >  Idaho

McGee retains GOP leadership despite drunken crash

UPDATED: Wed., Jan. 11, 2012, 11:56 a.m.

Sen. John McGee apologizes at a meeting of the Canyon County Republicans in Caldwell, Idaho, on Tuesday for a June 19 drunken driving incident.  (Associated Press)
Sen. John McGee apologizes at a meeting of the Canyon County Republicans in Caldwell, Idaho, on Tuesday for a June 19 drunken driving incident. (Associated Press)
By John Miller Associated Press

BOISE — Idaho Senate officials say Republican Sen. John McGee will keep his position as caucus chairman, the fourth highest ranking post in the GOP controlled chamber.

Republican senators met behind closed doors in the Idaho Capitol Wednesday to determine if McGee should retain his leadership post. Last year, McGee pleaded guilty to drunken driving in a plea deal after being arrested in a Boise neighborhood.

The Caldwell Republican has apologized for his behavior and is aware of the disappointment expressed by his senate colleagues.

The private meeting was the first chance McGee had since his arrest to address all of his senate colleagues, seek forgiveness and make a case to keep his job as caucus chairman.

McGee, who pleaded guilty to drunken driving in a plea deal that erased accompanying auto theft charges, has 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 marks the first time he’ll formally stand before his colleagues — behind closed doors on the Idaho Capitol’s fourth floor — to ask them for a vote of confidence as the chamber’s No. 4 official.

“Despite what happened this summer, I’m confident I can continue to serve in that capacity,” McGee said on Tuesday. “I really messed up, I showed poor judgment, and I have only myself to blame. Now, I want to earn back (my colleagues’) trust and respect.”

McGee, R-Caldwell, said senators have shared with him disappointment in his behavior, but he’s not aware of any of them challenging his post as majority caucus chair, which he’s held since last year.

Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, had only “no comment” to say, when asked if he was calling the caucus because lawmakers wanted to discipline McGee.

From the framed 2009 article in a local bank publication titled “A Balanced Man” to the endearing photos of his wife and daughters McGee keeps near his desk, the four-term senator’s office is arranged to underscore the public image he’s cultivated for himself since his days as a junior staffer for then-U.S. Sen. Dirk Kempthorne in Washington, D.C.

Now the marketing director for West Valley Medical Center in Caldwell, McGee is funny, good-looking and ambitious, with a trajectory that’s included board of directors posts at his alma mater, the College of Idaho in Caldwell, the Special Olympics and the Canyon County Republican Party — all posts bestowed ordinarily upon someone much older than his 38 years.

That careful image was shattered, or at least damaged, starting the night of June 19, when McGee began drinking at a Boise golf tournament. McGee says he largely blacked out; he simply doesn’t remember the details of what he did next.

But here’s what the police say happened: He 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.”

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