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Eye On Boise

Dramatics at Senate ethics panel

During the Senate Ethics Committee meeting today, accused Sen. Jack Noble, R-Kuna, brought in a prominent lawyer, admitted he lied to the same panel two days earlier and closed out the two-hour-plus meeting with an emotional apology.

Noble is under investigation for failing to disclose his personal interest in a bill he introduced, which would have allowed liquor sales closer to schools. He owns a convenience store that’s across the street from an elementary school, and he and his wife had inquired about getting a liquor license for the store, which is up for sale.

Today, Noble had an attorney by his side, former Idaho Lt. Gov. David Leroy. Leroy, in his questioning of various witnesses, emphasized a state regulation that prevents a partisan elected official from getting a retail liquor license. Noble had told the committee on Tuesday that he knew the regulation meant he couldn’t get a liquor license, but admitted today that he didn’t learn about it until last weekend, long after his bill had been proposed and killed.

“Senator, are you in agreement that the information you provided the committee under oath in these hearings was false information?” Sen. Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, the ethics committee chairman, asked Noble. “I’ll tell you that I believe I did not state this right during this meeting,” Noble responded. “It was not my intent to falsify.” Hill then asked Noble, “In your opinion, did you mislead the committee?” Noble responded, “I could have misled the committee.”

To emphasize the point, the committee listened to a tape of the conversation in question, from its earlier hearing. Everyone in the packed room leaned in close as the tape played. Five television cameras recorded the proceedings, and spectators filled every seat and stood in back.

Noble offered a new excuse for why he brought the bill: He said the state liquor dispensary asked his wife to ask him to sponsor it for them. State liquor officials, called to testify under oath, denied it.

A liquor lobbyist also testified that he contacted Noble to ask about the bill, and Noble told him he was carrying it for the state liquor dispensary, so the lobbyist, Greg Nelson, said his group would support it. Later, when Nelson learned from news accounts that the bill wasn’t proposed by the liquor dispensary, he contacted Noble again and withdrew his support. At that time, Noble told him the bill had originated with “a person named Ken who had called his wife, who was well-known to the Legislature.”

Liquor Dispensary Superintendent Dyke Nally presented e-mails from his chief financial officer, Ken Winkler, saying Noble’s wife called him to inquire about getting a liquor license despite the proximity to the school, and told Winkler “she would have her husband, Sen. Noble, run a bill.”

At the conclusion of today’s testimony, the ethics committee set its next meeting for Wednesday, when it will make its recommendations. They could include dropping the ethics charges, reprimanding or censuring Noble, or ejecting him from the Senate.

Eye On Boise

News, happenings and more from the Idaho Legislature and the state capital.