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Eye On Boise

Complaint says Idaho lawmaker acted inappropriately

Rep. James Holtzclaw (State of Idaho)
Rep. James Holtzclaw (State of Idaho)

By Kimberlee Kruesi, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — An Idaho lawmaker was the subject of a complaint for allegedly making inappropriate comments to at least two people during the 2017 legislative session, according to a heavily redacted document obtained by The Associated Press through a records request on Tuesday.

The complaint says that Rep. James Holtzclaw, R-Meridian, 42, made a woman feel uncomfortable and asked her if and how she used the social media Snapchat app. A separate person in the complaint says they told Holtzclaw that his flirty comments would not be tolerated. Neither person was identified in the document, nor were their ages and positions.

"After witnessing (redacted) taking selfies using the app Snapchat, Holtzclaw approached (redacted) in my absence to ask if she was on Snapchat and asking her what she does with it, telling her that he uses the app himself," the complaint read, dated February 9.

"Rep. Holtzclaw has also made mildly flirty comments to me, such as asking me "hello, have we met?" slyly and repeatedly, but I have shown him that I will not tolerate it," the complaint continued.

Holtzclaw, a three-term Republican from Meridian, said in an email Tuesday that he was traveling. He told the Idaho Statesman it was a situation was "a communication mistake of epic proportion" in a phone interview earlier this month. He added that he didn't remember the interactions noted in the complaint when legislative leaders contacted him about it.

"It was a huge misunderstanding and at no one time was it my intent to make anyone think I was anything but a gentleman," he said. "I didn't mean to offend anyone. I'm sorry for my conversation to be misconstrued."

Allegations against national political, entertainment and media figures have swept across the country, as well as sexual misconduct concerns in many statehouses.

The Associated Press obtained the one-page document after sending a public record request to the Legislative Services Office earlier this month asking for any documents regarding complaints or allegations of sexual misconduct.

The office responded saying it had nothing responsive to that request, in part because House Speaker Scott Bedke had already turned over any related documents to the attorney general's office.

"I give you my word that this matter was handled directly and immediately," Bedke said. "We addressed it immediately and assumed the issue was closed. It was a valuable learning experience for all."

Bedke declined to elaborate on what actions were taken or answer whether the people involved in the complaint were enrolled in the page program — which employs high school seniors between the ages of 17 and 19 during the session to assist lawmakers and staffers.

Bedke added that actions in the document weren't as "egregious" as others reported across the country, but maintained that the situation had been an eye-opener and not ignored.

Both the Idaho House and Senate have sexual harassment policies that include details for reporting offensive behavior and examples of behaviors to avoid, such as excessive compliments, compliments about an employee's body and hugs.

"Any employee who files a sexual harassment complaint shall not be subject to retaliation of any kind," the House's policy reads.

Lawmakers will undergo training in 2018 that addresses sexual harassment. Fourteen female lawmakers recently sent a letter to legislative leadership asking that the annual training lawmakers undergo include a sexual harassment component for lawmakers, lobbyists and staffers. Bedke said that he and other leaders had been planning to address the issue before he received the letter.

Meanwhile, Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter and First Lady Lori Otter recently come out in support of the popular "me too" social media campaign, pledging to bring awareness to stop sexual assault and harassment and encouraging Idahoans to step up in their efforts.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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