Tax-protesting state lawmaker Phil Hart’s comeback bid is in doubt, as the Idaho secretary of state’s office has ruled Hart ineligible for the ballot.
Hart, who lists a P.O. Box in Kellogg as his address, filed to run against Rep. Paul Shepherd, R-Riggins, in District 7 in the May GOP primary.
He previously served four terms as a District 3 state representative from Athol. He lost his Athol home over unpaid federal income taxes in 2016.
Hart did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney said Hart registered in District 7 at the polls in November 2017, under Idaho’s Election Day registration law. But the Idaho Constitution requires a candidate for the state Legislature to be an “elector of the county or district whence he may be chosen” for a year before the election – and it won’t have been a year between November and Idaho’s May 15 primary election.
“We had a question about it,” Denney said Friday. “And we decided, yeah, you know, really we should’ve caught that, but we didn’t.”
Now, he said, the secretary of state’s office has sent Hart a letter informing him that he’s ineligible for the ballot. “I expect that he may file suit,” Denney said, “but yeah, we are in that process.”
In 2014, Caleb Hansen, another candidate who was ruled ineligible for the ballot – after filing to run at the same time he registered to vote – sued, citing an inconsistency between the constitutional language and Idaho state law, which simply says a candidate “shall have resided” in the district for a year before the election. Hansen’s case was dismissed on procedural grounds, because it wasn’t filed promptly enough to meet required deadlines.
In 2017, Denney’s office proposed legislation to match the state law to the constitutional wording. But after passing the House 64-6, but having received several amendments in the Senate, it returned to the House and died.
Denney said his office likely will take the issue back to the Legislature.
Hart settled his federal income tax delinquency case in January 2015 and agreed to allow the auction of his log home in Athol. When the IRS first went after the home, Hart claimed he didn’t own it, though he built it and lived there. Federal authorities, in court filings, called Hart’s attempted transfer of the home to a trust in his daughter’s name a “fraudulent transaction” with a “sham entity.”
It’s the same home for which Hart illegally cut trees from state school endowment land in 1996, maintaining that as a citizen, he had a right to take the logs for free. After repeated, unsuccessful appeals, he never fully satisfied a $22,827 court judgment over the timber theft. An expired statute of limitations prevented the state from pressing collection efforts.
Hart was defeated in his bid for a fifth term in the Idaho House in the 2012 GOP primary. But he’s remained active in state GOP politics, and has held leadership positions with the Idaho Republican Party and the Republican Liberty Caucus.
Hart refused to pay federal income taxes for several years while he pressed an unsuccessful lawsuit charging that the federal income tax was unconstitutional. In years of court fights over back taxes, Hart tried unsuccessfully to invoke “legislative privilege” due to his status as a state lawmaker at the time.
In the April 24 letter sent to Hart from Chief Deputy Secretary of State Tim Hurst, Hart was advised that because ballots already have been printed, “your name will be marked out and no votes will be counted.”
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