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Idaho House unanimously expels lawmaker convicted of felony fraud in Texas

Rep. Neil Anderson, left, looks on as Rep. John Green, right, asks a question during testimony before the House Commerce and Human Rights Committee regarding pending PTSD legislation at the Idaho State Capitol on Feb. 21, 2019. Green was expelled from the Idaho house following a conviction for fraud. (Brian Myrick / SR)
By Betsy Z. Russell Idaho Press

BOISE – The Idaho House of Representatives voted unanimously Thursday to expel North Idaho Rep. John Green, a day after he was convicted on felony charges in Texas and refused to resign his Idaho House seat.

The vote followed a nearly two-hour, closed-door House GOP caucus. Afterward, knots of House members gathered in Statehouse hallways, intently discussing the various legal aspects of the case. But there was no debate on the motion made by House Speaker Scott Bedke.

House Assistant Majority Leader Jason Monks, R-Nampa, seconded the motion, which passed 65-0. Majority Leader Mike Moyle presided over the vote to allow Bedke to take his seat on the floor and make the motion.

“Today was a solemn and difficult day for the Idaho House of Representatives,” Bedke told reporters after the vote.

Green is a conservative Republican from Rathdrum and a longtime tax protester. He was convicted in federal court of conspiracy to defraud the United States in connection with a tax-evasion case involving his friend and legal client, Thomas Selgas, and faces up to five years in federal prison.

On Thursday, after his conviction by a Texas jury, Green, 60, told the Associated Press, “A lot of innocent people get convicted.” He said he planned to serve out his legislative term and appeal his conviction, but not seek re-election, though he’d earlier announced plans to run for Kootenai County sheriff.

“I’ll probably get sent to do some time,” Green said. He did not immediately return a reporter’s calls after the House vote.

Both the Idaho Constitution and state law say a felony conviction disqualifies a legislator from serving.

Bedke noted that, while his motion didn’t say “expel,” but instead said the House was declaring the position vacant, “The result is the same.”

It was the first time in recent history – and possibly the first time ever – that an Idaho lawmaker in either house has been expelled. Over the past 15 years, two senators – Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell, in 2012 and Sen. Jack Noble, R-Boise, in 2005 – resigned rather than face possible expulsion amid ethics inquiries.

Minority House Democrats also caucused over the issue, but just briefly.

While the House GOP was still in caucus, the House received formal legal guidance from the Idaho Attorney General’s Office. The written opinion from Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane, which cited constitutional and statutory provisions in addition to case law, essentially said Green was no longer qualified to serve, but if he wouldn’t resign, it was up to the House to boot him out.

“Although Rep. Green may appeal his conviction and be released from custody pending his appeal, he remains convicted,” Kane wrote.

“Based upon Rep. Green’s conviction of a felony, he appears to have lost his qualifications for office,” Kane concluded.

And under the Idaho Constitution, only the House itself can take action to remove a member, and only by a two-thirds or larger margin.

“It’s important to me that it was unanimous,” Bedke said. “We are caretakers of these seats. As was expressed in caucus, we are specks in time – the institution preceded us and the institution will go long after we have left. And on our watch, we wanted to do our constitutional and statutory duty, and I think we performed that today.”

Bedke said he had spoken with Green both Wednesday and Thursday, and at that point, once it was clear Green’s seat was vacant because of his conviction, it wasn’t clear how he could even resign, Bedke said.

“The statute declares the office vacant. And if it’s vacant, do you have to resign?” Bedke said. “You can kind of see the catch here.”

While Green was on trial in Texas, Tim Kastning of Rathdrum had been appointed as his temporary replacement, but Kastning wasn’t able to fill in for Green in Thursday’s vote. That’s because a temporary substitute can’t serve in an officially vacant seat.

House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, said, “If you have a vacancy, you can’t have a sub – as we learned to our dismay when Paulette Jordan resigned.”

When Jordan, D-Plummer, resigned two years ago to run unsuccessfully for governor, her House seat sat vacant for about two weeks until a new House member could be appointed to replace her.

Green, who was in his first House term, held the same House seat that formerly was held by tax-protesting state Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol. Hart was removed from the House Tax Committee after an ethics complaint in 2010, but continued serving in the House until he was defeated in a GOP primary in 2012 after four terms. Hart settled his federal tax case in 2015, giving up his Athol home to an IRS auction in the process.

After the House’s vote on the expulsion Thursday, Rubel said she was surprised her GOP counterparts took so long in caucus before they emerged to vote.

“It was pretty crystal clear from both statute and the constitution that there is no way we can have a member continue in office who has been convicted of a felony,” she said.

That, she said, created a “constitutional crisis.”

“The Legislature takes the constitution very seriously,” Rubel said. “We all take an oath to uphold the constitution.” She said was proud that House members acted to uphold the constitution “in a bipartisan fashion.”