Two Idaho legislators face investigations after alleged affair
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BOISE — The Senate is informally investigating an east Idaho state senator’s use of public funds after allegations were made about his legislative travel while having an alleged affair with a state representative.
Senate Pro-Tempore Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, said the Senate is interested in finding out whether public funds were improperly used by Sen. Jim Guthrie, R-Inkom, who, according to a blog post published this week, may have had relations with Rep. Christy Perry, R-Nampa, on what he claimed were legislative trips.
“Certainly it would be an investigation for us in determining whether state funds were properly used,” Hill said. “If someone is legitimately going to a conference or a meeting or something, what went on in their personal life outside of that conference or meeting is — I’m not sure what bearing that has on expenditures of funds, but we want to make sure the funds are properly expended, but we will be looking into that.”
The informal investigation involves having state auditors look at legislative financial records detailing travel of Guthrie, as well as looking into whether the actions of Guthrie were a breach of ethical conduct.
Hill said the Senate cannot investigate a House member, though he suggested the House might want to look into Perry’s travel reimbursements as well to compare what conferences Guthrie and Perry might have attended together.
House members have not said whether they are investigating Perry’s travel. Speaker Scott Bedke could not be reached for comment by deadline Thursday.
An eastern Idaho blogger published a post Tuesday detailing an alleged sexual affair between the senator and Perry. The blog post makes allusions to the two arranging meet-ups during legislative trips or during what they claimed were legislative trips.
The Idaho Press-Tribune submitted records requests for Guthrie and Perry’s travel vouchers for the past three years.
House Chief Fiscal Officer Terri Franks-Smith responded Wednesday afternoon, explaining that other than the daily commuting mileage during the legislative session between Perry’s home and the Capitol, there is no record of the Nampa representative asking to be reimbursed for travel expenses.
In a phone call to the Press-Tribune, Franks-Smith clarified that while some other legislators do turn in reimbursement reports for travel to certain events or conferences, Perry has not done so.
According to the website for the Idaho Board of Examiners, which sets guidelines for travel reimbursement for all state employees, travel costs can include meals, tips and gratuity; lodging; airfare and airline baggage fees; taxi, airport shuttle or other public transportation; rental vehicles; fuel; parking fees; conference registration fees and agendas; telephone, internet access or other communication fees related to travel; laundry and dry cleaning costs; and “all other expenses not specifically described but are reasonable and necessary in the conduct of official State business.”
A legislative staffer said the Idaho Press-Tribune could likely expect a response to its Senate public records request Friday. Idaho state law gives entities three working days to respond to such requests.
The Idaho State Journal, a sister newspaper of the Idaho Press-Tribune in Pocatello, has been unable to reach Guthrie for comment.
Perry issued a statement Thursday exclusively to the Idaho Press-Tribune, explaining she turned to a “friend in the Legislature” while “experiencing a profound crisis in my life” about two years ago.
Perry indicated she and her husband have been working through the situation by “actively seeking help and guidance for quite some time.”
The legislator from Nampa added a comment about the blog post.
“Unfortunately, someone has decided to use the past situation to launch a disgustingly brutal attack,” Perry said. “Overall, it is NOT accurate and serves no positive purpose in the lives of the families involved or the political arena.”
The representative cited her work in the Legislature as a measure of her character.
“I have worked incredibly hard in the Idaho Legislature for my district and the state. I will let my reputation, my work on policy issues, my voting record, and work ethic speak for me.”
Members of leadership in the state House and Senate said they were interested in learning more about the situation and commented on the possible ethics investigations that could follow.
Hill said he was “very surprised, to tell you the truth,” when he found out about the situation. He added he was not aware, nor had he heard any rumor, of the alleged relationship between Guthrie and Perry until reading the blog post.
“We’re interested in what’s going on here,” Hill said. “I think it’s premature to determine what the Senate might do specifically since we can’t do anything until January.”
There are no specific prohibitions on a romantic or sexual relationship between legislators in the Senate’s rules, though the ethics committee can be called for “conduct unbecoming a senator.”
If there is a complaint filed by another senator, a committee on ethics would be appointed, according to the Rules of the Senate. That complaint is confidential unless the committee finds it to have merit.
Although a formal ethics investigation cannot be held, an informal one is being held, Hill confirmed Thursday. This means looking into what other state legislatures have done when an accusation of “conduct unbecoming” a legislator has been made. The Senate will use it as a framework for any future action, he said.
“This has to do with a person’s personal conduct, and we need to determine to what extent they need to be held to a higher standard,” Hill said.
Hill added that he is not implying that the accusations made against Guthrie are valid.
“We are doing this as a precautionary thing, and doing our due diligence to be responsible to the citizens, but not because the accusations are true. That is to be determined.”
Hill could not think of any recent similar situations among Idaho legislators and said the Senate’s research will delve into the state as well as other states’ records.
In 2010 in Utah, state House Majority Leader Kevin Garn resigned amid a scandal after details of a nude hot-tubbing incident with a minor from 1985 were revealed to the media.
House Assistant Majority Leader Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, said he has seen the allegations but as of Wednesday afternoon hadn’t yet spoken with Perry.
“When I got the news I was disappointed and sick to my stomach,” Crane said. “My heart goes out to these two families. They are in my thoughts and in my prayers.”
Crane said individuals who are in a position of leadership are held under a spotlight.
“When a leader fails morally, it has a ripple effect,” Crane said. “Moral failures cause the public to mistrust their leaders and we must do everything we can to restore trust. … Failure is not final and doesn’t have to be final, but one thing we need to look at with that is how to restore the trust that’s been broken through this moral failure.”
Crane said there is an ethics committee in place in the House that can call a meeting at any point, not just during session. Crane said he would like to talk to Perry about the issue before moving forward and had left her a voicemail.
If a complaint is filed with the ethics committee, it is not public record until the committee finds there is a valid allegation, just as in the Senate.
In the House, the committee can meet outside of legislative session and can call a special meeting at any time. If they decide the allegation is valid, there would be a formal hearing.
Only the committee members and the legislator accused would know about the allegation made and only another legislator can file a complaint. The complaint cannot be made to the ethics committee by just any member of the public.
Crane does not know of any state policy that forbids legislators from dating or having sexual relationships with each other.
House Majority Leader Rep. Mike Moyle, R-Star, said Wednesday he was aware of the informal allegations but did not know details. Because he did not know the full details of the allegations, he declined to further comment on the situation.
Moyle was unaware if anyone had filed a complaint with the ethics committee.
House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said he had only heard of the informal allegations from what he read online.
Rusche did not know if a complaint had been filed but said “I have immense respect for both Sen. Guthrie and Rep. Perry.”
The Idaho Attorney General’s Office does not have the authority to investigate legislators. If an ethical allegation is made, it would go before the legislative body, not the Attorney General’s Office.
Idaho State Police spokeswoman Teresa Baker said Wednesday that law enforcement is not investigating any allegations regarding the legislators’ alleged relationship or allegations about misuse of public funds.
House Rule 76, which references ethical allegations against representatives, was put in place two years ago after other allegations of misconduct were made against past legislators.
It outlines the process of how an ethical complaint must be filed and at what point the allegations become public record.
In 2012, former Republican Sen. John McGee resigned after allegations of sexual harassment that were preceded by a drunken driving arrest. Additionally, former Republican Rep. Phil Hart was accused of his refusal to pay taxes. He did survive ethics hearings but lost at re-election.
Perry and Guthrie are seeking re-election this year in contested races.
In November, Perry is running for a fourth term and faces Democratic challenger Rita Burns, of Caldwell, and Libertarian challenger John Charles Smith, of Middleton.
Guthrie, looking for a third term, faces Democratic challenger Mike Saville, of McCammon.
This story originally appeared in the Idaho-Press Tribune. It is used here with permission.