BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — When Rep. Lori McCann was appointed to fill a seat vacated by a Lewiston lawmaker accused of sexual assault, she promised the House speaker that she will work tirelessly to bring honor back to the role.
And though she had heard that some felt strongly a woman should fill the vacancy, McCann said the key was getting someone with a strong sense of ethical behavior. And she said she fits the bill.
“I just wanted someone in there that had strong ethics and strong honor that they would bring to this seat,” McCann said. “I told the speaker that, for sure, I would work very hard to restore that honor and to not embarrass the House, because I know that’s what happened and that’s unfortunate.”
Gov. Brad Little on Monday announced McCann as his pick to replace Aaron von Ehlinger, a Lewiston Republican who resigned after a 19-year-old intern accused him of sexual assault. A House ethics panel investigated and unanimously ruled that he acted in “conduct unbecoming” of a representative — other instances of his behavior with women at the Statehouse came to light — and recommended expelling him from his seat. He stepped down before the House could vote on the matter.
McCann started Monday and will fill the position until the 2022 general election. She said she also plans to run for the seat.
McCann, 60, a former professor at Lewis-Clark State College, helped run a family law office and a family ranch. She has lived in Nez Perce County for 50 years, according to the governor’s office.
The 6th Legislative District Republican Central Committee voted on sending three candidates’ names to the governor earlier this month. McCann wasn’t one of the initial top three. The Lewiston Tribune reported that ballots were tabulated incorrectly and should have included McCann, not Hannah Liedkie, as a third choice.
Little spokesperson Marissa Morrison didn’t detail why McCann was ultimately chosen, but she said the governor “gave all candidates equal consideration and selected the candidate he believes is the best suited for the appointment.”
McCann said her top priorities in the next year will include better property tax relief for seniors and improving early childhood education.
“We have a lot of children that are going to school not ready for kindergarten,” McCann said.
McCann said she was disappointed that $6 million in federal funding for early childhood education didn’t make it to the House floor for a vote. Most Republicans criticized the funding and scuttled the bill.
“My initial feelings were, I was really disappointed because it is a big chunk of money that could do a lot of good for our students,” McCann said. “I’m going to do a lot of homework here in the next couple of months with our local representatives … find out what was left on the table that didn’t get finished.”
Rep. Priscilla Giddings must “be held accountable” after sharing the identity of the accuser
Dozens of demonstrators Monday night showed up on the steps of the Idaho Capitol, calling for Rep. Priscilla Giddings, a White Bird Republican, to be held accountable for sharing information that identified the woman who alleged that von Ehlinger sexually assaulted her.
The 19-year-old intern who accused von Ehlinger was referred to as Jane Doe and kept anonymous throughout the ethics hearing, testifying behind a black curtain. But far-right bloggers shared Doe’s identity and photo. Giddings also shared information.
Now, organizers of the Idaho Female Veterans Network and National Organization for Women in Idaho are calling for the House and Air Force to hold Giddings accountable. Giddings, an Air Force veteran, didn’t respond to requests for comment Tuesday.
Some organizers Monday night shared their own stories of sexual assault. Caitlin Lister, a former staff sergeant for the Marines, said she believes sexual assault survivors should feel comfortable bringing forward allegations to leaders in the military, including Giddings.
“That is why today we push for accountability,” Lister said. “In no way was Major Priscilla Giddings acting in a fashion that was becoming of an officer of the United States Air Force or an elected official. … Our service members deserve better than Major Giddings.”
The military “has a reputation of intimidating and bullying soldiers who bring forth sexual assault allegations, and the recent actions of Major Giddings perpetuate this problem,” the Idaho Female Veterans Network said in a statement. Military sexual assault and harassment affect one of every four soldiers, according to the network.
Annie Hightower, one of Doe’s attorneys, said she wants to see Giddings removed from her positions in the House and Air Force, and urged an ethics hearing on her actions. An ethics complaint against any House representative remains confidential unless the ethics committee members find “probable cause” in the complaint, according to House rules.
Hightower said Giddings smeared a teenager’s name for her own political gain, violating the young woman’s privacy and placing her in more harm.
“We the people of Idaho expect and demand better of our elected officials as a society,” Hightower said. “Rep. Priscilla Giddings’ treatment of Jane Doe highlights why survivors don’t report.”
Hightower added that Doe remains committed to making the Capitol a better place to work for everyone.
The Boise Police Department still has an open investigation into the allegations against von Ehlinger, and the offense on the police report is listed as rape. BPD has been in contact with prosecutors regarding its report, said spokesperson Haley Williams.