The curious case of @SenDantheMan

By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports

Sen. Dan Foreman, R-Moscow, is usually a reserved man. He speaks calmly and emphatically, even about issues over which he feels strongly, like abortion. But he’s known for his outbursts.

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A screen grab of the now-deleted @SenDantheMan Twitter profile.

The same could be said for @SenDantheMan, a Twitter account with the District 5 lawmaker’s name, photo and a link to his campaign site. Most of the tweets were mundane, the sort you’d expect to see from a Republican politician in his 60s: A comment about how there will be a way forward for health care post-Obamacare, a retweet of Idaho State Police congratulating an Eagle Scout, support for the Second Amendment. Like many Idaho lawmakers’ Twitter accounts, @SenDantheMan went mostly silent after the 2017 legislative session.

On Monday, the account became active again, shortly after a taped verbal altercation between Foreman and a group of University of Idaho students went public. Whoever running the account sent a tweet to University of Idaho student Kim Scheffelmaier to “go talk about killing babies with Maryanne Jordan.”

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Scheffelmaier had been among the UI students who had traveled from Moscow to Boise for Planned Parenthood’s lobby day, and wrote on her account that she and other students had planned on a 9 am appointment with Foreman to discuss birth control and sex education.

Foreman later said the account wasn’t affiliated with him, and on Monday night, tweets from the account itself claimed it had been a parody the whole time.

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If the world of social media weren’t confusing enough, that series of tweets from the now-defunct Twitter account prompted an ethics complaint from Sen. Maryanne Jordan, as well as a discussion about civility, truth, and what you should and shouldn’t believe online.

On Tuesday, Foreman told Idaho Reports that he’s never had a Twitter account, despite mentioning Twitter use in a past interview.

In that May 2017 interview with CrossPolitic, a Christian podcast based out of Moscow, Foreman says he’d watched for whether churches would support his legislation that would criminalize abortion.

“When I was bringing my anti-abortion legislation to the forefront down in Boise, there was a grand total of zero churches that stood up,” Foreman said in the interview. “I didn’t get a single phone call, a text, a tweet, an e-mail, a letter, nothing.” That was the only reference to Twitter in the hour-long episode, though two of the hosts later tagged the @SenDantheMan account while promoting the show or engaging with him and other former guests.

Source: CrossPolitic.com. 

When asked about that interview, Foreman said he didn’t remember that part of the discussion.

“If I said Twitter, I misspoke because I wouldn’t even know how to get on Twitter,” Foreman told Idaho Reports on Tuesday. Foreman does have both personal and campaign Facebook pages, though he updates those rarely.

“When it comes to social media, you’re looking at a Neanderthal. I don’t do that stuff,” he said.

Foreman declined to say whether he’d yet spoken to Jordan to clear the air.

There’s no question that Foreman yelled at the University of Idaho students on Monday — that interaction was caught on at least two cell phone cameras. Attacking a fellow senator, however, would add another level of gravity to Foreman’s actions.

Beyond the questions of civility, the @SenDantheMan dust-up raises broader questions of accountability for online communications. If the account’s claim is true — that @SenDantheMan was fake the whole time — then it’s yet another example of untrustworthy social media accounts claiming to be one thing and perpetuating lies. It also caused a significant amount of grief for both Foreman and Jordan, as well as members of Senate leadership tasked with investigating the claim.

And whether or not the account was Foreman’s, @SenDantheMan lays out a roadmap for public officials with unverified accounts to make bombastic statements, then claim the account wasn’t theirs. Regret what you’ve written? Just delete it and say you had no connection to it.

There’s no proof one way or another, but everything posted on the account through Monday indicated it was connected with Foreman.

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Before the account was deleted, posts dating back to Feb. 2017 line up with Foreman’s political ideology, and include language that’s identical or nearly identical to what Foreman has said in interviews and in writing, such as “Murder is murder” and “abortion kills a precious living being.”

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Some phrases were verbatim from Foreman’s website.

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In another post, the account interacts with Twitter user @iamaroadtrip, defending Foreman’s anti-abortion legislation.

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Sen. Maryanne Jordan and Sen. Dan Foreman at the Feb. 20 Senate Health and Welfare meeting. Melissa Davlin/Idaho Reports. 

The dig at Maryanne Jordan was also specific. Both Jordan and Foreman serve on the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, and sit right next to each other. Whoever wrote that either had an intimate knowledge of the Idaho Legislature, or got lucky and picked a random Senate Democrat who happens to be on a committee with Foreman.

There were no tweets that indicated it was a parody — no over-the-top ideological statements, no poking fun at Foreman or anyone else, and nothing taking advantage of other times Foreman has been in the news for controversial actions, such as yelling at a constituent at the Latah County Fair in 2017.

Backing away from controversy on social media isn’t uncommon for politicians. Most use some variation of the excuses “I was hacked” or “A staffer made that post.” In some cases, the politician was telling the truth. (Looking at you, “Me likey Broke Girls.”) In other cases, they weren’t. 

And parody accounts aren’t rare, even in the relatively tiny #idpol and #idleg Twitterverse. But all of those known parodies are over-the-top and meant to make fun of their targets, affectionately or otherwise. Parodies, by their very nature, lampoon the subjects to make a political point. Along the same lines, they’re not meant to make audiences believe they’re actually real.

Nothing about @SenDantheMan was, well, funny. Nothing was ironic. Nothing posted before Monday would have been questioned as out of character for Foreman. Straight-up impersonations are more rare, but not unheard of. 

While there are ways to compel Twitter to reveal who is behind anonymous, fake or questionable accounts, the bar for that is high. The social media platform usually errs on the side of user privacy. Last year, Twitter refused to comply with a federal request to reveal the user behind an anonymous anti-Trump account. Police can investigate who is behind Twitter accounts, but that’s usually reserved for extreme cases, such as assault or threats.

Dr. Jaclyn Kettler, associate professor with the School of Public Service at Boise State University, told Idaho Reports she had never seen a parody account that didn’t act like a parody, and one that shriveled and disappeared right at the time it was getting the most attention. Imagine spending twelve months working on a painting, then ripping it up as soon as someone looked at it.

“You’d kind of imagine this would be the best time for attention,” Kettler said.

Regardless of who is behind @SenDantheMan, the incident doesn’t bode well for Idaho’s already fraught political discourse. At least when someone is yelling at you in the halls of the statehouse, you know who is doing it.

 

Seth Ogilvie contributed to this report. 

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Now hiring. Atheists need not apply.

By Devon Downey, Idaho Reports

 

Atheists in Idaho law enforcement are forced to lie.

They are forced to lie before they even start their job, and they must do so while signing a code of ethics.

Idaho Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Division Administrator Victor McCraw would like to change that.

All POST officers must abide by and sign the ethics code, which states “I will constantly strive to achieve these objectives and ideals, dedicating myself before God to my chosen profession – law enforcement.” The phrase “before God” drew the objections of an applicant, who argued that it was ironic that they would have to lie while signing an ethics form.

McCraw consulted with a Deputy Attorney General and the POST Council about potential changes to the code of ethics that removed the religious language.

An unnamed Deputy Attorney General told McCraw that the language would be a constitutional issue. If challenged in a lawsuit, McCraw recounted, POST would lose. When reached for comment, the Attorney General’s office said they had no formal position on this issue.

The POST Council requested McCraw change the language. McCraw recommended “before God” be replaced by “with sincere and unfaltering commitment.” A divided POST Council agreed.

On January 15th, McCraw presented the rule change came to the House Judiciary and Rules committee.

Representative Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, objected to the change, criticizing the removal of references to God and questioned whether other sections of the code could be removed based on objections.

Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, asked why objectors couldn’t use a different code. McCraw stated that it was something that the council considered, but that they wanted a universal code for all officers.

Rep. Christy Zito, R-Hammett, attempted to stop the rule change. “The founding documents of our country and state are based on the belief of a supreme being,” Zito told Idaho Reports.

“Removing God because of fear of litigation is not a sound reason,” said Zito. “I support providing an optional oath for those who do not believe in God. I also believe it is important to protect the strong belief in God of those in my district and our state.”

The committee did not accept the changes that removed “before God.” They allowed all other changes to pass. Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, was the only one to disagree.

The “basis of the constitution is the separation of church and state. Government can’t impose who to pledge to,” said Wintrow. “It’s unconstitutional. [That’s] not me [saying that], it’s the AG saying it. God’s most important gift is choice.”

“It’s unconstitutional. [The pledge] is a religious test to gain employment”, explained Kathy Griesmyer, Policy Director of the ACLU of Idaho. Griesmyer cited Torcaso v. Watkins (1961) where the Supreme Court said, “[w]e repeat and again reaffirm that neither a State nor the Federal Government can constitutionally force a person ‘to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.’”

Since the House did not approve the changes, the code of ethics still includes the “before God” pledge. McCraw noted that POST would be unable to make any changes until the end of the legislative session. When the session ends, they will temporarily change the pledge to add “or with sincere and unfaltering commitment”. Then the POST committee will have to decide what changes to present to the legislature in 2019.

The ACLU, POST, and at least one person in the attorney general’s office believe the current POST rules are unconstitutional. Now, it’s up to the 2019 Legislature to decide what happens next.

 

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Federal sign-off on Idaho solution? Wait and see.

By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports

Two health care plans — one an executive order on health insurance, and one a legislative proposal on Medicaid waivers — are touted as Idaho solutions to rising health care costs.

But sometimes, even state solutions need permission from the federal government. Right now, there’s no guarantee that permission will come.

In a Thursday interview with Idaho Reports, Idaho Department of Insurance Director Dean Cameron said both the executive order and the dual waiver proposal would need sign-off from the feds. When asked if he was confident that blessing would come, Cameron answered “We’ll see, won’t we?”

The executive order directs Cameron to create guidelines for insurance plans to be sold in Idaho that wouldn’t necessarily meet the mandates outlined in the Affordable Care Act. That wouldn’t need permission from the feds so much as the federal government’s inaction — in other words, declining to come after Idaho for non-compliant plans.

“We believe that when the president and Congress… repealed the individual mandate, that meant consumers didn’t have to buy ACA compliant plans,” Cameron said. “That means they can buy something else.”

But that belief hasn’t yet been tested, Cameron said.

The federal government has a few chances to comment on Idaho’s plans: When Idaho issues its guidelines, and when insurance companies create insurance plans to fit those guidelines. Right now, Cameron is working on putting together guidelines for insurance providers on what must be covered.

Jon Hanian, spokesman for Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, pointed to President Donald Trump’s inclination toward deregulation as a sign of hope for the Idaho efforts.

“We have been and continue to be in constant contact with federal officials on this issue. They’re asking questions and we’re answering.”

“As of right now, they’re taking a wait-and-see approach,” Hanian said.

Another proposal, more uncertainty

The dual waiver proposal also needs sign-off — and unlike the executive order, it requires the federal government to take action.

Here’s how it works: One waiver would allow individuals with incomes under 100 percent of the federal poverty line to receive cost-share reductions and tax credits meant for buying insurance on the private market. The other waiver allows Idahoans with “medically complex diagnoses” — essentially, long-term conditions that are expensive to treat — to move to Medicaid.

The federal government hasn’t OKed the first part of the proposal regarding the tax credits. Without that first waiver, the second part of the proposal doesn’t work.

Lt. Gov. Brad Little, who also signed the executive order, emphasized the difference between the insurance executive order and the Medicaid dual waiver legislative proposal.

“Of course, (the feds) are in the same place,” Little said. “Everyone was expecting a repeal and replace, and all we’ve done is kind of banged up the Affordable Care Act.”

Cameron and Hanian said despite the uncertainty on both proposals, the Department of Insurance is in constant contact with DC.

“We’re… trying to walk a fine line between what would be acceptable and what would be unacceptable to the federal government,” Cameron said.

“We’re in touch with them every step of the way so that it doesn’t run into any problems and it would avoid any potential” issues, Hanian said.

The Jan. 19th episode of Idaho Reports also featured Rep. Fred Wood, chairman of the House Health and Welfare committee, and Sen. Maryanne Jordan, member of the Senate Health and Welfare committee, discussing the merits of the proposals.

We’ll have much more on health care throughout the season. You can watch the full episode of Idaho Reports here, or watch the extended interview here.

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Idaho Reports web extra: Full interviews from Jan. 19th episode

You’d think we’d be able to fit three segments into an hour-long show, but this week, the conversations were too interesting to cut short. Both of our panel discussions — one on sexual harassment and respectful workplace policies, and one on the two Idaho health care proposals — went longer than we’d anticipated, and both were too interesting to put on the shelf.

So if our weekly show wasn’t enough, here are the full interviews.

 

 

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IDP data director resigns after domestic battery charge

Updated 3:35 pm, Jan. 18, with information on Hamilton’s resignation. 

 

By Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Reports

The data director for the Idaho Democratic Party resigned Thursday after being charged with domestic battery.

Tom Hamilton, former political director for the party, was arrested and charged with domestic battery on Jan. 7th.  He currently has a no contact order placed on him.

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Earlier in the week, Idaho Reports had asked the Idaho Democratic Party whether Hamilton was still employed after the party learned about the charges.

“Right when we found out, we placed him on administrative leave,” Shelby Scott, communications director for the Idaho Democratic Party, said Tuesday. “The alleged incident happened outside of work hours and did not involve any members of the IDP organization.”

Scott added Hamilton was still being paid, but had been locked out of his work accounts.
On Tuesday, Scott and Idaho Democratic Party Chairman Bert Marley declined to comment on whether Hamilton would continue to be employed by the party.

“As of right now he has been placed on administrative leave, and I believe that the chairman will come to a decision,” Scott said Tuesday. “We take all of these allegations seriously, and we want to make sure people know we are taking this seriously. Any sort of incidents like this or any sort of arrest, we need to take a look at what’s going on there, and this is obviously no different.”

Ultimately, Hamilton resigned, and Marley accepted his resignation, Scott said Thursday.

The Idaho Democratic Party has previously criticized Republicans for supporting candidates with a history of domestic violence. In 2014, then-Idaho Democratic Party communications director Dean Ferguson attacked Republican support for Rep. Greg Chaney after Chaney’s past domestic battery charges came to light.

“The Idaho Democratic Party says Idaho families and Idaho children ‘deserve your support,’” Ferguson wrote. “Gov. Otter owes Idaho to explain why he endorses a candidate with Greg Chaney’s recent criminal history. Gov. Otter needs to tell Idaho families why he wants Chaney to vote on laws that affect the safety of Idaho families and Idaho children.”

Hamilton didn’t return messages for comment.

According to court documents, Hamilton posted a $500 bond two days later, on Jan. 9th. He has a pretrial hearing scheduled for Feb. 26th.

 

Melissa Davlin contributed to this report. 

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Resources for sexual abuse survivors and those having suicidal thoughts

Here on Idaho Reports, we’d already been planning multiple stories and discussions this season related to mental health, crisis centers, and suicide in our state. And of course, there’s a grim cross-over between childhood sexual abuse, depression, and suicide. Survivors of childhood sexual abuse are two to four times more likely to attempt suicide.

But that’s preventable, and there’s help for survivors of sexual abuse. Brandon Hixon’s death has forced both of these uncomfortable topics into the spotlight this week. And perhaps one of the reasons they’re so uncomfortable is we don’t talk enough about sexual abuse. We don’t talk enough about suicide. We don’t talk enough about mental health issues.

The terrible circumstances surrounding Hixon’s death shouldn’t make us shy away from these conversations. So we’re going to have them. And it might be awkward at times, but it’s important. On this week’s Idaho Reports, following Gov. Otter’s recommendation of opening three additional crisis centers across the state, we’re focusing on suicide prevention. 

This isn’t just because of Brandon Hixon, but because of the thousands of Idahoans who are touched by the tragedy of suicide every year.

If you or anyone you know is in emotional crisis, you can contact the Idaho Suicide Helpline at 208-398-4357, or visit their website.  

And for resources for victims and survivors of sexual abuse, you’ll find links to resources on the attorney general’s website.   In addition, Faces of Hope offers multiple services for victims, including group therapy, legal assistance, and emergency housing. You can find out more on their website. 

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After Hixon’s death, some reflection

By Melissa Davlin

In November, producer Seth Ogilvie and I were in Challis for work, when Ogilvie ran into Brandon Hixon in the parking lot of our roadside motel. They exchanged brief looks, then Hixon left without saying a word. We learned from the woman working the front desk that he was on his way to his hometown of Salmon.

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Brandon Hixon

Under different circumstances, I imagine Hixon would have been happy to see us. We had a good working relationship, and he was always eager to tell us about upcoming legislation he was working on.

But this chance meeting was different. Hixon had just resigned two weeks prior, as news had broken he was under investigation for alleged sexual abuse. A month later, he would be arrested for the driving under the influence.

And a few weeks after that, Hixon died by suicide.

We have a small press corps in Idaho. We have fantastic access to our elected officials. That doesn’t stop us from holding them accountable when they’re accused of impropriety, or worse.

But we also know they’re human beings, with lives outside of politics and policy. Sometimes, those lives are messy.

Hixon faced serious accusations, and this tragedy doesn’t excuse the gravity of those. That wouldn’t be fair to the alleged victims, or any victims of abuse.

As of Tuesday, Hixon faced no charges related to that investigation — just charges related to two episodes of driving under the influence. And let’s be clear. Those charges are also  serious. Drunken driving kills.

But that wasn’t the only part of Hixon’s story. When I first met him in fall of 2012, he had recently turned 30, and was quick to tell me that he would be the youngest serving lawmaker in the Idaho legislature. He was proud of that. Hixon was ambitious, and he viewed himself as a rising star in the Republican party.

He had children. He had family. He had friends here in the legislature. I’ve spoken to some of those colleagues, who are grieving even as they acknowledge, and struggle with, the accusations he faced.

Those are complicated feelings,. We can recognize the grave dangers of drunk driving and the damage caused by sexual abuse, while also wishing Hixon’s family and friends comfort.

We can also acknowledge the importance of mental health care. When mental health and suicide came up at Friday’s Associated Press preview, Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill stressed the importance of family, friends and schools offering support.

That’s important, but the burden of preventing deaths doesn’t, and shouldn’t, rest solely with loved ones. Idaho has the lowest number of psychiatrists per capita in the United States, and has the fifth highest suicide rate. As Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter requested the opening of three new crisis centers throughout the state, others questioned whether that would be enough. We still have a rural doctor shortage. We still have tens of thousands of uninsured Idahoans. Hixon’s death might not make a difference in those policy discussions, but today, it’s on everyone’s minds.

Tragedies don’t always offer lessons or silver linings. Sometimes, events are just awful and sad. But if anything comes out of Hixon’s death, let it be this: If you see someone struggling, reach out.

If you or anyone you know needs help, please call 1-800-273-8255 to speak to someone at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or 1-208-398-4357 to speak to someone at the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline.

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