Ahlquist supporting PAC claim called into question

 

 

 

Updated 8:10 pm 2/18 with additional comments from Ahlquist’s campaign, St. Alphonsus and St. Luke’s.

PAC claims that Republican gubernatorial candidate Tommy Ahlquist founded an organization that supported victims of sexual assault and domestic violence were called into question this week.

According to campaign manager David Johnston on Thursday, Ahlquist founded the foundation’s board of the FACES of Hope, a community organization that supports victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. Johnston then clarified Friday that Ahlquist was president during the forming of the FACES Foundation.

“Tommy Ahlquist was responsible for starting the SART program at St. Alphonsus and St. Luke’s hospitals in Idaho,” Johnston said. “SART is a sexual assault response team that Ahlquist created, and that program organized the people and created a framework for the FACES Foundation to be formed.”

St. Alphonsus and St. Luke’s representatives were unable to confirm Ahlquist was involved in or created the SART program.

“It was FACES that created the SART program,” said Joshua Schlaich, media relations coordinator from St. Alphonsus.

St. Luke’s Public Relations Manager Anita Kissée, told Idaho Reports Dr. Ashley King, MD and Cyndee Cook, RN – both members of the FACES board – were the key leaders in developing the program at St. Luke’s.

Neither St. Alphonsus or St. Luke’s knew of Ahlquist’s involvement in the sexual assault response programs.

The Ahlquist campaign website currently claims Ahlquist was “inspired to help create FACES of Hope Victim’s Center.”

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The multiple claims are hard to follow. There is the FACES claim, then there is the FACES Foundation claim, and the SART program claim. All three are similar, but not the same.

The FACES Foundation came into existence in June 2016, 10 years after FACES Family Justice Center was incorporated.

Here is the original filing with the Idaho Secretary of State in 2006:original-faces

 

Ten years after that, the documents for the FACES Foundation were filed, but they do not have Tommy Ahlquist’s name on them.

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If Ahlquist was involved with the founding of the FACES Foundation, the people who filed the paperwork forgot to include his name, and they left him out of their history:

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The Ahlquist campaign website doesn’t currently claim that he founded FACES, but the Wikipedia entry for Ahlquist does hint at it:

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Then there’s that video you saw at the top of the story, an advertisement paid for by the Idaho First PAC. That PAC’s largest contributor is John T Ahlquist Jr., Tommy Ahlquist father.

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Ahlquist was the president of the FACES Family Justice Center for a few years, and he was a board member. Representatives from FACES declined to comment on Ahlquist’s current and past involvement with the organization. Ahlquist is no longer president or a member of the board, and the public records don’t point to him being a founder. The Idaho First PAC has not yet returned a request for comment.

 

 

 

 

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The Idaho health care bill is on life support.

By Seth Ogilvie

On Tuesday, the Idaho House of Representatives placed house bill 464, Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s dual-waiver proposal, into a legislatively induced coma for two weeks.

House leaders feared if the vote were held on Tuesday, the bill would die on the floor.

Monday’s vote on Medicaid dental coverage appeared to trigger Tuesday’s emergency legislative procedure. That bill, which would restore non-emergency dental services to Medicaid, passed, but it was a violation of the so-called Bedke Rule, meaning more House Republicans voted against the bill than supported it.

That vote painted an ominous path for the dual waiver plan.

“There has got to be some support built for that issue at this point,” House Speaker Scott Bedke told Idaho Reports on Tuesday. “I think people want to take a look at it.”

Rep. Fred Wood, the floor sponsor of the bill and only doctor currently serving in the Idaho Legislature, believes the dual waiver plan still has a chance at life. “I think it is reasonably promising,” said Wood.

It will take a lot of work to pass the bill and even more to hurdle the Bedke rule. But Bedke is staying out of the fight. “I am not personally working to build support,” said Bedke, “but I know some might be.”

“Right now it’s close,” said Wood, “and it will be close.”

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Talk is cheap, action could be priceless

By Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Public Television

 

Hours after members tasked with addressing possible amendments to harassment policies inside Idaho’s Statehouse, Majority Leader Chuck Winder stood at the front of the Senate, looked at his colleague Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill and said “Your voice sounds sexy today.” That comment was broadcast around the state.

Inside the Senate room, Winder’s remark got a few laughs in the chamber, various looks of astonishment from reporters and unknown reactions from citizens around the state.

Last year this comment may have never been repeated or discussed. That was before the #MeToo and Time’s Up movement. It was before reports erupted about Harvey Weinstein. It was even before a harassment settlement was announced with the state Controller’s office, as well as before allegations about Rep. Brandon Hixon, Rep. James Holtzclaw, Sen. Bob Nonini or lobbyist Colby Cameron.

But this year the Idaho Statehouse has multiple conversations about harassment running concurrently.

The Respectful Workplace Task Force personifies the first conversion members, made up of lawmakers, lobbyists, journalists and Statehouse staffers, are attempting to change the culture of the Idaho Statehouse and put a policy in place that combats harassment.

At the same time, Statehouse hallway talk has focused on self-preservation. There are quips about not being able to make jokes, hug, speak freely, or meet with women alone anymore for fear of being on the front page of the newspaper. This personifies the second conversation.

People looking for change and guidance without direction personifies the third.

In the first meeting of the Respectful Workplace Task Force, Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb _ a Democrat from Boise and co-chair of the panel focused on the need to have a solid policy in place by saying, “I took it for granted that that culture would follow me along.”

Sen. Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville , in the same meeting drew attention to the second sentiment by arguing that  “At least a half a dozen people didn’t get it. People immediately said ‘this does not apply to me’.”

“It can put them in an incredibly difficult position,” said Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian, talking about the awkward place leadership would be in hearing these complaints. She echoed the third conversation looking for change and guidance saying “they don’t have (human resource) experience themselves.”

No one in the Idaho Legislature is sure about the right course of action, but the Legislature does have resources they can use.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, investigated workplace harassment in 2015. The commission found that preventing workplace harassment must start at the top. Leadership “must communicate a sense of urgency about preventing workplace harassment. They must communicate this through words, policies, and procedures that create a culture in which harassment is not tolerated.”

Winder, a Republican from Boise, was making a joke when he commented on a sexy voice. Winder said Wednesday to Idaho Reports he takes harassment very seriously, but studies have shown harassment happens not because of bad actors but because of bad environments.

“Workplaces that tolerate harassment have more of it and workplaces that are less tolerant of harassment have less of it,” said Mindy Bergman, a psychology professor at Texas A&M University in the EEOC report. “This is a circular problem, because when harassment occurs and organizational leaders do not take it seriously, then the message is that harassment is tolerated, so then it becomes even more OK to harass-and when harassment is taken seriously and shut down, then the message is that harassment is not tolerated.”

Winder’s comment doesn’t excuse harassment. However, the comment does not reiterate to the Senate chamber and the state that telling someone they have a sexy voice is unacceptable in the workplace.

As of Wednesday, Idaho Reports knows of no complaints filed about Winders comment on Jan. 25th.

The unknown is how this could affect the next time a page, lobbyist, lawmaker, reporter or citizen hears they have a sexy (insert noun). The EEOC studied how many people file complaints after being harassed and found “anywhere from 87 percent to 94 percent of individuals did not file a formal complaint,” and that is just the individuals that know they could.

The Idaho Statehouse is even murkier.

“Often times these things can happen off campus,” said Rep. Paul Amador, R-Coeur d’Alene, drawing attention to the working environment of the Idaho Legislature. In the Statehouse, few people work for the people they interact with and seldom do bills get greenlighted at the statehouse instead they get passed over food and sometimes drinks.

Den Hartog, however, didn’t see that as a complication: “It’s not unique to address outside people. We’re not as special as we sometimes think we are.”

However, the Idaho Statehouse has some constitutional complications. Three branches of government all at some point in the same building and countless citizens expressing their constitutional rights to protest and occasionally be offensive. “We should not try to overreach and create a perfect environment while infringing on the public’s constitutional rights,” said Chad Houck with the secretary of state’s office.

Then there are the complications that victims encounter.

Harassment is not fully understood even by those victims. Sexual harassment has three general categories.

  1. Unwanted sexual attention. It is easy to understand it. It is exactly what it sounds like.
  2. Sexual coercion. It is basically a quid quo pro, if you want this promotion, give your boss this sexual favor. Or, if you want to keep your job, give your boss this sexual favor.
  3. The final category is not always at the top of mind when thinking about harassment. Gender harassment is sexual but not aimed at forcing sex. It is comments that undercut men, woman, gays, lesbians or transgendered people from their ability to do their job. Think of comments like “hussy” or a “male whore” or actions that make it hard for people to advance or do their job.

An EEOC deep dive into other peer-reviewed studies on harassment found that “anywhere from 25 percent to 85 percent of women report having experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.” That is a huge range. The major factor was that studies that asked people if they experienced “sexual harassment” in the workplace found one in four women said yes.

The number skyrocketed when studies asked people if they have experienced unwanted sexual attention, sexual coercion, or gender harassment

Lilia M. Cortina, Ph.D., Professor at the University of Michigan  pointed out that even amongst the people who acknowledged this harassment “fewer than 20-30 percent label the conduct as “sexual harassment” per se.” Cortina continued “rates are even lower among women who have only encountered gender harassment.”

“Will people get what they desire?” said Rep. Sally Toone, D-Gooding. “If we don’t have someone to listen to them in there it might get pushed under the carpet.”

“We’re lacking about specifics about the process,” said Toni Lawson, a lobbyist with the Idaho Hospital Association “There needs to be openness and follow up, and the process needs to be spelled out.”  

The knowledge of what is and isn’t “sexual harassment” is only one impediment to reporting the other is retaliation. A 2003 study found that three out of four employees who spoke up about harassment faced some form of workplace retaliation.

The process itself impacts if people report or not. Victims of harassment don’t report the behavior because they fear “disbelief of their claim; inaction on their claim; receipt of blame for causing the offending actions; social retaliation (including humiliation and ostracism)” according to the EEOC.

“We need an outside professional that has experience,” said Den Hartog.

Legislative leadership is always in a political situation by their very job, she added. They are not trained in how to deal with harassment complaints.

“It can put them in an incredibly difficult position, and they don’t have (human resources) experience themselves,” said Den Hartog

According to EEOC Commissioner Chai Feldblum, leadership is crucial, but it is not enough. Feldblum said, “for workers to believe their leaders are authentic – that they mean what they say — there must be accountability.”

However, accountability in the Idaho Statehouse will always come with a cost. Lobbyist Jack Lyman, with the Idaho Housing Alliance, summed up that cost succinctly: “Remember the people with green tags are funding this thing …who has the authority to say we don’t want you anymore?”

Therein lies the problem, it takes following through with the harsh repercussions to change the culture of the Idaho Statehouse.  

“If weak sanctions are imposed for bad behavior, employees learn that harassment is tolerated, regardless of the messages, money, time, and resources spent to the contrary,” the EEOC wrote. “Similarly, if high-ranking and/or highly-valued employees are not dealt with severely if they engage in harassment, that sends the wrong message loud and clear.”

In short? Without enforcement and without punishment of bad behavior, having the right words and right police will have little effect on implementing real change.

“Changing a culture takes a while,” said Buckner-Webb.

 

Note: Idaho Reports host Melissa Davlin represents the media on the Respectful Workplace Committee. She did not contribute to or edit this report. 

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Everything might be on the record

 

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The camera in House Assistant Majority Leader Brent Crane’s office. Photo by Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Reports

 

By Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Reports

There are fourteen cameras controlled by Idaho In Session at the capitol. There are multiple cameras controlled by Allied Barton Security — how many, they wouldn’t say. There is also a camera in the House Assistant Majority Leader’s office. That camera is controlled by Rep. Brent Crane.

The camera records Crane’s office and all the people who enter it. Crane placed the camera on a bookshelf, where it records on a loop, writing over the previous information as it records more. The information is available for only a short time unless it is downloaded and archived. The only person able to archive that video is Crane.

“Sometimes people’s emotions run high and nonverbal communication can be misinterpreted, or maybe I’m just getting up to get to the next meeting and someone takes that as aggression,” Crane said. “I can show them video and we can see what really happened.”

“I think there is a question to whether it’s even a reliable record of what transpires there, because he does maintain complete control,” said House Assistant Minority Leader  Ilana Rubel.

Crane does not always tell people who come into his office that the camera exists, though he did tell his fellow House Republicans about the office surveillance on Jan. 18, shortly after Idaho Reports inquired about the recordings. As of Jan. 22, House Democrats hadn’t officially been informed.

“You don’t have to inform people by state law,” Crane told Idaho Reports, referring to Idaho’s one-party consent law. “I don’t tell people because I don’t want them to feel uncomfortable.”

When asked if Idaho Reports could record its interview with him, Crane said no.

The camera is new this year. “With everything going on in this political climate, I need to protect myself,” Crane explained. “I made this decision because of this session’s tone, and the reports across the country and reports right here in Idaho.”

Those things going on across the country are powerful men being accused of sexual harassment and misconduct. “Some men have expressed concern about being falsely accused of sexual harassment when they’re making a joke,” said Jaclyn J. Kettler, assistant professor with Boise State University’s School of Public Service. “The recording of the legislator’s behavior is an effort to protect from sexual harassment charges.”

This is a concern shared by those putting together respectful workplace policies. “What happens for those people who might be falsely accused of a violation of a respectful workplace policy? How do you respect their privacy and don’t make it so public that they can’t ever recover their good name?” said Rep. Caroline Troy, co-chair of the working group tasked with tackling workplace policies, in a Wednesday interview with Idaho Reports. “If it’s a false accusation, those are equally weighty issues to be considering.”

“In the Time’s Up/Me Too movement, we’ve certainly seen careers shattered based on on an allegation,” Rubel said.  “I guess I can understand why someone would want documentation to resist that with, but you have to balance that with the human realities. It creates a lack of trust there, and that fear of what this is being used for, ‘Am I being set up?’ It would definitely be an obstacle to candid and open conversations.”

It’s hard to separate this camera from the #metoo movement. Crane has always been cautious when interacting with women. “I don’t go to lunch with women one-on-one out of respect to my wife and their spouses,” Crane said. “That’s a policy I’ve had for a long time.”

The Idaho Legislature is not Washington D.C. or Hollywood. There have been sexual harassment accusations here, but there has also been something Crane refers to as “gotcha politics.”

“I can get a sense with some of the people that come into my office that I might need to document this. Some of these people that might want to play gotcha politics. And I might feel that I need to have this info… I have a reputation to protect,” Crane said.

According to Crane, four people have been falsely accused of hostile behavior this year, as well as additional harassment allegations.  In one case, Crane said security footage disproved one claim, but he declined to discuss the specifics of those accusations.

Crane is attempting to give himself the same proof of innocence. “If someone makes an accusation against me, I can say ‘Here is the camera. Let’s look at the tape,’” Crane said.  

Others see it differently. “If they were false accusations, then I imagine the person could just make them about a different time or place than the legislator’s office,” said Jeffrey Lyons, an assistant professor at Boise State University’s School of Public Service.

However, some inside the statehouse seem to be interested in the idea. “I already had one colleague of mine ask me to get him one,” Crane said. “It speaks to the concerns people are having.”

“Individuals have the right to self-record,” said Kathy Griesmyer, public policy strategist for ACLU-Idaho. “Think ag-gag for example. The courts have held up that recorded materials are speech, and should therefore be protected. But, if the government were to be filming members of the public, we wouldn’t want government actors surreptitiously gathering video of individuals without them knowing.”

There are many lawmakers, lobbyists, reporters and citizens who meet with Crane in his office. “Generally I would want to know if I was being recorded if I was meeting with a lawmaker, especially if I’m sharing privileged information or discussing legislative strategy,” said Griesmyer. “I would also want to know how they plan to use the recorded materials as well.”

Crane said he has not yet felt the need to archive any video. Still, his ability to do so, and the knowledge of the camera’s existence, could affect the behavior of those visiting his office.

If this became more common, it might make negotiations over legislation more difficult, if legislators were worried that there was a record of everything they said somewhere,” Lyons said.

“You have to be able to have offline conversations with your colleagues as you’re brainstorming ideas.” said Rep. Luke Malek. “I wouldn’t want to be judged for every bad idea I’ve ever had.”

“I wouldn’t want to have a brainstorming session in Rep. Cranes office,” Rubel said “You would hate for those ideas to be used in an attack piece.”

Kettler shares those concerns that it could create unease and distrust in the workplace, but added the cameras could improve transparency. As for everyday citizens, Kettler said, “I suppose they might feel hesitant in visiting with their legislators if they know they’re being recorded.”

Clandestine recording are not new to Idaho politicians. In 2016, Rep. Ron Nate used a cell phone camera to capture video of conservations with fellow lawmakers without consent, and Bonneville County GOP official Doyle Beck surreptitiously recorded a 2016 conversation with then-GOP chairman Steve Yates.

Even Crane is still wrestling with how it should be handled. “Maybe I should inform people that they are being recorded, put a sign up on the office,”  Crane said, adding he doesn’t think it’s going away. “I would not be surprised if more people do this.”

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Brandon Hixon Arrested

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By Seth Ogilvie and Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports

Former state Rep. Brandon Hixon has been charged with driving under the influence and obstructing or resisting officers. Both charges are misdemeanors.

Hixon was arrested Saturday night around 7 pm by Meridian police and was booked into Ada County Jail Saturday at 9:10 pm. He has since bonded out, according to the Ada County Sheriff’s Office website.

 According to a press release from the Meridian Police Department, a witness said Hixon was swerving and almost drove off the roadway.

Meridian Police attempted to pull Hixon over, but according to the press release, Hixon “refused to stop and continued driving before yielding.” 

 Once pulled over, Hixon refused to exit the vehicle. After he eventually was taken into custody Hixon was given a standard sobriety test. The test showed a blood-alcohol level nearly twice the legal limit. 

 Hixon is currently under investigation for alleged sexual abuse.  These charges are independent of that inquiry, and no charges have been brought as a result of that investigation.

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They Have Rules for That

Note: This story was updated at 2:50 on Nov. 1 to reflect new information about the October commission meeting. 

 

By Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Reports 

 

In August, one of the most influential lobbyists in Idaho and the mayor’s pick for Boise City Council walked into the Salmon River Room for an airport commission meeting at the Boise airport. At the meeting, they discussed Frank Walker’s run for city council.

They did not break the law, and they did not violate any election rules. That is primarily because of geography. If either Russell Westerberg, the current airport commission chairman, or city council candidate Walker, who is also a Boise airport council member, worked 55 miles west in Oregon, they would have violated state election rules. If they worked for the federal government, they would have broken the Hatch Act. However, they work for the city of Boise, and the city and the state of Idaho have few regulations on what is acceptable electioneering in this state.

The official minutes from the meeting read like this: “Mr. Walker announce(d) he would be running for City Council. Mr. Westerberg backed Mr. Walker for council.”

In an October e-mail to Idaho Reports, Walker said he didn’t ask for the endorsement. “I did state that I was a candidate for office at the meeting. It was informational, and I was not seeking anything more,” he said.

The Oregon law instructs public employees to “not engage in political advocacy themselves while on the job or acting in their official capacity.” Similarly, the federal Hatch Act states “an employee may not engage in political activity—while the employee is on duty; in any room or building occupied in the discharge of official duties by an individual employed or holding office in the Government of the United States or any agency or instrumentality thereof.”

Neither Idaho nor Boise city code address the issue.

The event didn’t end with Walker’s proclamation. Commissioner Westerberg announced his support for Walker and then handed him a campaign check in the public meeting. “I had no idea that Russ Westerberg was going to announce his support, give me a check or ask others to do the same,” Walker said. “It took me by surprise and I was not comfortable with the matter.”

Westerberg saw it differently, telling Idaho Reports there was “nothing untoward whatsoever.”

“Walker announced he was running for city council, which was totally appropriate,” Westerberg said. “I used the occasion to take a check out of my pocket that I’d already prepared…. I wanted to be the first to support Frank.”

Under Idaho law, Westerberg is correct. The closest I could find to a prohibition on actions like this is the Idaho BRIBERY AND CORRUPTION code:

“No public servant shall:

(a) Without the specific authorization of the governmental entity for which he serves, use public funds or property to obtain a pecuniary benefit for himself.

(b)  Solicit, accept or receive a pecuniary benefit as payment for services, advice, assistance or conduct customarily exercised in the course of his official duties.”

The code doesn’t deal directly with donations and endorsements within a public meeting while representing the city in an official capacity, nor does any other piece of the city or Idaho code.

“This is a good reminder of why work of the legislative working group on campaign finance and ethics reform is so important,” said Ada County Chief Deputy Clerk Phil McGrane. “Situations arise where people engage in activities that the legislature and our laws haven’t anticipated.”

The Campaign Finance Reform Legislative Work Group has worked over the summer to modify the current campaign finance laws. The group, however, has focused on campaign contributions and disclosures, not electioneering.

The rules on electioneering for public employees and officials in Idaho are murky, or nonexistent. No piece of Idaho code prevents what happened at the airport commission meeting. No section of Idaho code expressly forbids council members, commissioners or even lawmakers from receiving contributions in committee meetings, or on the floor of the Idaho House or Senate. The line where campaigning stops and the public work begins is not clearly defined by law.

Lauren McLean, Boise City Council President Pro Tem, was also at the meeting. “I immediately contacted the commission’s attorney and asked that a briefing on electioneering be presented at the next meeting,” McLean said in an interview with Idaho Reports.

In the October commission meeting, the issue of ethics did come up. The minutes haven’t yet been posted, but Sean Briggs, the marketing manager for the Boise Airport, says commissioners received a presentation about the roles and responsibilities of the commission. “This included a slide at the end that talked about ethics, focused on conflict of interest,” Briggs said.

In an e-mail to Idaho Reports, Walker said “an attorney from the City spoke to me about the matter, and I assured her that I understood the impropriety of such a display and that it was certainly not my intent to have that happen.”

That leaves Boise voters with “impropriety,” as Walker put it, but nothing illegal.

As for the state, a more substantial issue is at hand: Should Idaho have rules about electioneering for public employees and elected officials? McGrane thinks so. “Clearer guidance on what is and isn’t appropriate would benefit everyone,” he said.

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This year’s accomplishments, through the eyes of Senate leaders

Over the last week, we interviewed several key players in the Idaho Senate. When the interviews were over, we asked them two simple questions: What was the greatest achievement of this year’s legislative session, and what was the biggest failure?

Here is what Democratic Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, Assistant Minority Leader Cherie Buckner-Webb and Minority Caucus Chair Maryanne Jordan said.


And here is what the Senate Republican leader President Pro TemporeBrent Hill said.

For the full interviews, watch the Friday, March 24 episode of Idaho Reports, available at idahoptv.org.

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