Monday, December 11, 2023

Guest Opinion - December 17, 2010

by Dean Opsal
| December 17, 2010 6:38 AM

Now tell me again, how is it that Idaho Rep. Phil Hart is bulletproof? He has been brought up on ethics charges in the House of Representatives, only to be assigned to the same ethics panel that saw nothing wrong with what he did last time.

Well, the fact of the matter is that the Speaker of the Idaho House has been re-elected. He is the one who appoints the ethics panel. He appointed the ethics panel for Hart last time and he has appointed it this time.

Yes, we are in a second go-round with Hart. The question is, can he be held accountable for timber he stole in 1996? Oh yes, there is also the small matter of the federal search warrant and resulting criminal indictment of Hart's silver business associates, but let's not talk about that right now. Rep. Eric Anderson has called Hart's activities, which now include timber theft, in addition to the unpaid taxes, a "stain" on the legislative body. A hearing was held Monday to determine if there is any reason, with this new information, to take any further action against Hart.

The reason Hart is bulletproof is Speaker Lawerence Denney likes him. To quote Hart's Web page:

"Phil Hart's experience in engineering and business management prepared him well to be an effective legislator. We need him back in Boise next term." - Rep. Lawerence Denney, Speaker of the House

Of course it is Speaker Denney who appointed the ethics panel to investigate Hart this last go-round. Why should anyone think that the result will be different this time? The same people will result in the same vote.

Well you say, "What about the revelation that Hart stole timber from state endowment land?" The way the argument goes is, "That was then ... this is now." Hart has been elected since then. Of course, if he had committed murder all bets would be off. He could be prosecuted for murder and the result would be that he would be packed off to prison. It is not very easy to sit on the Judicial Rules committee when you are in prison or soon could be. But, this is different. The statute of limitations has expired on both the criminal and civil aspects of the timber case and Hart is home free. Free to tend to his dedicated voters.

Well, not so fast. Where do ethics come into all of this? Should the legislature be held to a higher standard of ethics than just "catch me if you can?" Is there a continuing ethical obligation to make the state whole? Did all that disappear when Hart escaped the angry clutches of the attorney general when the statute of limitations had run out? The Idaho Attorney General said there is a continuing "moral" obligation. Now I hear that the Attorney General is scrambling to make a distinction between "immoral and unethical." Do Hart's ethical obligations somehow fall short of his moral obligations? I think not.

What I do think is that Hart will once again escape the wrath of the people. His friends in the legislature will say, "Well done thou good and faithful servant, go forth and be a predator once more." After all, the school children really did not need the money. And the continuing tax obligations, well, it is just taxes after all. No one likes taxes.

Dean Opsal is a Hayden resident.

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