By Daniel Bobinski
Disruptions and arrests have occurred at Idaho’s statehouse the past few days, and a large part of the problem stems from the actions of one man: Representative Greg Chaney.
Three weeks ago this writer reported that Idaho’s Governor Brad Little was calling a special legislative session seeking immunity for government for anything they do related to Covid so long as it was done “in good faith.”
Much opposition arose to this push for immunity, especially since the Governor refused to authorize a legislative session in May so legislators could discuss the Governor’s lockdown. Chaney, who chairs the House Judiciary, Rules, and Administration Committee, authored the immunity bill sought by the governor.
Special Session – Day 1
Day one of Idaho’s special legislative session was Monday, August 24, and this writer attended. Several hundred citizens showed up ready to hear the proceedings, but also to be heard.
It wasn’t until the crowd of more than 200 citizens walked up to the House Chambers for the plenary session that they were told only 26 people would be allowed to sit in the gallery to observe. This did not go over well. Citizens who’ve been denied a voice for five months tried forcing their way into the gallery, and a handful of state police tried to keep the doors closed. With police pulling in one direction and citizens pulling in another, glass on one of the doors shattered.
Although the Idaho Statesman reported that “protestors” broke the glass, state police issued a statement saying the breakage was accidental. Video of the incident shows it was not intentional.
The crowd calmed down when Speaker of the House Scott Bedke came out and spoke to the group, telling them that he’d open the gallery until all seats were filled, but that no standing would be allowed.
This writer was in a different wing of the Capitol during this series of events, but suffice it to say that after five months of feeling ignored by their government, Idaho’s citizens weren’t in the mood to be brushed aside.
Judiciary and Rules Committee Circus
This writer attended the committee meeting in which the immunity bill would be discussed. At the last minute, a written notice was posted, informing us that multiple immunity bills would be discussed, no doubt creating conflict for Committee Chairman Greg Chaney, who spent weeks drafting the original immunity legislation.
After what happened with people demanding to be let into the House chamber, a legislative assistant and the state police conferred, and informed us that they would allow people to stand beyond the 12 seats available in the committee room. And so, people filled the back portion of the room.
But before the meeting started, Chaney entered the room and announced that only those seated could remain, and everyone else needed to leave the room. This was directly opposite of what the state police had announced, and after five months of unnecessary restrictions on their lives, the public was having none of it. “No! They shouted. “You work for us! We’re staying!”
When nobody moved to leave, Chaney swung his arm out with his index finger extended and yelled, “Then EVERYBODY out!”
Frankly, it reminded this writer of a petulant child who wasn’t getting his way.
Several older representatives quickly approached Chaney, and after a few moments of discussion, they left the room. Representative Christy Zito stepped forward and calmed the crowd.
The meeting was moved to a much larger room that had auditorium-style seating, and citizen filled the auditorium. This writer managed to get a front-row seat.
As the meeting opened, this writer observed Chairman Chaney struggle with following Roberts Rules of Order, rationalizing his own arbitrary and capricious decisions, and bypassing House rules. When challenged on his missteps, Chaney responded to a fellow representative with a “But you ---” sounding to this writer like a four-year-old child.
Multiple times, various committee members asked for clarification on the steps the Chair was taking, striving to redirect him.
Background on Chaney
The Chair’s behaviors during the first day of the special session, although surprising to this writer, do not come without precedent. Representative Chaney has a history of violent behavior. According to his Wikipedia page and an organization called BoiseLeaks, Chaney was arrested in 2009 for domestic battery, false imprisonment, disruption of a 911/communication instrument and malicious injury to property.
Chaney’s own mother wrote a letter to the judge overseeing the case, requesting Chaney be remanded for psychological evaluation. She described Chaney as “volatile” and “reckless,” and stated, “His erratic behavior and poor judgement has resulted in his termination from the Nampa Police Department and later from the Marine Reserve.”
She also said that “a psychologist or social worker described him as unstable and a ‘time bomb.’”
Chaney was sentenced to six months in jail, all but three days were suspended.
First elected to Idaho’s House in 2014, Chaney was admitted to the Idaho Bar in 2018, and was named chair of the House Judiciary, Rules, and Administration Committee in May of 2019.
On day two of the special legislative session, as Chaney ordered the reading of one of the immunity bills, two members of independent media sat down at a table marked, “Reserved for Members of the Press.”
As soon as they did, Chaney said, “That table is reserved for credentialed press members, I’m going to have to ask you to move, please.”
One of them said, “I am credentialed,” as she held up her press pass. The other said, “As am I.”
Chaney claimed he had asked them not to sit there before the meeting started, and then asked them to leave the room. The two remained at the table, stating they were exercising their freedom of the press.
Chaney then said, “I will put the committee at ease while our friends that are helping us out in the back help us out.” Then, as several dozen state police officers filed forward and apprehended the two independent journalists, the gallery erupted in protest. To this writer, the event seemed orchestrated.
Later, on a radio interview, Representative Heather Scott, who sits on the Judiciary and Rules Committee, pointed out that those same two independent journalists sat at the media table during the first day’s proceedings and Chaney said nothing about it.
Further research revealed that by "credentialed press," the Chair was referring to individuals credentialed by the statehouse, but he did not clarify that to the journalists.
One observer suggested that Chaney knew his actions would create an uproar and give him an excuse to limit the number of people in the gallery. This writer believes Chaney’s actions show him to be both power hungry and reactive, often acting with a “short fuse” when he doesn’t get his way. (Full disclosure: This writer is also a certified behavioral analyst as well as a motivational analyst.)
Overall, it is the opinion of this writer that the legislature created its own problem with the disruptions at the Capitol. What Chaney and probably many in the statehouse are failing to acknowledge is the pent-up anger in Idaho’s citizenry.
Members of the legislature have been in meetings the past several weeks, ironing out wording for proposed legislation, and they are now eager to get on with the process of voting on the bills. But the citizenry has not been involved in any of those discussions. Legislators are failing to realize that first day of the special session was the first time in five months that citizens have had a chance to be heard by their government – a government whose executive branch has been encroaching on their freedoms and suspending Constitutional rights. And now, finally having access to the statehouse, the citizens want to be heard.
Put another way, legislators thought they could just flip a switch and proceed with a formulaic legislative process, forgetting that their constituents feel raped and haven’t been able to express their anguish about it.
Anger is especially strong toward Chaney, who many say is in the pocket of the governor because Chaney wrote the bill the Governor wanted. Compounding that, most people see the proposed immunity bill as the government covering its own rear end.
One source told me she thinks Chaney is frustrated because the presence of so many citizens opposing his bill is leading other representatives to oppose his bill. That is a possibility. Another source, a high-ranking government official, told this writer directly that Chaney is "pretty arrogant."
Whatever the cause, displays of anger or attempts at dominating others often occur when people don’t get what they want. This writer observed it firsthand, and a police record from 2009 along with a handwritten letter by Chaney’s own mother provide additional evidence that Chaney tends towards that behavior.
What could be better
Idaho’s legislature could benefit from slowing things down and taking time to listen to their constituents' frustrations. This means not just tolerating or enduring the comments, but truly listening. This writer observed representatives scrolling through their smart phones and not making even one moment of eye contact with citizens who were testifying before them.
What else? It is the opinion of this writer that Speaker Bedke should seriously consider removing Representative Chaney from his Chairmanship position. It is also the opinion of this writer that Chaney needs a course in anger management, and would benefit from a course in emotional intelligence, as well. He also needs to be reminded to follow House rules and Roberts Rules of Order when running a meeting. Maybe with all that, Chaney's behavior would not cause so much disruption.
Daniel Bobinski, M.Ed. is a certified behavioral analyst, best-selling author, corporate trainer, executive coach, and columnist. He’s also a veteran and a self-described Christian Libertarian who believes in the principles of free market capitalism – while standing firmly against crony capitalism.