Even by his high standards, this was a crazy, newsy week for Rep. Phil Hart.
It started at about 3:30 a.m. Monday, when Hart was asleep at a Latah County rest area. A masked man attacked a woman in the other car parked at the rest stop, shooting her in the abdomen with her own gun. The victim, Kayla Sedlacek, is expected to recover; police quickly determined Hart was not a suspect, and sent him on his way.
Those travels took the tax-dodging (or, as he’d have you believe, tax-protesting) Hayden Republican back to Coeur d’Alene Monday, for an audience with a skeptical Idaho Supreme Court. Considering the case of the $53,000 Hart owes Idaho — in income taxes, interest and penalties — the justices grilled Hart and his attorney over their claim that the state Constitution protects a sitting lawmaker from civil action 10 days before, and during, a legislative session.
Then came Tuesday. Another day, another court case. U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge brushed aside the immunity argument, saying it has no bearing in a dispute over federal taxes. The Internal Revenue Service is seeking some $550,000 in back taxes and penalties.
If Hart isn’t making a mockery of the immunity protection, at the state and federal levels, then he is at least trying to apply it in a tortured manner. The constitutional protection is designed to protect sitting lawmakers from politically motivated arrest; Hart is trying to use it as carte blanche as he pursues his tax protests. Supreme Court Justice Warren Jones summarized the distinction well, according to the Associated Press. “He doesn’t have to appeal. There is no compulsion.”
Exactly. Hart has chosen to make a cottage career out of challenging the constitutionality of the income tax — and dodging the very tax bills his constituents pay. To claim some sort of special privilege to pursue his crusade is audacious.
Which is why, come Thursday, Hart managed to make the local news one more time. The North Idaho Political Action Committee issued its endorsements — and threw its support behind Hayden Republican Ed Morse in the May 15 primary. Said the group: “There are four candidates vying for the seat, and NIPAC is concerned that such a fractured field greatly assists the re-election of Mr. Hart.”
NIPAC is a new group, but it boasts some big names in North Idaho circles: former legislator Dean Haagenson; Sandy Patano, a former aide to Sen. Larry Craig; and Jim Riley of the Intermountain Forest Industry Association. The group wants to keep this legislative seat in GOP hands; former Kootenai County clerk Dan English gives the Democrats a name challenger to Hart. And this group, clearly, has heard enough of the Hart income tax drama.
Who hasn’t? But this drama will continue to unfold throughout the year. Pointedly enough, Lodge scheduled Hart’s federal tax trial for Nov. 5, one day before Election Day. The better, said Lodge, to get the case resolved before the 2013 legislative session.
That’s Hart for you. I don’t think he has any business being in office, now or in 2013. But he is a reliable source of headlines.