By most accounts, Rep. Phil Hart is a nice guy, and his performance in the Idaho Legislature over the past half dozen years must have been good enough to dissuade any challengers.
Having nobody to compete against this year freed up Hart to campaign on behalf of Steve Vick, whom Hart enlisted to knock out former friend Sen. Mike Jorgenson, and Vito Barbieri, a man with no political experience who won a four-person primary race.
But Rep. Hart has become increasingly ensnared in a web of his own making. A member of the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, Hart is paying dearly for first, his defiance of the tax structure, and second, his negligence in appropriately addressing the first shortcoming.
In the stories pouring out of newspapers about Hart's tax liabilities and snail's pace in remedying them, one essential element is missing: remorse. Nowhere does one sense that Hart is sorry he's let down the tens of thousands of diligent taxpaying citizens he represents - many of whom don't like the tax structure any more than he does - or the 1.6 million Idahoans who are smeared by his reluctance to share the American burden while living the American dream.
He is not dealing with life-threatening issues like those encountered several years ago by a Senate challenger in the same region. The incumbent made a big deal of the fact that his challenger had once filed for bankruptcy protection, but when the challenger tearfully acknowledged that he'd claimed bankruptcy because his dying wife's hospital bill had ruined them, sympathetic voters sided with the challenger.
Instead, Phil Hart is riding what he thinks is a stallion of idealism when in reality he's on a nag at the end of a shameful race. He has broken the law and his lack of remorse and progress in repaying his bills are unforgivable.
Some citizens are calling for him to resign, a proposal we would not oppose. But we think there's still a way Hart can retain some credibility and eventually focus on the needs of his constituents, rather than the demands of his creditors:
First, he needs to apologize for holding constituents to different standards than he himself has been willing to accept. Maybe a sincere apology would discourage a few citizens and fellow legislators from making excuses for him.
Two, he should take a leave of absence from the Legislature until the more than $400,000 he owes the IRS and Idaho are paid in full.
And three, he should enlist a responsible fill-in until he's able to return. Mike Jorgenson would be perfect, but we don't think Hart should ask if he's available. He has enough trouble on his hands already.