If House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke succeeds in toppling House Speaker Lawerence Denney, it would be the first time in 30 years that the states No. 1 House or Senate official was removed against his will.
Back in 1982, now-U.S. Sen. Jim Risch beat Senate President Pro Tem Reed Budge. Pete Cenarrusa, speaker from 1962-67, cant recall another successful coup since he was elected in 1950.
Cenarrusa said Denneys recent statement that he would step down as speaker and accept the Idaho Republican Party chairmanship if Gov. Butch Otter wanted him is an unusual signal of frailty.
Theres something odd about it, said Cenarrusa.
Denney, R-Midvale, said he plans to seek a fourth term as speaker, which would tie the longevity record set by Bruce Newcomb from 1998 to 2006. But theres a curious tentativeness about his resolve: I still intend to run that is, right now, at least.
Denneys public offer made in this space May 25 to retire as speaker and become GOP chairman has been met with indifference. I would want the governors blessing, and so far, I havent heard anything from him, Denney said Friday. So I have kind of discounted that or taken that to mean no.
Denney has not been a reliable ally for Otter, and Bedke would likely be more sympathetic to the governors agenda. On Wednesday, he attended a fundraiser at Boises Arid Club for Bedke, R-Oakley, who has no general election opponent.
Otter spokesman Jon Hanian said the governor is not meddling in the internal business of the legislative branch. But Hanian didnt reply when I asked whether the governor would similarly assist Denney, who does have an opponent in the fall.
Bedkes money will be spread among the House GOP candidates who will cast secret ballots for speaker at the House organizational session in December. Already, Bedke has contributed to 14 incumbent Republicans and nine potential newbies, building good will in his caucus.
Denneys April finance reports showed not a single contribution to a House colleague. Instead, he gave $10,000 to a PAC that helped coordinate a bid to oust six GOP incumbents, including the No. 4 House Republican, Caucus Chair Ken Roberts of Donnelly. All six won, spraying egg Denneys way.
Denney insists that he didnt know the incumbents were being targeted by his friends, consultant Lou Esposito and David Ripley of Idaho Chooses Life. That argument may not wash, said Boise State University political scientist Gary Moncrief.
The perception is he was choosing sides, Moncrief said. If youre going to do that, you better pick the right side or theres going to be some backlash.
Moncrief said Denney also was wounded by deposing two committee chairs in 2011; his failed attempt to fire former GOP Rep. Dolores Crow of Nampa from the redistricting commission in January; and the May primary defeat of GOP Rep. Phil Hart, Denneys favorite tax scofflaw from Athol.
Unless youre really, really strong and can put the fear of God into people, that can come back to bite you, Moncrief said.
Policy differences between Bedke and Denney are slim, with Bedke being slightly less conservative. Bedkes style is more direct, collaborative, cerebral, methodical. Hes a better glad-hander. And hes from the Magic Valley, which has produced the House speaker in 28 of the past 50 years.
Bedke didnt reply to my requests for comment, but hes picked up a key ally who had been considered an alternative to Denney if Republicans were weary of all four members of a leadership team thats been in place for six years.
Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, is with Bedke, who represents the same Minidoka-Cassia district. Now that Rep. Bedke has launched his campaign, Im not in the mix, Wood said. Absolutely, Im supporting him.
Even in the face of history, which says killing the king is nearly unheard of, some insiders say its Bedkes race to lose.
Still, Denney wisely notes that theres a lot of time between June and December. He said hes planning his own fundraiser, which he hopes Otter will attend.
I dont think theres even a vehicle yet, so how can Scott be in the drivers seat? Denney said.
Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics