Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, has kept a low profile since Mays news that a PAC he controls contributed caucus funds to an effort to unseat six GOP incumbents in the May 15 primary.
Denneys partner was House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star. Their efforts were widely panned as bad form, impolite and power hungry, and added another high-profile stumble to Denneys list of missteps.
The targets Reps. Ken Roberts of Donnelly, Christy Perry of Nampa and George Eskridge of Dover; and Sens. Patti Anne Lodge of Huston, Dean Cameron of Rupert and Shawn Keough of Sandpoint all won. (Roberts was subsequently appointed to the Idaho Tax Commission.)
The messy attempt at fratricide contributed to the conventional wisdom among Statehouse insiders, lobbyists, reporters and editorial writers that House Speaker Denney was vulnerable.
Denneys laid-back style fueled that view. It wasnt until the day after the Nov. 6 general election that Denney said he was campaigning for a fourth two-year term as speaker.
Denney wasnt asleep at the switch, however. After the primary defeats, he again employed the House Leadership Victory Fund to his ends, giving $27,000 to 33 House candidates. Denney also replaced Roberts, who was treasurer of the fund used against him, and moved the PAC from Boise to Midvale. The new treasurer? Donna Denney, the speakers wife.
Denneys challenger is Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke of Oakley. Bedke spent the interim running hard, traveling the state and spreading his cowboy charm and money to 44 GOP candidates. That bolstered the thinking that Bedke had a better-than-even chance of deposing the king. Ive been among the practitioners of the conventional view, saying, when asked, that Bedke looks like a winner.
Bedke appears to be a better tout than Denney. Candidates Bedke backed won 37 races and lost seven, or 84 percent. Denneys record was 23-13, 64 percent, including the three incumbents targeted in the primary. Better handicapping could matter in whats likely to be a close race.
But Im now having second thoughts about Denneys prospects, thanks to a wiser person who suggested that we consider the fresh start that comes with a post-redistricting election. Of the 57 House Republicans elected Nov. 6, 23 are freshmen. Thats 40 percent of the vote.
Perhaps Bedke has romanced the wet-behind-the-ears bunch. But theyre a conservative lot, inclined to stay the course. They havent seen Denneys leadership up close and dont cotton to left-leaning editorialists who mock Boss Denney. Voting for Denney could provide the thumb-nosing satisfaction of dissing the liberal media.
Another wrinkle comes in the form of Moyle, one of the most gifted infighters Ive known in 25 years of covering the Legislature. Though Denney might have kept a relatively low profile, Moyles an able lieutenant. Underestimating him is a grave error.
Should Denney win, Gov. Butch Otter might have to amend his agenda for the 2013 session. A Denney victory would likely affirm that the new House opposes a state-run health exchange, Medicaid expansion, new money for roads and bridges, and restoring mental health services. Otter hasnt tipped his hand on all those issues, but Denney alone could block them.
Keeping Denney as speaker also could mean an attempt to revive the education reforms in Propositions 1, 2 and 3, despite all three having been rejected by voters. It also might cause a rift with the Senate over repealing the personal property tax, with the House refusing to earmark state funds to replace lost revenues at the local level. Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, has said local governments should be kept whole.
Otter cant be seen to meddle in a legislative leadership race. But dollars to doughnuts, hes hoping the conventional wisdom about a Bedke win is correct. Well know the night of Dec. 5, when the GOP caucus votes.
Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics