Next weeks GOP legislative leadership races may hinge on, well, leadership.
Thats fitting since there arent deep philosophical distinctions between the candidates. And the absence of ideological differences makes the races even tougher to handicap.
The House speakers race is a referendum on Lawerence Denneys six error-filled years at the helm. His kid-gloves treatment of ethics-optional Phil Hart. His heavy-handed dumping of two committee chairs who were too independent (read: moderate) for his liking. His bungled attempt to fire former state Rep. Dolores Crow from a state redistricting commission.
Yes, Denneys challenge comes from another member of the leadership team, Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke. But make no mistake. Denneys pratfalls are his alone. That comes with being the head guy.
While its been well-known for months that Bedke was positioning to challenge Denney, a quieter Senate leadership race has only recently taken shape.
Sen. Dean Mortimer will challenge Majority Leader and fellow Idaho Falls Republican Bart Davis. Mortimer jumped in after Assistant Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Boise, abandoned the run and opted to stay put.
The seeds of this race may well have been sown on Jan. 11, when Senate Republicans voted to keep John McGee of Caldwell in leadership six months after he pleaded guilty to a DUI, but less than two months before he resigned in the wake of a sexual harassment complaint.
On Jan. 20, and before the sexual harassment issue came to light, nine senators took the unusual step of peeling back the caucus curtain, saying they voted to dump McGee. Mortimer and Winder were among the senators who went public.
As Winder told Dan Popkey of the Statesman this week, the McGee fiasco might come back to haunt Davis. There was some concern Sen. Davis hadnt been as forceful as he could have been to avert some of the problems.
Davis has served a decade as majority leader, and the McGee episode certainly wasnt his finest hour. Then again, Mortimer and his colleagues had their chance to boot McGee, and were outvoted. Can, and will, they blame Davis for how this all unfolded?
Leadership races are tough to handicap because lawmakers often have very personal reasons for the way they vote. Friendship and loyalty. Financial support from past elections. The promise of a coveted committee assignment. In that mix, some lawmakers will vote to replace Denney or Davis because of bad P.R., the likes of which reflect poorly on all caucus members.
The only thing more foolhardy than predicting a leadership election might be to endorse in one. Our editorial board did that in 2006, when we recommended then-Rep. Bill Deal, a more moderate and urban lawmaker from Nampa, over Denney. The winning House leaders were none too happy with our meddling although, in retrospect, I think we got it right.
For what its worth, I agree with an editorial from The Times-News in Twin Falls, which said Bedke, one of its locals, represents a welcome change from Denney. The speaker has done plenty to earn a no-confidence vote from his caucus. (On the Senate side, Im not sure Id say the same about Davis.)
But when the votes are cast next week, Ill predict this much: Lawmakers arent going to vote based on the say-so from an editorial board or a pundit.
CITY HALLS BIG RAISES
On Tuesday, Boise City Council members voted themselves pay raises totaling 17.7 percent and gave Mayor Dave Bieter 23.9 percent worth of raises.
Our editorial board was split on this one. I respect my colleagues arguments for the raises. The mayor and the council have important jobs and if we want qualified and quality officeholders, we ought to be willing to compensate them fairly.
Ultimately, the take-home pay doesnt trouble me. When the raises fully go into effect in 2015, the final year of his four-year term, Bieter will be paid $113,059. Council members will collect $22,799, modest pay for what is a part-time job in name only.
But I go back to what we said earlier this year, when we criticized Ada County commissioners for granting Sheriff Gary Raney a 15 percent pay raise. These raises are simply too much, too soon.
I understand, and appreciate, that Bieter hasnt received a raise in nine years on the job, and council pay has been frozen since 2006. It was only right to hold the line during the recession, when many constituents were enduring pay cuts or layoffs. But these raises strike me as an attempt to go back and collect several years worth of cost-of-living raises. I doubt thats happening much, in the private or public sectors.
Big-dollar political raises create an easy target. Witness this Facebook comment from Ada County Highway District commissioner Rebecca Arnold, who has, in an unofficial capacity, been blasting the raises for several days. (Bieter) knew what the salary was when he chose to run for re-election. And what does he really do beyond ribbon cutting and glad-handing?
Makes you wonder whether the extra money is really worth the added headache.
Kevin Richert: 377-6437, Twitter: @KevinRichert