The stakes couldnt be higher for House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, and his challenger, Assistant Republican Leader Scott Bedke of Oakley.
But for the 25 Republican freshmen who represent 44 percent of the votes at Wednesdays GOP caucus elections, the decision is far less weighty. Theyre excited about their election, eager to pick committees, planning to settle into new digs.
Im not losing any sleep over it, said Rep. Paul Romrell, R-St. Anthony, who spent 40 years as Fremont County coroner and six years on the county commission.
For many, the most important thing about picking new leaders is keeping their vote secret from the senior lawmakers seeking to lead the 2013-14 sessions.
It must be crazy for them, said freshman Rep. Thyra Stevenson, R-Lewiston. Theyve got all these loose cannons, she said, pointing to the freshman class arrayed Tuesday for the second of three days of orientation.
Stevenson, like every one of the dozen freshmen I polled, declined to disclose her vote for speaker or the No. 2 contest between incumbent Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, and Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry.
It will be hard to decide, because I like everybody, said Stevenson. We dont carry the baggage from prior sessions.
They want to count noses, but theyre not going to count mine, said Rep. Kelley Packer, R-McCammon. I just told em my ability to build relationships is very important to me. I dont want to alienate half the caucus.
Wills said he understands the distance.
Theyre not stewing over it because its been a short-term investment for them, Wills said. Its a long-term investment for us.
Denney and Moyle have been the top two dogs in the House for six years. Conflict within the caucus heightened in the past two years and peaked in the May GOP primary, with Denney and Moyle spending money to unseat six incumbent lawmakers. The effort failed, leaving unhealed wounds.
Rep. Terry Gestrin, R-Donnelly, replaced Rep. Ken Roberts, one of the six targets. Roberts was appointed to the Tax Commission in August and Gestrin took his place on the ballot.
Gestrin said hes keeping his head down, but calls himself a conservative who values honesty and integrity above all. The intraparty squabbling bothers him, he said. That plays very heavy on my mind.
Denney, Bedke, Moyle and Wills attended parts of the orientation, chatting up colleagues. After lunch Tuesday, Moyle warmly greeted freshman Rep. Brandon Hixon, R-Nampa, shaking his hand vigorously and clapping him on the back. Moyle called out, Hey, Brando! not a nickname Hixon has adopted.
Hixon grinned when asked about the encounter, but said he feels no undue pressure. A lot of em arent trying to pin you down. Theyre just asking you to keep em in mind.
A surprising level of input has come from constituents, said Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur dAlene. They know somebody and theyre advocating for that person. Its amazing how much communication happens between north and south on these positions.
Rep. Steven Miller, R-Fairfield, said hes consulted senior lawmakers he knows from lobbying on farm issues. He reports no overplayed hands. No pushing, no arm-twisting, no threats, no promises.
Rep. Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree, beat an incumbent in the primary and said more than most of the freshmen. We have a unique opportunity as a huge new group to adjust direction, VanOrden said. But she added she cant predict the outcome and wont say who she backs.
Rep. Jason Monks, R-Meridian, seemed to speak for the group when he said ... whatever. Im attaching my horse to a certain wagon, but I think they all have the best interests of the Legislature in mind.
Thats a smart posture for newbies just beginning their lawmaking careers.
Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics