The drained faces of two old friends whose clash delayed adjournment of the 2013 Legislature told the tale of one of the most productive sessions in recent decades.
"It was grueling," said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, as the Senate prepared to shut down Thursday. "I'm emotionally exhausted."
Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde's eyes welled as he recounted the personal toll of his battle with Cameron, which coincided with the death of his father last month.
"The loss of my father interrupted a timeline here," said Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, who won the latest iteration of a turf battle between the budget committee and other committee chairs. "I was involved, I had to disengage and then come back and get re-engaged."
Goedde was away for four days to say goodbye and bury his 97-year-old dad. As the Senate shut down, he was so drained he wasn't sure what day the death came. "You know what? I don't remember."
Cameron, in his 23rd year, and Goedde, in his 13th, are close. They embraced on the floor after Goedde won an 18-17 vote on March 27 to kill Cameron's K-12 appropriation bill. Cameron said they've hugged a few times since.
Cameron said he's confident his relationship with Goedde will endure; the pair were together in the hard-fought effort to enact a state-run health insurance exchange. But Cameron says the open wound left by the GOP's center-right split over the exchange has him wondering whether he'll seek another term.
"You start to think: There's so many more productive things I could be doing with my time," Cameron said. "I used to get excited, thrilled, to come into this building every day. I'd walk up and see the Capitol and get goosebumps that I had the honor of coming here. I still feel it's an honor to serve, but there's a difference this year."
In his session-ending remarks on the floor, Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Idaho Falls, congratulated colleagues for acting with dignity despite the most divisive session in Hill's memory. He expressed hope that emotional injuries "continue to heal."
The difference, Hill said, is sharp internal division. Among Republicans, the health exchange won 17-11 in the Senate and lost 29-28 in the House. Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, was so distraught he chose a mourning suit for his opposing debate.
"My concern is the emotional division within the caucus," Hill said in an interview.
In the past, external forces have been the wedge, Hill said, citing the tea party push for nullification and teachers union opposition to the Students Come First education laws.
Now, the division is inside the GOP caucus. "There are still feelings that have been hurt, questions that have been raised about each other's loyalty to certain principles," Hill said.
Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, served eight years in the Montana Legislature, including two as Appropriations Committee chairman, before moving to Idaho in 2004. Now a sophomore lawmaker, Vick said the session was "one of the most frustrating I've been around" because of the exchange battle.
"That bill wouldn't have passed either body without Democratic support," said Vick, an opponent. "Complying with Obamacare is not a conservative idea. It made for different dynamics that you don't usually see in a Legislature made up of 80 percent from one party."
Vick said lobbyists backing the exchange didn't engage with him as in past years. "Nobody was rude or impolite or even chilly. But there just weren't the conversations that we had in the past. There was a little more distance."
The competition for control of the GOP may well step up in 2014 primaries, following six 2012 races where incumbent Republicans tried to oust colleagues.
Among that group, all winners, is Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, vice-chair of the Finance Committee and an important ally of Cameron. She defeated tea party Republican Danielle Ahrens with 70 percent of the vote last year.
Ahrens, eyeing the 2014 primary, was a regular presence at the Statehouse this year. That's not so unusual; losing candidates sometimes trail their targets seeking an edge in a rematch.
What's rare is the erosion of collegiality among senators that allows Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, to feel comfortable having Keough's political opponent as her roommate. "She didn't have a place to stay," Nuxoll said.
Gov. Butch Otter, who drove the exchange debate, looks to be back with another divisive Obamacare-related issue in 2014: expanding Medicaid coverage to about 100,000 Idahoans.
"I don't know that it's going to be more difficult or less difficult than the insurance exchange, more emotional or less emotional," Otter said. Taking a year will offer plenty of time for the Legislature and public to get educated on the issue, he said.
Medicaid, because of the promise of almost $500 million in property tax relief over a decade, will draw different supporters but also could lose some who backed the exchange.
"I wish I could tell you next year will be better," Cameron said, "but I have a sneaking suspicion it won't. We will be doing that in the face of potential primary challenges. I think it could be a real tough one."
Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter:@IDS_politics