House Speaker Scott Bedke arrived in Boise on a white horse, saying the days of cloak-and-dagger lawmaking were over.
"If we try to short-cut or shortchange the system, that's where the problems start and that's where the hard feelings are," said Bedke, R-Oakley, summarizing his philosophy at the close of his first session in charge. "Hey, you had your shot and you lost or you won."
So when we learned last week that Gov. Butch Otter vetoed a good-government bill aimed at avoiding future nonsense like the mess surrounding former Canyon County Prosecutor John Bujak, red flags whipped in the early spring gale.
Senate Bill 1080 passed both houses with just three no votes. But among the dissenters were Bedke and his top lieutenant, House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star. The bill called for the attorney general to conduct preliminary investigations of allegations against elected county officials. The aim was to avoid conflicts of interest that have helped boost the bill for Canyon County taxpayers in the Bujak matter to around $700,000.
Attorney General Lawrence Wasden urged the veto with "deepest regret," calling it an "unfunded mandate."
Moyle, it seems, played a role in killing a $213,000 spending bill to fund a lawyer and investigator in Wasden's office, which Wasden said he needed to do the job after years of budget cuts.
Editorialists in Lewiston and Idaho Falls pounced, accusing Moyle of sabotaging one of the best bills of the session.
Moyle is accustomed to blame, having played enforcer to former Speaker Lawerence Denney the past six years.
But when we spoke Monday he protested: "I wasn't the bad guy. I'm getting blamed for something I didn't do."
In short, he's right. This isn't skullduggery. Rather, it's an example of how things fall apart in the final days of a legislative session and how, sometimes, it's best to try again next year.
House Appropriations Vice Chairman Darrell Bolz, R-Caldwell, and SB 1080 co-sponsor Rep. Gayle Batt, R-Wilder, both told me the spending bill was fatally flawed.
"Moyle's clean on this one," said Batt. "The fiscal impact statement was inaccurate. Why give an appropriation that doesn't jibe with the bill?"
The reason the trailer appropriations bill didn't add up: the House amended SB 1080 March 25 in an attempt to hold counties, not the attorney general, financially responsible for prosecutions of county officials. The AG would handle initial inquiries; the counties will pay for any prosecutions.
The Senate agreed to the amendment March 28, the same day it approved the original $213,000 appropriation that had been based on the unamended bill.
When the spending bill reached the House in the final week, Rep. Steven Harris, R-Meridian, raised doubts about whether the full $213,000 was necessary. Moyle asked Bolz to investigate; Bolz decided the appropriation was indeed excessive.
On April 2, two days before the House adjourned for the year, Bolz asked unanimous consent that the appropriation be returned to committee. "I'm not going to put forward a bill with an incorrect fiscal impact," Bolz told me. "I don't think there's any black hats here. I just think there was some misunderstanding."
Batt agreed. "It'll be a better bill next year."
Bedke opposed the bill on fiscal grounds, but said he'll work with the sponsors, including Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell. "I don't think the state needs to go in and bail out the counties when they run into sticky issues," Bedke said. "But if they can walk me through it and explain where I'm wrong and need to modify my thinking, I'm all ears."
Bedke expects the mark he's established for respecting the process will bring headaches. "The little voice in the back of my mind says we'll come back to that in times of seeming inconsistency. There will be times when it's going to look arbitrary. Things move fast, sometimes for reasons unapparent to the untrained eye."
Also, Bedke said, he will violate his doctrine. "There needs to be an escape clause," he said. "I'm going to mess up from time to time, but I want to aspire to a little higher standard."
Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics