Idaho GOP rift a threat to Speaker Bedke

Open criticism of the House's top official raises the prospect of a leadership challenge.

dpopkey@idahostatesman.comJuly 13, 2014 

First-term House Speaker Scott Bedke visits with Lola Evans

First-term House Speaker Scott Bedke visits with Lola Evans, the widow of former Gov. John Evans, at the Capitol on Friday during a memorial for Evans.

KYLE GREEN — kgreen@idahostatesman.com Buy Photo

  • Speaker Duties

    The House speaker presides over debate; unlike in Congress, Idaho speakers almost always cast votes.

    The speaker appoints committee chairmen and committee membership. He also helps set the agenda by assigning bills to committee. He can decide whether to halt consideration of legislation by holding bills himself.

    The speaker is third in the line of succession for governor, following the lieutenant governor and Senate president pro tem.

  • How do the newbies break?

    Republicans now hold 57 of 70 House seats, a figure that could change slightly after the Nov. 4 election. Among the 10 likely new votes in the GOP caucus, there appears little advantage for either Rep. Scott Bedke or a challenger.

    "It's probably a wash or a one-vote switch one way or another," Rep. John Vander Woude said. "Is one vote enough to make the change?"

    The Statesman reached nine of the 10 new nominees.

    Eric Redman, of Athol, said he wants an alternative to Bedke. "He's not my preference," he said.

    Blanchard's Heather Scott, Ponderay's Sage Dixon, Post Falls' Don Cheatham, Caldwell's Greg Chaney and Rexburg's Ron Nate said they are undecided.

    Merrill Beyeler, of Leadore, and Van Burtenshaw, of Terreton, said they lean toward Bedke.

    Boise's Pat McDonald did not reply to requests for comment.

    New Plymouth's Ryan Kerby said he supports keeping the entire leadership team in place.

    "I've known Scott for a long time and I'm voting for him," Kerby said. "There's so much drama down there sometimes that it makes it difficult to actually get after the business of improving per capita income, our education system and the percentage of kids going on to college. Scott's really good at just keeping things solid and moving ahead."

    Dan Popkey

Assistant Majority Leader Brent Crane, who says House Speaker Scott Bedke has refused his advice to mend the center-right Republican divide in the House, might run in December to unseat Bedke after a single term.

Crane, of Nampa, said Bedke rebuffed his call for conciliatory steps after 2013's vote on the state-run health insurance exchange. Crane also knocked Bedke for refusing to endorse a deal on a new Republican Party chairman at the chaotic GOP convention in Moscow last month.

Crane, as the No. 3 leader, said he called a meeting of the four House GOP leaders in the summer of 2013. Citing the split on the exchange - 28 House Republicans opposed the bill, 27 backed it - Crane urged action.

"I said, 'Guys, we are divided right down the middle, 28-27. We're not doing anything to heal it.' And (Bedke's) response was, 'What do you want Crane, more ice cream socials?' "

Crane said he fears the split imperils re-election of GOP legislators and puts three statewide races "in play": Democrat A.J. Balukoff vs. Gov. Butch Otter; Democratic Rep. Holli Woodings vs. GOP Rep. Lawerence Denney for secretary of state; and veteran Democrat Jana Jones vs. newcomer Sherri Ybarra for state school superintendent.

"Whenever you have a party divided, it makes things easier on the opposition," Crane said.

He said Bedke's style makes matters worse.

"It's about divide and conquer, and that's not leadership. Leadership provides direction, provides a vision, provides a mission of where we're going and gets people united. It's not about dividing people so you can manipulate the process."

'I LIKE THE PEOPLEI AGREE WITH'

Bedke, of Oakley, said Crane is "entitled to his opinion."

"I will always be found trying to be constructive and trying to do what our constituents send us to Boise to do," Bedke said. "And that is to have a government responsive to their needs and issues and to carry that out with as minimal a footprint as possible."

Bedke said he's comfortable with his margin after the May primary, which nominated 10 new Republicans likely to join the GOP caucus casting secret ballots for leaders in early December. Four have no general election opponents and six are in strong GOP districts.

"Two years ago, I was gratified that a majority of the House Republican caucus elected me as their speaker," Bedke said. "I am confident that that is still the case."

But the No. 4 member of the leadership team, GOP Caucus Chairman John Vander Woude of rural Ada County, says he's also considering challenging Bedke on a platform of conciliation.

"What I've seen in a lot of legislators is, 'I like the people who I agree with,' " Vander Woude said. "There's this conservative camp and a more moderate camp. And they say, 'I need to get rid of the moderates' or 'I need to get rid of the conservatives.' That to me is not a good way to run a state."

BREAKING WITH HISTORY

But Vander Woude, a member of the party's more conservative wing, said he's concerned replacing Bedke would upset continuity. Bedke's 2012 defeat of then-Speaker Denney was historic, the first known record of a sitting speaker being ousted.

The last speaker to serve a single term was W.D. Eberle, in 1961-62. Between 1986 and 2012, there were just four speakers - Tom Boyd, Mike Simpson, Bruce Newcomb and Denney - each serving at least three terms.

Vander Woude said he's jawboned Bedke about making changes, though he was willing to speak only generally with the Statesman about those conversations. "My idea of a speaker is a chairman of the board," he said. "It's not your agenda, you're the one that facilitates and works with everybody."

Bedke acknowledged their discussions and called Vander Woude "a good friend," "honest and forthright" and "an asset to the House."

Asked whether he'll follow Vander Woude's advice, Bedke was cryptic: "I anticipate employing adaptive management."

Vander Woude said he'll support Bedke if he commits to reforms, saying the prospect of being speaker "scares me half to death."

'SOMEBODY'S LYING'

The GOP's No. 2, Majority Leader Mike Moyle, backed Denney in 2012. Elected to leadership in 2002, he would have an inside track on any run at Bedke. Crane and Vander Woude have been in leadership less than two years.

"Mike says he has the votes, Scott says he has the votes," Vander Woude said. "So somebody's lying."

But Vander Woude agreed that if Moyle aspires to the top job, it would have made more sense two years ago when he could have stepped in to replace a damaged Denney. "If you can figure out Moyle, you're one step ahead of me," Vander Woude said.

Moyle, of Star, said any such talk is premature.

"Scott's my friend," Moyle said. "This doesn't matter until December. I've got an election and we've got a state to run."

Crane said he's keeping his options open.

"I'm happy doing what I'm doing, but if the caucus feels like there's a need for change and feels like the skill set that I have to offer would be best for the caucus, then that's something that I would have to strongly consider," he said.

Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics

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