Capitol & State

GOP state lawmakers will see contested leadership races

From left, Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, and Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, are vying for the post of assistant Republican majority leader in the House.
From left, Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, and Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, are vying for the post of assistant Republican majority leader in the House.

Two contests are shaping up for leadership posts in the Idaho Legislature’s majority Republican caucus.

Rep. Tom Loertscher of Iona is challenging Assistant Majority Leader Brent Crane of Nampa, and Caldwell Rep. Greg Chaney is seeking to unseat Caucus Chairman John Vander Woude, also of Nampa. The caucus meets to selects its leaders Nov. 30 at the Crane Creek Country Club in Boise.

Loertscher was re-elected to his seventh consecutive term this month without opposition. He previously served eight terms from 1986 to 2002 and was assistant majority leader for six years during that time. Most recently he has chaired the House State Affairs committee and serves on the local government committee.

Crane, just re-elected to his sixth term, also without opposition, has served the last two terms in the leadership post and sits on the State Affairs committee, as well as Business and Ways & Means.

The two have been on different sides of legislation in the past two years. In 2015, amid a legislative tangle over an ultimately successful effort to reinstate a ban instant horse-racing, Loertscher proposed creating a state gaming commission, but the measure failed to get out of his committee. Another measure to allow use of cannabidiol oil to treat seizures, which Crane had opposed, was at first blocked in Loertscher’s committee but later voted out, with Crane absent. It subsequently passed both houses but was vetoed by the governor.

Loertscher said Friday those disagreements were among his reasons for running, but that his broader motivation was over what he saw as a “division in leadership.”

“I think the caucus is looking for direction from leadership,” Loertscher said. “When they get mixed messages, that’s difficult to deal with. We’ve got a number of interesting issues that we’re going to be dealing with this year and I think it’s going to take strong leadership to get us through that.”

Loertscher made the formal announcement at a caucus meeting Sunday. Crane said Loertscher told him of his plans Nov. 7.

“I said, ‘Hey, welcome to the race. I wish you the best of luck’,” Crane said. “I enjoy the race. It’s healthy for the process. For me it’s report card time, when you can assess how well you’ve done with your caucus. It makes you responsive to the people that you’re serving.”

Crane said the two also disagreed over a bill before State Affairs in February to create the Primary Care Access Program, a state-funded health care alternative to expanding Medicaid. Loertscher had voted for introduction, Crane against. The bill failed to advance.

Chaney, who beat a Democrat to win his second term this month, said Friday that he was approached earlier this year to run for the leadership seat, the Associated Press reported. He would not say who asked him to run.

“I think if there’s going to be a discussion about how a job should be done and who is doing the job, we need to have that conversation within our caucus and not in our press,” Chaney said.

Vander Woude was just elected to his fourth term, running unopposed.

Assistant majority leader and caucus chair are, respectively, the third- and fourth-ranked leadership posts. House Speaker Scott Bedke and House Majority Leader Mike Moyle are unopposed for the top two spots.

Caucus votes are held behind closed doors and the vote margins are not disclosed.

Republicans hold better than 4-1 majorities in both houses of the Legislature.

Among Democrats, Boise Rep. Mat Erpelding told the AP he is the only candidate to fill the post of House minority leader. Sitting Minority Leader John Rusche of Lewiston lost his re-election bid. Rep. Ilana Rubel is expected to fill Erpelding’s assistant leader post. Reps. Elaine Smith of Pocatello and Hy Kloc of Boise are vying for minority caucus chair.

Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett says her six-member caucus is still determining its leadership positions and no one has publicly announced if they are running against current leadership, the AP reported.

The Associated Press contributed.

Bill Dentzer: 208-377-6438, @IDSBillD