Newly elected (or re-elected) state lawmakers took their oaths of office this morning, and then launched right into the nitty-gritty of legislative politics – jockeying for committee assignments and chairmanships. That will last for hours, and possibly into tomorrow. But first, in the House, came the circus-like ritual in which the members select their seats on the floor of the chamber. Initially, most of the most senior members who get the earlier picks took the same seats they’ve had for years, including prized aisle and back-row spots. But then Rep. Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, headed clear to the other side of the chamber, quickly followed by Reps. Jim Clark, R-Hayden Lake, who took St. Maries Rep. Dick Harwood’s seat, and Rep. Leon Smith, R-Twin Falls. That left the three sitting in roughly the mirror image of where they’d sat before, on the opposite side. “It’s time for change,” Clark said afterward with a chuckle, as passers-by commented about how they’d “moved the rednecks over to the other corner.” It seems that Clark, Lake and Rep. Ken Roberts had become known as “redneck corner” when they were on the other side of the room. Roberts had to move to the center of the chamber this year, though, because he was elected House majority caucus chair and now sits with leadership.
Then, Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, took Coeur d’Alene Rep. Bob Nonini’s seat, as Nonini stood shrugging in mock disbelief. Nonini sat next to Anderson. “I wouldn’t sit by him,” new Speaker Lawerence Denney commented to laughter. But it turns out it was all just in fun – Nonini wanted the new seat, away from a large pillar. “They were just playing,” said Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls. Henderson had started off the morning session by offering the opening prayer, in which he quoted Thomas Jefferson and Proverbs. “We pray for the wisdom to be continually inspired by the principles and intentions of those who established the basis of our freedoms – and who entrusted the future of our representative republic – to those of us who were chosen in free elections by our fellow citizens,” Henderson told the House.
The very last legislator to select a seat was newly elected Democratic Rep. Liz Chavez. She took the last seat left – the one next to where Henderson used to sit, but one that’s now deep into Democratic territory since the minority party has picked up six additional seats.