April 2, 2006 in Idaho

Senators respond to Newcomb move

Betsy Z. Russell The Spokesman-Review
 

GARVEE bill chess game?

House Speaker Bruce Newcomb has assigned the GARVEE bonding bill – the funding for the first year of the “Connecting Idaho” highway plan, including major upgrades to U.S. Highway 95 – to the House Transportation Committee, though it’s an appropriation bill that’s already cleared the joint budget committee, and that committee’s not so friendly to it.

Told that the rumor is he sidelined the bill to punish North Idaho Sens. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, and Dick Compton, R-Coeur d’Alene, for debating against his failed water bill in the Senate on Thursday, Newcomb said Friday, “That’s a good rumor. There’ll be others, but that’s a good one for starters.” The speaker said he’s “giving the germane committee a chance to take a look at it.”

Meanwhile, angry senators reacted by holding Newcomb’s bill to impose a two-year moratorium on coal-fired plants – it’s already passed both houses, and just needs a signature in the Senate before it heads to the governor for signing.

North Idaho senators were furious. “If that’s what he’s doing, I guess I have to say I’m not as respectful of him as I have been in the past,” said Jorgenson.

Said Compton: “Like the hundreds of people who’ve been killed on 95 don’t count, I guess – let’s punish Compton and Jorgenson.”

Gov. Dirk Kempthorne isn’t concerned at this point, he said Friday, and his transportation board chairman, Chuck Winder, was reserving judgment. “Obviously it’s not the normal process,” Winder said. He tried to go see Newcomb, but the speaker was in the midst of a retirement party in the House caucus room, where friends and foes crowded in to eat cake, congratulate him, and present him with a gold ring graced with the state seal, and a shotgun as he retires after eight years as speaker and a long career in the Legislature.

“Obviously it’s bittersweet,” Newcomb said as he was surrounded by well-wishers. “I’ve made a lot of good friends here. It’s just been a great experience and great relationship with everybody I’ve ever met in this process.”

He admitted, “I kinda like the chess game that goes along with being speaker.”

Speaker responds to water vote

Here’s how House Speaker Bruce Newcomb responded right after the Senate voted 14-21 against his water recharge bill, HB 800: “I don’t know where you go from here. … I hope it keeps the discussion alive. … The good part of this is there’s an institutional memory now – it’s been passed on.”

He has a point. Senators sat through a six-hour committee hearing that went through, in great detail, many issues relating to the 1984 Swan Falls Agreement and related water rights matters. They also had a detailed, heartfelt, three-hour debate on the bill in the full Senate.

Newcomb, surrounded by reporters and TV cameras after the vote, is retiring this year after being the state’s longest-serving House speaker. “Now that I’m leaving, I feel good about the fact that the institutional memory’s been passed on and people now understand, to some degree, what the Swan Falls agreement’s really all about,” he said.

The speaker mused, “Issues are changing, that’s bound to happen over time – especially when you have scarce resources.” He expressed hope that negotiations still will lead to using at least some water to recharge the diminishing eastern Snake Plain aquifer this year. “It’s in everyone’s best interest that you stabilize the aquifer,” Newcomb said.

Rare victory for Senate Democrats

Democrats hold only seven seats in the 35-member state Senate, but they won a significant victory last week. Senate President Pro-Tem Bob Geddes had proposed legislation to make a series of changes in Idaho’s redistricting statutes – including going back to the old system of drawing legislative districts designed to benefit specific incumbents or political parties. That’s illegal under current law, which turned the job over to a citizen commission.

Senate Minority Leader Clint Stennett proposed amendments to SB 1448, as did Geddes. When the Senate went to its amending order, with its intricate rules and hard-to-follow process, Stennett pulled off a victory – his amendments passed, and Geddes’ failed.

Idaho voters changed the state Constitution in 1994 to turn redistricting over to the commission, rather than have lawmakers do it themselves.


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