BOISE - Idaho lawmakers met in closed caucuses to pick legislative leaders Wednesday night, and while House Speaker Lawerence Denney will continue to lead the House, the Senate will have a new Senate president pro-tem, Sen. Brent Hill, R-Rexburg.
Former Senate President Pro-Tem Bob Geddes, R-Soda Springs, decided to step aside after 10 years in the post, the longest anyone’s held it in Idaho history. He’ll continue to serve as a senator; he’s in his 9th term.
Hill, whom Geddes endorsed, defeated Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, a rising leader of the Senate’s most conservative wing, for the Senate’s top majority leadership post in a hotly contested race.
Sen. Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, held his seat as majority leader over a challenge from Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton.
But there was one upset: Assistant Majority Leader Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston, lost to Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Meridian. Winder had based his run on the pitch that the Idaho Senate’s GOP caucus turned more conservative in the Nov. 2 election, and he said its leadership should reflect that; Stegner was the most moderate member of the leadership team, and was known for an independent streak.
For the caucus chair position opened up by Fulcher’s move to run for pro-tem, Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell, was elected, defeating Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls.
McGee said, “We have a lot of difficult decisions to make, and we feel like this leadership team is the right group to help make those difficult decisions.”
In other leadership contests, House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, turned back a challenge from Rep. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise; and House GOP Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, held off a challenge from Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene.
Denney was unopposed for another term as speaker; Rep. Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, also faced no opposition for another term as assistant majority leader.
Senate Democrats, who number just seven compared to 28 Republicans in the chamber, had a complete shake-up in their leadership posts. They chose Sen. Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello, as the new minority leader; he previously held the third-highest post at caucus chair. The new assistant minority leader is Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise; and the caucus chair is Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum.
Former Minority Leader Kate Kelly, D-Boise, didn’t run for re-election.
House Democrats re-elected Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, who was unopposed; and Rep. Elfreda Higgins, D-Garden City, was elected assistant minority leader, defeating Rep. Elaine Smith, D-Pocatello, for the position that opened up when former Assistant Minority Leader James Ruchti of Pocatello decided not to run for re-election. Rep. Brian Cronin, D-Boise, was elected caucus chair, defeating Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise; former Caucus Chair Bill Killen, D-Boise, opted to step aside.
Rusche said his caucus is “anticipating a difficult session,” but is pledging to point out the consequences of decisions pushed through by the majority, which outnumbers the minority Democrats in the House 57-13. “That’s one of our jobs as minority - loyal opposition,” Rusche said. “The other thing is we think it’s still vitally important to focus on what we can do to increase jobs.”