BOISE - Three-term Idaho House Speaker Lawerence Denney, arguably the most powerful member of the Idaho Legislature, lost his leadership post tonight to rival Rep. Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, in a dramatic political upset.
The ouster, which happened during closed-door legislative caucus elections, marked the first time in three decades that a top Idaho legislative leader has been deposed by his own party. It came as top Idaho Senate leaders held off challenges, keeping their leadership team in place; and House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, survived a challenge to keep his post despite Denney’s ouster.
Both conservative Republicans, Denney and Bedke have few differences on the issues; Bedke was Denney’s assistant majority leader. But Denney’s bare-knuckle style has increasingly grated on his large majority caucus in recent years, culminating in May’s primary election, when he funneled party leadership PAC funds - donated by caucus members - into efforts to defeat six GOP incumbents, including House Majority Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly.
Roberts subsequently was appointed a state tax commissioner and left the Legislature, but the bruised feelings were apparent. And he wasn’t the only House Republican to suffer from his party leader’s moves.
Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, lost a committee vice-chairmanship and was denied another committee seat he sought in 2010, after he filed an ethics complaint against tax-protesting Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol. Denney, a Hart supporter, said he’d warned Anderson there could be “fallout” from filing the complaint.
“Who’s ever going to want to file another ethics complaint in this environment? You can be punished,” Anderson said at the time.
Denney also raised hackles this year by attempting to fire his own appointee to the state’s citizen redistricting commission, former House Tax Committee Chairwoman Dolores Crow, R-Nampa. The Idaho Supreme Court rejected that move; Denney contended Crow, a fervent Republican, had given up too much to Democrats in the redistricting process.
And in the closing moments of the 2010 legislative session, Denney removed two moderate Republicans, Reps. Tom Trail, R-Moscow, and Leon Smith, R-Twin Falls, from their committee chairmanships with no warning, saying they voted too independently. Smith, a former state transportation board member, didn’t learn of his ouster as transportation committee chairman until he got a call from a reporter.
In other Idaho House GOP leadership contests, Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, was elected House assistant majority leader, and Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, was elected House GOP caucus chair; each defeated two rivals to win the post.
Senate Republicans kept the same leadership team in place, with Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, going uncontested; while Senate Democrats chose Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, as their new minority leader after their previous leader, Sen. Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello, retired. Sens. Elliot Werk and Cherie Buckner-Webb of Boise round out the Senate minority leadership team.
House Democrats retained Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, as minority leader; and chose Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, as assistant leader, and Rep. Donna Pence, D-Gooding, as caucus chair.