BOISE – Three-term Idaho House Speaker Lawerence Denney, arguably the most powerful member of the Idaho Legislature, lost his leadership post Wednesday night 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.
Both conservative Republicans, Denney and Bedke have few differences on the issues; Bedke was Denney’s assistant majority leader, the House’s No. 3 leadership position. 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 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.
After Wednesday night’s vote, Anderson said, “I am very happy that Scott Bedke is our next speaker.”
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.
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.
Bedke, a rancher and a popular seventh-term representative, promised a more open and inclusive leadership style. He vaults over the House’s No. 2 leader, Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, who survived a challenge from Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, Wednesday night to keep his post.
Senate Republicans kept the same leadership team in place, with Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, going uncontested.
Senate Democrats chose Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, as 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.