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Thursday, January 23, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Eye On Boise

Otter move on leadership meetings stirs talk of retribution against the ‘Dirty 30’

Here’s an article from the Lewiston Tribune:

Otter uses 'his right to invite who he wants' to meetings: Several leaders who challenged governor's tax veto were disinvited to weekly team sessions

By William L. Spence, Lewiston Tribune

BOISE - Three Republican leaders who challenged Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's grocery tax veto last summer recently were disinvited to the weekly meetings he holds with the majority leadership team each session. However, after push-back from the speaker and pro tem, Otter reversed course and invited the regular contingent to the meetings, which likely will begin Thursday.

Otter was at a trade show Friday and unavailable for comment. His staff said he simply wanted to "try something different" this year.

Rather than meet with the entire leadership team, as has historically been the case, the governor proposed meeting with a smaller group comprised solely of the House speaker, Senate president pro tem and the two majority leaders.

"The governor felt like this was a good year to try something different," said Otter spokesman Jon Hanian. "He exercised his right to invite who he wants. The speaker and pro tem asked him to reconsider, and he did. All members of leadership are (now) invited."

Had the smaller group format gone forward, it would have excluded the two assistant majority leaders, Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, and Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, as well as the two majority caucus chairmen, Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, and Sen. Kelly Anthon, R-Burley.

Crane, Vander Woude and Vick were among the group of 30 lawmakers who sued the state last summer seeking to overturn the governor's veto of a grocery tax repeal bill. Although the veto was upheld, the Idaho Supreme Court also overturned a 1978 court precedent, essentially vindicating the plaintiffs' reading of the Idaho Constitution.

Anthon did not participate in the lawsuit, nor did any other members of the majority leadership team.

Vander Woude said he learned about the proposed meeting change Monday. The indication was that the trio's support for the grocery tax lawsuit was behind the new format.

"That's what I was told," he said. "We've been labeled the 'Dirty 30.' "

Vander Woude has served as caucus chairman since 2013. He wasn't aware of another time when the governor tried to exclude certain members from the leadership meetings - even in 2014, when then-Senate Caucus Chairman Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, was running against Otter for governor.

"I'm disappointed there was an effort to marginalize people who are elected by their caucus to represent them," he said.

Crane, however, had a different perspective.

"I reject the notion that this had anything to do with the lawsuit," he said. "I've had the opportunity to work with the governor the past five years. I know there have been individuals who opposed him before, but I've never seen him take retribution. That's not the Butch Otter I know."

Vick said there were "lots of rumors," but he never received an explanation from the governor's office as to why the meeting change was proposed. He declined to speculate whether the move was related to his support for the lawsuit.

"I don't want to imply anything about the governor's motives," he said.

Hanian could not offer any insight into why Otter, after 11 years in office, suddenly wanted to meet with a more exclusive group.

"He just felt like it was time," he said.

In a letter to the governor dated Wednesday, House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, and Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, said they "respectfully request that our weekly leadership meetings with you include all members of the Senate and House majority leadership. We believe this approach will foster a better working relationship between (the two branches of government), which will lead to a more productive session."

Bedke said Friday it "may be true and may not be true" that the grocery tax lawsuit prompted the disinvitation. Either way, he'd rather focus on the sizable overlap between the governor's goals and those of the Republican legislative majority.

"I'm doing everything I can to build on the things that unite us, rather than focus on the things that divide us," he said.

Several other participants in the grocery tax lawsuit say they've heard talk about possible retribution as well, but have no reason at this point to think it's true.

"I had a meeting with the governor's chief of staff earlier this week, and it was business as usual," said Sen. Cliff Bayer, R-Meridian, who was the primary sponsor of the grocery tax repeal bill.

Sen. Dan Foreman, R-Moscow, said nothing has been mentioned to him, although he joked that "most people say no to my bills anyway, so I probably wouldn't notice" even if there was retaliation.

"I hope that's not happening," he said. "That type of behavior would be sad and counterproductive, so I'll give the governor the benefit of the doubt. I don't think he'll do that."

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Spence may be contacted at bspence@lmtribune.com



Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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