BOISE – Fights within the Idaho GOP boiled over Thursday as lawmakers ousted a senior member of Republican leadership.
Rep. Megan Blanksma, R-Hammett, was removed from her position as majority leader, the most senior position in the House after Speaker Mike Moyle. The vote against Blanksma came a day after she was the lone House leader to vote against budgets passed by a panel of lawmakers – an apparent statement made over a new controversial process for setting state agencies’ budgets.
Factions within the GOP have fought in recent weeks over state budgets, as the co-chairs of the powerful Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee introduced new rules for setting budgets this year that some say reduced transparency and made it harder for agencies to request additional funding.
“The caucus has had some contentious issues amongst itself the last little bit, especially what’s going on in our appropriations committee with the budgets,” Moyle told reporters Thursday. “That’s what it was about … We’re like a dysfunctional family right now, we’ve got a little bit of tension. We’ll get through it.”
Blanksma was the only woman in House Republican leadership. She declined to comment.
Bruce Newcomb, who served 20 years in the Legislature starting in 1987, told the Statesman he does not recall any other time in Idaho that a majority leader was ousted.
Rather than pass individualized budgets, the co-chairs of the committee, Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, and Sen. Scott Grow, R-Eagle, implemented rules to first group sets of agencies together and pass “maintenance” budgets, which provide minimal funds needed to keep the agencies operating. Only after that would lawmakers consider requests from agencies for new spending. The committee leaders have said that process allows for more scrutiny.
While the Legislature’s hard-right members and some others have come out in favor of the new approach, a group of more traditional Republicans rebelled and sent a set of comprehensive budgets of agencies that included more funding, similar to ones approved in years past, to the House floor.
House lawmakers voted to pass the first “maintenance” budget bill Wednesday. Blanksma was the only member of Republican leadership to vote against it.
While the House was in session Thursday, House Republicans spent nearly two hours in caucus, privately meeting one floor above the House chamber. They came back briefly to hold a vote on whether to retain Moyle as speaker, which Moyle won unanimously. They then went back into caucus for over an hour.
Blanksma’s ouster was announced in a Thursday news release, which noted that Republicans held three internal leadership votes in addition to the public vote for Moyle. Rep. Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay, kept his position as assistant majority leader and Rep. Dustin Manwaring, R-Pocatello, as majority caucus chair.
“On behalf of my fellow legislators, I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude for Rep. Blanksma’s time as our majority leader,” Manwaring said in the release. “Please be assured that the House Republican Caucus is still focused on the needs and concerns of the people of Idaho. We will continue to work collectively to ensure our communities’ best interests are our number one priority.”
The release said the party plans to pick a new majority leader Monday.