Posted: Wednesday, December 05, 2012 10:42 PM
By JOHN MILLER
BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- Republican Rep. Scott Bedke ascended to the House speaker job Wednesday, winning a secret vote that ejected Rep. Lawerence Denny from the leadership post he's held for six years.
House Majority Leader Mike Moyle won again, while the Senate's dominant GOP faction stuck with existing leaders including Majority Leader Bart Davis of Idaho Falls.
The victory for Bedke, an Oakley rancher who speaks Italian and was severely injured in 2011 when a 1,500-pound hay bale tumbled on him, signals that his message of pragmatic conservatism resonated over Denney's harder-line insistence on loyalty -- especially among two dozen freshman GOP representatives entering the chamber ahead of the 2013 session's Jan. 7 start.
Bedke didn't immediately return a phone call, following the vote.
On many issues, he and Denney vote alike: Against President Obama's health care overhaul, for last session's $35 million income tax break.
But the pair were increasingly plagued by friction.
Last January, Denney, an alfalfa farmer from Midvale, launched a failed bid to oust Republican members of Idaho's redistricting committee for lack of fealty; and this spring, he directed money to a political action committee that tried unsuccessfully to oust sitting Republicans during the May 15 primary.
On both occasions, Bedke, who has been assistant majority leader, was critical of Denney, saying he'd abandoned any pretense of inclusiveness for a stubborn ideological bent that was tearing at the fabric of the House.
Not since 1982 has a sitting Idaho legislative leader like Denny been deposed; then, future U.S. Sen. Jim Risch took on the state Senate GOP leader and won.
Moyle, Denney's lieutenant for six years, avoided a similar fate, beating Glenns Ferry Rep. Rich Wills to hold onto his No. 2 House post.
Rounding out the two remaining House seats, Rep. Brent Crane of Nampa beat two rivals to become assistant majority leader, and John Vander Woude of Meridian is the new caucus chairman.
In the Idaho Senate, the majority Republicans stuck with their existing leadership team as the chamber equated the status quo with stability.
President Pro Tempore Brent Hill of Rexburg didn't face a challenge from within his 27-lawmaker caucus.
But Davis, the majority leader, was a targeted by fellow Idaho Falls lawmaker Dean Mortimer.
Davis prevailed, however, as did both Senate Assistant Majority Leader Chuck Winder and Caucus Chair Russ Fulcher.
Winder, from Boise, beat back a challenge from Sen. Curt McKenzie of Nampa, while Fulcher, from Meridian, bested Blackfoot Sen. Steve Bair.
"I guess the caucus felt we'd operated well as a team, and wanted to keep the team there," Hill told The Associated Press, immediately following the vote.
The Senate leadership scuffle had, at least in part, roots in controversy surrounding former Senate Majority Caucus Chairman John McGee last January. Then, McGee survived a closed-door confidence vote following his June 2011 drunken driving arrest, before quitting in February over a separate sexual harassment complaint.
Following the January vote, however, Mortimer, Winder and Fulcher were among nine senators who issued a press release outlining their opposition to McGee's re-confirmation as the chamber's No. 4 leader.
That public announcement was departure from tradition, where fights within the Senate's GOP caucus ordinarily end with individual lawmakers' votes being held close to the vest.
Before Wednesday's vote, senators speculated it created hard feelings.
Asked if that prompted the leadership challenges, Hill told this story: After he'd polished off a prime rib at Boise's Owhyee Hotel but before the secret caucus broke up Wednesday about 8 p.m., he offered a final word of caution to his GOP members: They could text or tell anybody they wanted the final vote outcomes, but the details were strictly off-limits.
And he wouldn't say if McGee's name came up. "I would certainly be a bold hypocrite if I were to say what was addressed," Hill told the AP.
Idaho's minority Democrats in the House and Senate also selected leaders for the 2013 session.
The House's 13 Democratic members reaffirmed Rep. John Rusche of Lewiston as minority leader Wednesday.
Rep. Grant Burgoyne of Boise was named assistant minority leader, while Rep. Donna Pence of Gooding will be minority caucus chairwoman.
Meanwhile, Sen. Michelle Stennett of Ketchum will be minority leader, a post also held by her late husband, Sen. Clint Stennett.
Sen. Elliot Werk, from Boise's Bench neighborhood, will be the assistant minority leader, with Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb of Boise's North End becoming minority caucus chairwoman.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.