Growers square off to lead House

Sean Ellis/Capital Press Idaho's Capitol building stands in downtown Boise in this Nov. 21 photo. Idaho's 2013 legislative session will feature a battle for the House speaker position between a rancher and a farmer.

Lobbyist: 'Denney is a farmer and Bedke is a rancher. Either way, we do OK'


Capital Press

BOISE -- A farmer and rancher will battle for the House speaker position during the 2013 Idaho Legislature.

Farm groups aren't taking sides on the upcoming battle between the current speaker of the House, Rep. Lawerence Denney, a farmer from Midvale, and the Assistant Majority Leader, Rep. Scott Bedke, a rancher from Oakley.

"Denney is a farmer and Bedke is a rancher. Either way, we do OK," said Rick Waitley, executive director of Food Producers of Idaho, which includes most of the state's main agricultural groups.

Both men have received Food Producers' Ag All-Star award, which is based on lawmakers' voting record on agricultural issues. Denney, who has been House speaker for six years, has received the award 10 out of 13 years. Bedke, who is in his fourth term as assistant majority leader, has received it 11 out of 12 years.

Bedke is former president of the Idaho Cattle Association and former director of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. Denney has a bachelor's degree in agricultural economics from the University of Idaho.

The looming battle between the two Republicans wasn't a well-kept secret but it became official last week when Bedke spoke publicly with the Twin Falls Times-News about it.

Neither man returned calls seeking comment for this story.

"Both have been very supportive of farming and ranching and they have also both been very supportive of University of Idaho's college of agriculture, which is a positive statement," said Rep. Tom Trail, a Republican farmer from Moscow, Idaho, who retires from the Idaho Legislature Dec. 1.

Trail was booted by Denney from his position as chairman of the House Agricultural Affairs Committee five minutes before the 2011 Idaho Legislature wrapped up. His sudden dismissal, as well as that of another committee chairman on the same day, resulted in some criticism of the speaker.

Bedke supporters have also criticized Denney for using money from a House-controlled election fund to try to defeat incumbent GOP lawmakers in the May primary election.

Idaho Grain Producers Association Executive Director Travis Jones said the group won't get involved in the battle and both men "have a track record with Idaho agriculture that has been very positive."

"We'll work with whoever gets elected and do our best to make sure they know about the issues that are important to us," he said. "We believe we can go to either one if we need help during this next legislative session."

Bedke ran unopposed in the Nov. 6 election and Denney easily won his contest with 70.9 percent of the vote.

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