There was a sharp connect - but only of sorts - between one of the key panels at this year's Associated Taxpayers of Idaho conference, and the race, to be decided probably tonight, for speaker of the Idaho House. It has to do with the interaction of - and we're grossly generalizing here, but not without reason - Idaho's booming urban areas and its often more troubled rural places.
The conference panel was called "Urban/Rural Dynamics," moderated by state Senator Brad Little of Emmett (a small-town rancher, and also one of the state's most sophisticated policymakers - too bad he didn't speak). The three panelist delivered useful talks, but what was telling was this: They came from two of Idaho's top urban boom places (Nampa and Kootenai County) and a top regional growth spot (Twin Falls/Jerome). The rurals weren't much there.
And yet it fits, because talk of Idaho's economy increasingly centers around the urban growth areas. You don't hear even much discussion, anymore, about the natural resource economy, which often seems to be dismissed. (Another irony, since the ATI conference was held in the Boise convention center alongside big meetings of the Idaho Farm Bureau and the Simplot company.) Increasingly, it seems to be "that which we don't talk about."
Which brings us to the House speaker race, the one real leadership battle (apparently) in the Idaho Legislature this year, between Republican Representatives Bill Deal of Nampa, the chair of the State Affairs Committee, and Majority Leader Lawerence Denney of Midvale. The race is presumed to be close, but conventional wisdom is that Denney (who has had a smooth run in that position) picked up the edge after five relatively moderate Republican House members at Boise were defeated for re-election. Deal is sometimes pegged as a moderate, but more practically he is a centrist member of the House Republican caucus, as is Denney; most safely, you can say that neither is on the fringe of that caucus. The big difference between this is this: Deal is an urban guy from Idaho's second-largest city in the population center of the state, an insurance agent, and Denney is a farmer, a rural small-town guy, in an area struggling to maintain population. Those realities probably inform their disparate world views more than any external ideology.
If Denney wins, the House retains its rural feel, which it had to some extent under former Speaker Bruce Newcomb (a Burley farmer). But it may in any event. The defeat of the five Boise Republicans makes the dominant Republican caucus more rural and less moderate it was before, in any event. If it sometimes seemed unshakably conservative before, it is likely to seem more so now.
Especially if Denney wins. And in spite of what often is said about the direction the state is headed.