Leadership ripple effects

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Representative Lawerence Denney did not lose the Idaho House speakership this week to Scott Bedke over questions of who was more “conservative,” which would have been a pointless argument. Their world view, to judge from their stands on issues, is pretty similar.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that Idaho, and the rules it lives under, won’t be affected by the change.

Here’s one indicator: A legislator suggested to me, post-vote, that the change in speakers might add three weeks to the session.

That wasn’t meant as a criticism. Idaho (or any state) is better off with a longer but more thoughtful session than a shorter but less useful or more reckless one. It was Denney’s style, in his three terms as speaker, to keep things under wraps, to bottle up or shut down legislation or other actions (such as moving against former Representative Phil Hart, when Hart got into tax trouble). There’s some indication, speculation at least, that Bedke’s style may be more free-flowing and open. He already has shaken up the committee assignment picture. Of course, there’s some uncertainty in what Bedke’s ascension may mean too, since the speakership can look a little different from the inside than from the outside.

Again, none of this is ideological, and it could mean both that the House has a more open and responsive feel, which could generate positive headlines, and that it takes up even more controversial legislation than in recent years – which, as legislative observers in Idaho know, would be saying something – and that could cut the other way.

At least a couple of specific decisions, during the just-concluded organizational legislative session, indicate that the House and maybe the Senate too aren’t yet done with their ideological journey to the right.

One is the unusually large number of new House members.

Still another is the composition of the new Idaho Senate. On one hand, the Senate Republicans stuck with the status quo in their leadership crew; a serious challenge to long-time Majority Leader Bart Davis didn’t pan out. But the new Senate includes a whole lot of former House members, and the speculation is (as it has been for some months) that the Senate will begin to look and act more like the House, seconding more of its controversial legislation than it has in past sessions. The Senate is also getting a mostly-new crew of committee chairs, many more at one time than in decades, and that’s likely to change its character too.

Heading into 2013, the Idaho Legislature isn’t in so tough a financial bind as in the last few years – it has a little more room maneuver – and it doesn’t have to go out on many limbs. If it doesn’t want to.

But the changes we saw in the organizational session may be just enough to encourage more freelancing than in the last few years. There’s a good chance the seeds have been planted for a session packed with hotly-debates legislation and quotable quotes.

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