Jul 23 2014

The speaker’s road

Published by at 2:07 pm under Malloy

malloy CHUCK
MALLOY

 
In Idaho

House Speaker Scott Bedke of Oakley will be doing more than watching the Election Day results in November. He’ll be keeping an eye on Republican winners, because his job depends on it.

Perhaps even more than the governor’s race, the state’s direction hinges on the outcome of the legislative races. Bedke, who won by a narrow margin in 2012, is no lock to win re-election. Critics – and there are plenty of them within the conservative wing of the GOP caucus – say he hasn’t done enough to bring opponents to his side.

“He’s leading with the D’s, and that’s no way to lead,” said one Republican House member.

For certain, Bedke could not have gotten through the implementation of a state-run health exchange without the help of Democrats.

“A majority of the Republican caucus voted against the exchange and the only way it passed was with the help of Democrats,” said Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens (Kootenai County). “That would not have happened under the previous speaker.”

Barbieri also opposes Bedke on Common Core education standards and fears that the speaker could push for Medicaid expansion. Barbieri isn’t alone with in his complaints about Bedke’s leadership. Earlier this month, the Idaho Statesman’s Dan Popkey wrote an excellent piece, talking to two of Bedke’s leading critics from the conservative side – Assistant Majority Leader Brent Crane of Nampa and Caucus Chairman John Vander Woude of rural Ada County.

But complaints against Bedke and the more moderate “Otter” Republicans are empty without a viable conservative alternative, and that’s a problem. The bench is thin. Majority Leader Mike Moyle of Star has the resume, but he has told others that he is not interested in the speaker’s job because it would signify the beginning of the end of his legislative career. Rep. Tom Loertscher of Bone, the longtime chairman of the State Affairs Committee, also has the qualification. The question is whether he wants to stay on for another term or two. In Popkey’s article, Crane offered himself as a potential candidate for speaker. The question is whether he is ready for such an assignment. My guess is he is not.

Bedke, in many ways, has done a good job leading the House and a divided GOP caucus. He’s highly intelligent, engaged in the issues and has superior knowledge about budgeting. He’s also a superb communicator with the media, a trait not often found with Republicans.

Conservative members have a different view, as Popkey’s article outlined. Crane says that Bedke’s style has made the GOP divisions worse.

“It’s about divide and conquer, and that’s not leadership,” Crane told Popkey. “Leadership provides direction, provides a vision, provides a mission of where we’re going and gets people united. It’s not about dividing people so you can manipulate the process.”

Others within the caucus are less kind. He often is described as “mean,” “vindictive,” “dictatorial” and “condescending.”

Bedke is more likely to get favorable reviews from Democrats than conservative members of his caucus. House Democrat Leader John Rusche of Nez Perce gives Bedke high marks for fairness and sensible approaches to some issues, but says some fellow Democrats see him as condescending.

Criticism of House speakers is nothing new. In some respects, Bedke reminds me of the late Tom Stivers, who ruled with an iron fist in the 1980s. Critics also accused him of being “mean” and “vindictive.” I also see in Bedke some of the qualities of now-Congressman Mike Simpson in terms of intelligence, decisiveness and savvy with the media.

Bedke could do better for himself by taking some of the qualities of his friend and former speaker, Bruce Newcomb. Newcomb often alienated some of the more conservative members of his caucus, but he had a way of bringing people back to the fold – often with his friendly nature and sense of humor.
Bedke’s style of humor does not always hit home with legislators as Popkey’s article illustrated. As Crane was discussing the need for party unity, Bedke reportedly came back with, “What do you want, Crane, more ice cream socials?”

Those who heard the conversation were laughing like schoolyard bullies, but it was hardly funny to Crane – and hardly a way for Bedke to bring conservative members to his side.

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