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A Denney evaluation

malloy CHUCK
MALLOY

 
In Idaho

I like Lawerence Denney.

I worked four sessions as communication adviser with the House GOP caucus when Denney was speaker of the House and found him to be fair and supportive. “Boss Denney,” – a description often used by the Lewiston Tribune and Post Register – didn’t fit this soft-spoken man.

In morning leadership meetings, he was anything but a “boss” or “bully.” Scott Bedke and Mike Moyle, the top leaders of the House today, were the strongest personalities in the room and often drove the discussions. Denney, with his friendly laid-back style, was the kind of guy who would lend you a ladder or a wrench if he were your next-door neighbor.

That’s the side of Denney that I have known for seven years. But because of his actions as House speaker, I can’t dismiss the harsh comments from the Tribune, Post Register and other sources. He’ll probably win the secretary of state’s office, because Democrats don’t stand much of a chance in this state. But many of the criticisms are justified and the editorial writers have a right to question his fitness for office.

Holli Woodings, Denney’s Democratic opponent, describes the basis of her campaign. “What this comes down to for me is who can best continue this legacy of fairness we have had in the secretary of state’s office for decades,” she said, referring to retiring Secretary of State Ben Ysursa and Pete Cenarrusa before that.

During his six years as speaker, Denney “fairness” was a one-way street. He was the leader of the Republican Party, especially the more conservative side of his party, and part of his purpose was to help GOP conservatives keep the upper hand. He earned the nickname “Boss Denney” after advising one organization to fire its legislative lobbyist and hire a friend and former state representative, Julie Ellsworth, to the position. He fired committee chairmen who didn’t follow the conservative path and fired one of the most conservative legislators ever to serve, former Rep. Delores Crow, from the redistricting commission, for apparently not being conservative enough and lack of communication. He spearheaded passage of closed primaries, which gave conservative Republicans an even greater advantage and served to make a bad election system worse.

In Denney’s world, “moderate” Republicans were no better than Democrats. It’s no mystery why former Rep. Leon Smith of Twin Falls, one of the committee chairmen who was fired by Denney, has endorsed Woodings.

So, if Denney wins the secretary of state’s race, he will have to transform himself from a partisan politician to an ambassador of fairness. That won’t be easy.

Recently, the Idaho Republican Party raised questions about whether Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate A.J. Balukoff violated campaign finance laws with his payroll and bookkeeping procedures. Tim Hurst, the chief deputy for the secretary of state’s office, said there was no violation and the GOP dropped its complaint. I’m not sure if Denney would have reached the same conclusion, or if he ever would side with a Democrat or moderate Republican on anything.

His record as speaker and his campaign rhetoric suggests he would not. On his website, Denney says he offers “Proven Conservative Leadership.” That’s a nice slogan for a race for the Legislature, or House speaker, but it’s a rotten message for a secretary of state who is supposed to offer fairness for all.

A couple of weeks ago, Woodings issued a news release saying she would retain the secretary of state’s staff if she were elected and Denney followed suit with a similar statement. With Denney, it might not be so easy to keep the staff if political strategists hold the top positions.

If Denney wins, my hope is he would be more like the person I have known and “Boss Denney” will be a nickname from the past. My hope is that he relies on his professional staff instead of the political advisers who were so instrumental during his time as speaker. His heart and head need to be in the right place if he is going to be successful as secretary of state.

So with Denney, there are a lot of questions. Woodings thinks she has some answers.

If voters elect her, she says, “you won’t have to worry about it.”

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