The predominant news out of the just-finished organizational session of the Idaho Legislature didn’t make the front page of most Idaho papers, and that was a reasonable call.
There were a few committee changes, and a few on the lower rungs of leadership. But the top spots in the Senate and House stayed pretty much the same.
In the bigger picture of Idaho legislative history, there actually is some news in this stasis. Until the last decade or a little more, leadership under the rotunda tended to change regularly. In recent years, that’s slowed down.
In the Senate, the top leadership job is president pro tem. (You might think that would be lieutenant governor, since he’s the default presiding officer, but when caucuses are held and decisions are made the lieutenant governor is outside of the room, with the rest of us.) For most of Idaho history, the norm was to hold that job for two or three terms, provided your party was in control. The first ever to keep the job longer was Republican James Ellsworth of Leadore, for four terms from 1968-76.
That record was broken by Robert Geddes of Soda Springs, who was elected to the post in 2000 (mid-session, when Jerry Twiggs, who was in his fourth term as pro tem, died). Geddes held the job for 10 years, and currently holds the record. His replacement, Brent Hill, was elected to it for the third time last week, and there’s no particular reason he won’t reach Geddes’ mark over time.
In the House, no one broke the three-term ceiling until Bruce Newcomb, who was elected speaker in 1998 and stayed until he retired in 2006 – four terms. His successor, Lawerence Denney of Midvale (soon to be secretary of state), then was speaker for three terms but narrowly (apparently) lost a bid for a fourth in 2012. The man who defeated him, Scott Bedke of Oakley, appears like Hill, to be settling in. Neither he nor Hill were opposed for the top leadership positions in the organizational session.
Take a look at the job of majority leader in each chamber. In the Senate, Bart Davis of Idaho Falls has held that job 12 years. In the House, Mike Moyle of Star has been majority leader since 2006, but he was assistant majority leader in 2002 – 14 years so far in one position or the other.
Before you consider this a call for term limits, though, consider that longevity is much less widespread in the overall legislative ranks. Just nine of the 35 senators, for example, are entering their fifth term or better. Despite the fact that nearly all legislative districts are a lock for one political party or the other (mostly for one of them, of course), there’s a good deal of turnover among them.
But not so much in leaders. In fact, Idaho is seeing a good deal of continuity in its upper political leadership ranks. It has a governor, C.L. “Butch” Otter, in major office continuously for 28 years. It has two U.S. senators whose entrance to major-level state politics came nearly 30 years ago in one case and 40 in the other. One of the two U.S. representatives came to the Idaho House more than 30 years ago and first entered leadership there not long after.
You could draw several possible conclusions from this, depending on your attitude toward the personnel involved.
But it seems many Idahoans often do seem a lot less determined to rock the boat than their rhetoric would often have you believe.Share on Facebook