Writings and observations

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

In 2001 I contracted with the Lewiston Tribune, then inconveniently between political reporters, to cover that year’s Idaho legislative session. I handled some aspects of it, though, differently from the years before when I’d covered for other daily papers. I worked out of my home, for example.

And declined to join the Capitol Correspondents Association. I had been a member of it for more than a dozen years up through 1990, and my decision not to apply surprised a few people. But I had reasons.

This is inside baseballish stuff (my non-membership was never mentioned to Tribune readers, for example, and no one saw any need to) but the latest blasts involving the CCA and writers for the Idaho Reporter web site, carry implications worth sharing outside the Statehouse echo chamber.

The correspondents association, one of many similar organizations at statehouses around the country, is an odd beast. Its members are journalists who cover the legislature. A group aimed at letting people meet and associate is not a matter for controversy (Idaho lobbyists, by the way, have one too) But the CCA also has an official standing with the legislature, it negotiates, for example, where and when on chamber floors, and some other office space, journalists – not the public, and not lobbyists – can go.

All this had more significance once than it does now. I started covering the legislature using manual typewriters, and had to have needed a dedicated land line phone at a desk in the Statehouse. Now, the excellent and extremely productive Spokesman-Review reporter Betsy Russell (for years head of the CCA) jogs with her wireless computing devices from meeting to meeting, filing stories from events as they happen. The Statehouse has a good wireless system. That clunky comm of yore is irrelevant.

Even in 2001, I found no practical disadvantage functioning as a member of the public rather than a CCA member, and I see less difficulty with it now.

The Idaho Reporter battle, ongoing at least four sessions, involves the web site operated as an arm of the libertarian Idaho Freedom Foundation, which among other things lobbies; IFF leader Wayne Hoffman has been lobbying against the proposed state health insurance exchange, for example. The lobbying and ideological push of the IFF suggest that the Reporter site and its writers are not journalists in the same sense as conventional newspaper, wire and broadcast reporters. At the same time, those writers, like CCA members, do develop frequent and regular news reports about the legislature which are disseminated to the public. An Idaho Statesman column last week suggested one of the writers went “beyond the pale” in tweeting criticism of a legislator. CCA reporters, I can tell you, have over the decades from time to time breached the pale about as far. (As a CCA member I once devoted a newspaper column to the “worst legislator of the session.”) And Reporter writers been wearing badges that mimic the CCA-issued variety, which seems dishonest. They have been denied CCA membership.

Rather than battle over the CCA membership, I’d ask whether the CCA is really needed anymore. In 2001, I had a specific philosophical argument against joining it: That reporters should always see themselves as outsiders looking in, not the other way around. I know I felt more comfortable reporting on the legislature that way rather than as a legislature-linked, and reliant, accreditee. I’d feel about the same today as a reader, too.

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Idaho Idaho column

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

On February 11 Idaho will pass another anniversary, six years away from the centennial mark since it last created a new county. Caribou County, hacked away from Bannock County in 1919, is the youngest, though by only three days: Jerome County was formed the previous Saturday, its territory taken from Gooding and Lincoln counties (Jerome being situated in the middle).

These were not rare instances. Twenty counties, almost half of Idaho’s current 44, were formed in the decade of the 1910s, all carved out of pieces of other counties. Most have in common relatively small geographical areas and small to midsized populations. Idaho’s smallest county, Payette, was formed in 1917 from Canyon County. There was Adams in 1911 (from Washington), Benewah in 1915 (from Kootenai), Boundary in 1915 (from Bonner), Camas in 1917 (from Blaine), Lewis in 1911 (from Nez Perce), and so on. Many more Idaho counties were formed in the 1910s than in any other decade.

Why then?

One reason may have been a population boom. Idaho’s head count doubled from 1900 to 1910, and by about half again during the 1910s. Many of the counties that split up in the 1910s had experienced huge growth; Lincoln County, which was split three times, went from 1,784 people in 1900 to 12,676 in 1910. In 1920, after the cut-ups, Lincoln was back down to 3,446, territory where it has remained since.

Another reason probably was transportation, and transportation expectations. The first two decades of the twentieth was transitional, between an established but lightly-populated state, and a state with significant population. In 1900 Idaho’s population was about 162,000, fairly close to Nampa plus Meridian today. In 1920 it reached 432,000, making Idaho a whole different kind of place. Commerce and other reasons for travel were booming.

Travel infrastructure hadn’t kept up. Early in the new century there were a few wagon roads, but mostly little more than trails. The first state highway commission was not created until 1907. The first stretch of hard-surfaced road (five-miles in the Fort Hall-Blackfoot area, on the route from Pocatello to Idaho Falls, roughly the current Highway 91) was built in 1911. Even that was no prize; a state transportation history noted that “so difficult was this stretch of roads for teams and automobiles that it was marked as especially bad on automobile maps. It fully deserved this reputation, for during the greater portion of the year it was almost, if not wholly, impassible to automobiles, and it was impassible for any but the lightest loads over it with a team.” Other roads doubtless were much worse.

Meaning that in 1919 people in Soda Springs may have been getting awfully tired of driving over the mountains separating the Bear from the Portneuf river basins to get to the courthouse in Pocatello, and started agitating for more local county services. Even in flatter country the difficulties of transportation must have had an effect. Rather than build a new highway system, Idahoans just created more counties.

Leading to question, since for some decades now Idaho has had perfectly passable highways between nearly all of its communities: Does the state still need 44 counties? Might we revisit just how many really are needed in the day of Internet and I-can’t-drive-55? The centennial decade of the rapid creation of so many counties might be as good a time as any.

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Idaho Idaho column

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

It’s not true, as many people (outside the state no less than in) probably suspect, that Idaho has no laws controlling guns – which is to say, gun control.

Idaho surely is one of the most easy-going states on gun regulation, as the state was reminded this week after news reports (though it isn’t really news) that elected officials, including legislators, have an automatic right under state law to carry concealed weapons.

But check out online the Idaho Code Title 18 Chapter 33 (the main but not exclusive set of statutes on guns), which is titled “firearms, explosives and other deadly weapons,” for a starter. It covers a range of subjects that might surprise many Idahoans. First on the list: “Every person having upon him any deadly weapon with intent to assault another is guilty of a misdemeanor.” In words, with intent to use it for any purpose other than sporting or, presumably, clear self-defense.

There’s the ban on selling guns to minors (without parental consent), on carrying a concealed weapon “when intoxicated or under the influence of an intoxicating drink or drug,” on carrying firearms onto school property (though the legislature may reconsider that this year).

Best be careful parading around with a gun in view, too: “Every person who, not in necessary self-defense, in the presence of two (2) or more persons, draws or exhibits any deadly weapon in a rude, angry and threatening manner, or who, in any manner, unlawfully uses the same, in any fight or quarrel, is guilty of a misdemeanor.” “Rude” and “angry,” after all, are seen in a beholder’s eye.

The Idaho laws define “firearm” and “weapon” in various places, but they don’t match up with the Second Amendment, which refers to “arms”: “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” (The premise before those words – “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,” – having seemed largely to have escaped much discussion.)

What are “arms” taken to be? In Revolutionary days, they mostly meant muskets and cannon, but a quarter-millennium later “arms” means other things. We speak of nuclear arms, of chemical weapons, of drones and surface to air rockets, of IEDs, as well as Uzis and on down to the modest hunting rifle.

So which of these arms do Americans have a constitutional right to “keep and bear”?

The answers will vary from person to person. I’ve posed it to several second amendment enthusiasts, and the answers have varied. Nuclear weapons seem pretty commonly beyond the pale, but after that answers differ. Few addressed the question of non-firearms arms. Some went along with the idea of excluding really high-capacity firearms, others didn’t.

But this may be the point at which the gun rights, and gun control, discussion needs some focus. Relatively few people have any interest in limiting (more than now) ownership or use of firearms intended for sport, hunting or defense. The debate really kicks in beyond that.

In the details.

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Idaho Idaho column

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

Now that we’re properly into 2013, time has come – yes, it has – to start looking at the political races of 2014. In Idaho, that starts with governor.

The most day-glo prospect, as we sit in January, is that of a Republican primary pitting incumbent Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter against Representative Raul Labrador. It’s a prospect too that allows for a real choice for Idaho Republicans.

There’s absolutely no certainty it’ll play out that way. Otter has said he plans to run, but he may have been saying that for purposes of fundraising or avoiding lame duck status. Labrador has expressed some interest in running for governor, but the pull of Washington is often heady stuff. Neither may wind up filing for the office next year.

There are reasons it could happen, though. The guess here is that a big reason Otter ran for re-election in 2010 was that enough people (Republicans among them) had challenged his handling of the job, and Otter responds to challenges. He has one now. Otter is on the side of the Republican party that is more establishment-oriented and concerned with economic growth; while ideology is important to him, he has shown himself willing to bend on a variety of items. He, like the state’s senators and Representative Mike Simpson, could be put in the “realist/pragmatist” camp. You can put on the relevant bill of goods for Otter establishing a state health insurance exchange, dumping immediate reconsideration of the Luna school laws, and improving the state’s transportation system.

Those stands have put him distinctly and fiercely at odds with the part of the party that’s more ideology-driven. Otter’s recent intense lobbying of the state Republican organization for the insurance exchange, and party leaders’ repudiation of it, was but one recent example.

And Labrador (along with Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, who seems to have been almost cast off by Otter) is very much a central figure in that more insurgent ideology group, one overlapping with the Tea Party but extending beyond it. He and Otter were in opposition (over gas tax policy) even back when Labrador was in the Idaho, not the U.S. House. In the Labrador-Simpson dustup in the last few weeks, Otter would clearly be placed closer to Simpson.

If Labrador does decide to bag Washington and run for governor, Otter might feel hard-pressed not to contest him. If Otter doesn’t run, there’s a widespread presumption that his close ally and appointee Lieutenant Governor Brad Little will. A few years back, Little would have been considered a field-clearer, an easy winner. Today, he would sweep the general election, but the outcome in a statewide contested primary is harder to assess.

If it turned into an Otter-Labrador battle, the first big battle for a long time among sitting major Idaho political figures, how might it turn out? Hard to say. A general election-type electorate likely would decide for Otter, but this would be a closed primary, a much better group for Labrador.

That Simpson-Labrador spat you saw could well be writ large in 2014, if it mutates into an Otter-Labrador battle. If that happens, Idaho turns into a serious political battleground.

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Idaho Idaho column

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

As Idaho legislators come into session with, for the first time, a review on the table of how legislative ethics are managed, they needn’t re-invent the wheel: They could grab one lying on the ground nearby, and modify to Gem State purposes.

Most of the 50 states have gone much further than Idaho is setting up some form of standard approach for overseeing legislator ethics, and they’ve tended not to be as controversial as you might think.

Among Idaho legislators, the whole subject often is taken personally: Of course I can be trusted. Arguments for ethical oversight usually are taken as personally insulting. They shouldn’t be. Taken as a whole, and over time, Idaho’s legislature has been generally clean, serious ethical breaches usually ranking low among its various faults.

But no group of people is perfect, which is why Idaho has, for example, a process for reviewing performance and possible ethical problems on the part of judges, a group that mostly holds itself to strong standards but now and again will find a less-than-worthy member in its ranks.

The National Conference of State Legislatures, the professional organization that tracks legislative activities around the country, notes that all state legislatures have some means for internally reviewing legislator problems (or, problem legislators?), but that 41 states also have ethics commissions. Idaho is one of the few without one. Wyoming is the only other state in the region that has none.

Washington state has the State Legislative Ethics Board, which meets monthly and hears concerns about legislators. Oregon has the Government Ethics Commission, which reviews the legislature among other agencies. Nevada has two agencies that oversee the legislature from different angles, the Commission on Ethics and the Nevada Legislative Counsel Bureau. Utah has the Independent Legislative Ethics Commission. In Montana, there’s the Commissioner of Political Practices.

Much of what they do isn’t in the realm of specifically passing judgment on cases. The Washington board, for example, regularly considers not only “complaint opinions,” when someone has a problem with a legislator, but also “advisory opinions,” in which legislators (or sometimes others) can inquire about whether doing a particular thing is unethical or not. Call it a reality check.

In none of them is the amount of traffic massively high, and only occasionally do they pop up into news reports; many of the issues they deal with are handled quietly – not under the table, but in negotiation. Sometimes it happens that a legislator wasn’t aware of what the rules are. (Idaho recently made a good move in correcting that, for the first time ever during this cycle, by holding an ethics seminar in advance of the session.) Sometimes a stubborn legislator just needed a little persuading. Sometimes a legislator has moved, maybe unawares, into a gray area, and needs a little nudging. These agencies probably do a lot of good turns for legislators who might have headed off a legal cliff, but were stopped, or at least slowed, before they got there.

To Idaho legislators who take some offense at the idea of needing some kind of external ethics oversight, the simplest response might be: We can all use some good counsel now and then.

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If it’s a major-office Idaho elected official, it’s a “conservative Republican,” for whatever that may mean. (Republican, as a party member, is at least specific enough.) But is it possible to make more precise distinctions?

The New Years Day vote on the Biden-McConnell proposal is a good indicator of this – there are others, and there will almost surely be more to come. And the best way to think about it as not ideological. (Once again: What does “conservative” mean?) One national article suggests drawing the line between “establishment” Republicans and “insurgent” Republicans, at least within the House Republican caucus, and that may be as useful a dividing line as any. John Boehner, the House speaker, is an establishment Republican. Eric Cantor is an insurgent.

In Idaho, then, there’s this: The senators, Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, are establishment Republicans, as is Representative Mike Simpson. 1st District Representative Raul Labrador is an insurgent.

These descriptions draw from the votes on the bill, as establishment Republicans – a big majority in the Senate but a nearly 2-1 minority in the House – favored the measure, while the insurgents opposed.

The difference is in perspective.

Here’s some of what Labrador had to say: “This was a difficult vote, but as far as I am concerned the Biden-McConnell deal is worse than no deal at all. It temporarily ends the debate but does nothing to solve the problems that our country faces—in fact, it is a perfect example of why our country is $16 trillion in debt. … Today, I’m not sure either party is serious about reducing our debt and deficits.”

And from Simpson: “While I remain a strong proponent of a more comprehensive approach to solving our nation’s long-term fiscal crisis, this bill is a critical piece of legislation that lowers taxes for nearly every taxpayer. The unfortunate reality is that under current law every taxpayer was hit today with a tax increase. The bill we passed blocks those tax increases for nearly all Americans — effectively lowering the taxes they were to begin paying today. It is also important to note that H.R. 8 will provide permanent tax certainty for individuals, families, businesses, and farmers who are ready to invest their money but have been reluctant to do so without knowing how much they’ll be taxed. Resolution of the tax rate uncertainty is critical to economic recovery and job creation.”

The difference in perspective jumps out at you. Simpson’s approach, like that of most people who think like legislators (and it is a way of thinking, in a sense that lawyers or teachers or even journalists would recognize), is to recognize that you may not get everything you want, but you make the best deal you can with the hand you’re dealt – you negotiate. Labrador’s is to dismiss any proposal deemed not to be good enough – which means, if you’re in a place like Congress, rejection of a lot of what’s put before you. The same would be true of a state legislator or city council member.

We may be seeing this play out over and over, exacerbating the differences between “conservative” Republicans as this congressional session goes on.

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Some highly hedged predictions (observations anyway) about Idaho 2013 …

1. As legislators hit the Statehouse, the health insurance exchange urged by Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter looks like Topic A. Best guess now is that they pass something that Otter would approve – but make that a highly hedged bet. There’ll be plenty of pressure as well to re-up nullification efforts from sessions past; there’s a strong never-say-die element. Topic B: A partial Luna Law resurrection.

2. No gun-related legislation this year, other than reaffirming more guns in more places.

3. The 2014 governor’s race should take on clearer contours by the end of 2013. By then, incumbent C.L. “Butch” Otter ought to – fellow Republicans will insist – clarify whether he’s on the ballot once again. He has said he plans to run, but there are reasons for saying that (political strength, fundraising, etc.) that may not translate to ballot status. A year from now, we should know who the major candidates are and aren’t. Note: An Otter candidacy doesn’t necessarily preclude a primary challenge.

4. Don’t expect other major non-incumbent candidates to surface during the year (unlike most recent off-years). Apart from the governor’s race, 2014 isn’t looking very exciting in Idaho.

5. But: Better than even odds another fairly high profile ballot issue, on some topic, arises for 2014. Non-conservatives had their biggest statewide win in many a moon in 2012 with the ouster of the three legislative “Luna laws.” There’d be a lot of political sense in going back to the electorate to challenge other things the Idaho Legislature may do next session, whatever those might be.

6. There are no partisan general elections in Idaho in 2013, but cities will be electing. One of the most interesting contests could be in Pocatello, where in 2009 Brian Blad came out of nowhere to defeat incumbent Roger Chase. What kind of opposition will he draw this time? Watch too the city races in Coeur d’Alene, where an emotional ideological battle in 2012led to a (failed) recall effort, and is likely to yield hard-fought, even bitter, races for some of those same offices in 2013.

7. A correspondent points out that in the coming year, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals likely will decide whether the Idaho Roadless Rule stands or falls. He suggests: “If it stays it becomes a success story in collaboration with the support of some conservation groups like Trout Unlimited and the Idaho Conservation League. … If the 9th Circuit strikes it down the victory goes to the Wilderness Society and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition who were hold outs and did not want to work with the state on a state-based rule.” Real poliltical implications could emerge from all that.

8. Looks like a pretty good water year. As 2012 ended, every one of Idaho’s water basins had above-average snowpack (the Little Wood River was at 172 percent of normal accumulation). As 2011 ended, most of Idaho’s river basins were below-average; the Weiser River area, for example, was at 72 percent.

9. Chances are good that the Snake River Basin Adjudication may actually wrap up this year: As 2012 ends, it’s getting close. In the context of big water adjudications, that would be a speedy success.

10. Overall in the change department: Don’t expect a lot to shatter the earth. Idaho is not likely to be a great deal different as it approaches 2014.

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For those who have to pay it, the personal property tax must be one of the most aggravating.

Many Idahoans probably don’t know much about it – don’t often encounter it – and may have wondered what the deal was when a report about the Idaho personal property tax was released by the state Tax Commission last week. It may be one of the least liked taxes among small businesses; under its terms, businesses have to itemize things like office equipment – furniture, computers and much more – and estimate their value, with taxes to be paid on them. The taxes have not been massively high, but in relative terms the paperwork can be extensive.

Unsurprisingly, there’s been a movement for some years to eliminate the personal property tax, and it’s picking up steam. (The lobby at the Idaho Association of Commerce & Industry is working on it, for one, following up on lobbying it did last year.) Prospects are fair or better that the personal property tax in Idaho may be amended or maybe even eliminated next session.

At the same time, not a lot has been known about it – what it raises, where it goes, what it covers.

Some of that information gap ended with the Tax Commission report’s released on December 18, and it should provide the information base around which debate will run. It’s the first report on the subject the commission has ever released. After reading it, you suspect it won’t be the last.

It tells us, for example, that the PPT brings in about $140 million a year. Split among the hundreds of local government districts (the sewer districts get $12,852), that’s a fairly small piece of the tax pie. Even so, $140 million would make a dent of some kind, especially in the cities and counties, if it abruptly went away.

A close read of the report suggests, though, that changes could be made that might ease its often onerous nature without cutting away all the revenue – and in fact the personal property tax probably due for some good review and a legal rewrite anyway.

One memo in the report (dated October 26) concerns “operating property,” which relates to certain mainly industrial types of business. There (in many cases at least) the “personal property” is deemed to be almost anything other than land and buildings. In addition to the furniture, electronics and office equipment, the “personal property” includes telephone poles, power pumping equipment, rail cars, line pipe, oil tanks, water hydrants – a whole lot of stuff you don’t really think of as “personal.”

Some of that may be questionable, because the memo adds: “These are under the assumption that everything but land and buildings are personal property. Any assumption can be made as there are different interpretations on the definitions of what is real and what is personal property, particularly in the area of conduit, pipe in the ground and various fixtures which are strongly attached to the buildings …”

There is, in other words, plenty of room to maneuver here. And the surprise may be that there have been more lawsuits over this uncertainty.

If only to clear up the confusion, this looks like a legislative topic for 2013.

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Last week, Washington and Oregon were two of the first six states to get initial (conditional) approval from the federal government for their plans to set up state-based insurance exchanges. Idaho is rapidly approaching a final decision point on whether to start.

An Oregon statement on the plan called Cover Oregon says: “Cover Oregon is a central online marketplace where individuals and small businesses can shop for and compare health coverage options and access financial assistance, starting in October 2013. Coverage for plans purchased through Cover Oregon will be effective January 1, 2014. Through Cover Oregon, individuals and families will be able to easily compare plans, see quality grades for carriers and plans, and access financial assistance to help pay for premiums.”

Doesn’t, in truth, sound much like tyranny, and actually sounds more like a free marketplace.

That aspect of it – the federal requirement for a setup notwithstanding – may have resonated with free marketeer Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, who (a day after the federal approval for the neighbors) said he would support establishment of a state-run exchange in Idaho. (Failure to set one up on the state level would result in establishment of a federal-run program.) But actual setup takes action as well by the state legislature, and that’s where things get complicated, and political.

A comparable proposal died earlier this year in the legislature but, partly because of personnel changes, chances may be better in 2013. An early spate of news stories on key players in the health and welfare committees suggest the proposal has at least a reasonable chance of getting to the floor in either chamber.

But whether it passes remains an open question, and so is its impact on Idaho Republican politics.

The insurance exchange easily could turn into a purity test for Idaho conservatives, with “squishes” – presumably including, improbably, Otter – being distinguished from the purists who simply say: hell no. It might (we don’t know yet if it will) pit parts of Republican leadership (not all of it) against large parts of the caucuses. It could split Republican leaders against each other.

An exchange battle could have an early effect on the elections in 2014 as well. Representative Raul Labrador doesn’t have any direct involvement with state legislating, and health insurance is outside the normal turf for Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, but watch closely to see if either of them speak out about a state-based health exchange, especially if against it. That could turn into an early indicator of a gubernatorial challenge for governor, either against Otter or his close ally and lieutenant Brad Little. (At least one Republican legislator last week was overheard saying that after his exchange announcement, Otter can’t win the Republican nomination for another term.)

Idaho could move in a simpler manner by copying pieces of other states’ plans, adapting them as preferred, or it could try – a much more complex effort – to reinvent the wheel. If time gets tight, Idaho officials may find it practically easier to do the first, but politically easier to do the second.

A fly on the wall of the upcoming Republican caucuses would be rewarded with entertaining listening.

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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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