Rep. Nicole LeFavour, the most prolific and often most insightful of the Valley's blogging lawmakers, made an interesting observation the other day about party discipline.
She was venting on her blog Friday, after the House passed its ill-advised local-option amendment on a 51-19 vote that nearly adhered to party lines. Wallace Democrat Mary Lou Shepherd joined the Republicans in supporting the amendment, while Twin Falls Republican Leon Smith bucked his leadership and voted no.
Wrote LeFavour: "I know how hard it is to be a Democrat but being a moderate Republican might just be harder in here and may produce lesser, more stressful results. It is the fear thing. Fear of your own party. Something about party allegiance, where, under this kind of conservative leadership, you might pay dearly for stepping out of the fold. We Democrats don't bother Mary Lou, but Tom Trail, Mark Snodgrass, Leon Smith and Carlos Bilbao have paid for representing their districts and may still be paying for who they voted for as speaker or how they voted on something or how they spoke out and objected to a process or a piece of legislation."
I'm thinking about party discipline as the local-option action shifts to the Senate. This amendment escaped the State Affairs Committee on a 5-4 vote Wednesday. As Heath Druzin reported this morning, 10 senators are on record opposing the amendment. Several other senators are on the fence.
An amendment needs two-thirds support, or 24 yes votes in the 35-member Senate. The amendment dies with only 12 no votes — seven from Democrats, and five from the 28-member GOP caucus.
I have done no independent vote-counting, and I've been wrong on handicapping these issues before, but I cannot envision this amendment passing the Senate as written.
Part of it has to do with political leanings. The Senate is simply more moderate than the House, and may be less inclined to support a restrictive amendment that only allows local-option if two-thirds of a county's voters say yes. It wouldn't surprise me if some senators push for a less restrictive amendment, either by reducing the supermajority or allowing regional taxes (which would better work for building public transportation systems or roads).
Part of it too has to do with the way the Senate works. Because the Senate has only half the membership of the House, senators build up seniority and get prime committee assignments fairly quickly, so senators derive less of their power from their relationship with leadership. Of the Senate's 28 Republicans, nine are committee chairs and eight have plum assignments on the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. That means these senators have power all their own, and leadership has only so much sway over them.
Let's look, for example, at Nampa Republican Sen. Curt McKenzie. He is finishing his third Senate term, but he already chairs the powerful State Affairs Committee — where, on Wednesday morning, he voted against the local-option amendment. It's a lot easier for McKenzie to vote his conscience on this amendment, regardless of where leadership stands. Plus, McKenzie is running unopposed for a fourth term; that helps.
In the House, the local-option debate was about as partisan as anything I've seen in the Legislature in recent years. Republicans had numbers on their side, and held together. I don't think it's going to go the same way in the Senate.