House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, has kept a low profile since May's news that he contributed GOP caucus funds to an effort to unseat six GOP incumbents in the May 15 primary.
Denney's partner was House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star. Their efforts were widely panned as bad form, impolite and power hungry and added another high-profile stumble to Denney's list of missteps. The GOP targets -- Reps. Ken Roberts of Donnelly, Christy Perry of Nampa and George Eskridge of Dover; and Sens. Patti Anne Lodge of Huston, Dean Cameron of Rupert and Shawn Keough of Sandpoint -- all won their primaries. Roberts was subsequently appointed to the Idaho Tax Commission.
The messy attempt at fratricide contributed to conventional wisdom among Statehouse insiders, lobbyists, reporters and editorial writers that Denney was very vulnerable.
Denney's laid-back style fueled that view. It wasn't till the day after the Nov. 6 general election that Denney said he was campaigning for a fourth two-year term.
Meanwhile, Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke of Oakley spent the interim running hard, traveling the state and spreading money to more than 40 GOP candidates, supporting the thinking that Bedke has a better-than-even chance of deposing the king. I've been among the practitioners of the "CW," saying, when asked, that Bedke looks like a winner.
I'm now having second thoughts, thanks to a wiser person who suggests considering the fresh start that comes with a post-redistricting election. Of the 57 House Republicans elected Nov. 6, 23 are freshmen. That's 40 percent of the vote. Perhaps Bedke has done a stellar job of charming that bunch, but they're a conservative lot, inclined to stay the course. They also haven't witnessed Denney's leadership up close and likely aren't persuaded by left-leaning editorialists who mock the Speaker as "Boss Denney." Proving them wrong by voting for Denney just might feel good.
Another wrinkle comes from Moyle, one of the most gifted infighters I've known in 25 years of covering the Legislature. While Denney may have been staying home, Moyle's been working on his behalf and Moyle's not a man to be underestimated.
Should Denney win, Gov. Butch Otter may have to trim his sails in the 2013 session. A Denney victory would likely affirm that the new House is firmly planted in opposition to a state-run health exchange, Medicaid expansion, new revenue for roads and bridges and restoring mental health services.
It could mean an attempt to revive education reforms in Propositions 1, 2 and 3, despite having been rejected by voters. It could cause a rift with the Senate over repealing the personal property tax, with the House refusing to earmark state funds to replace lost revenues at the local level. Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, has said locals should be kept whole.
Otter can't be seen to meddle in a legislative leadership race, but dollars to doughnuts, he's hoping the conventional wisdom is correct. We'll know the night of Dec. 5, when the GOP caucus votes.
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