With less drama, Idaho Democrats also will elect new legislative leaders next week

I've written twice this week about the high-profile leadership races for the GOP supermajorities in the House and Senate.

Today, a look at change for the minority party, which also will elect leaders Dec. 5.

House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, will remain the head of caucus that broke even with voters Nov. 6. Democrats continue to hold 13 of 70 House seats. But Rusche lost both lieutenants to retirement, Assistant Minority Leader Elfreda Higgins of Garden City and Minority Caucus Chairman Brian Cronin in Boise. Rusche has six freshman in his caucus, though one, John Gannon of Boise, served a House term in the early 1990s.

Rusche said veteran Reps. Grant Burgoyne of Boise and Donna Pence of Gooding have expressed interest in joining him in leadership. The party is expected to keep two members on the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee and needs to fill the vacancy left by retiring Rep. Wendy Jaquet of Ketchum.

The retirement of Senate Minority Leader Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello, leaves a void at the top in the seven-member delegation, which also broke even in the 35-member Senate.

Assistant Leader Les Bock of Boise and Caucus Chairwoman Michelle Stennett say the seven have been talking about how to fill the three leadership posts, two JFAC spots and other committees, a difficult task for such a small caucus.

"We want to put our best talents and abilities in each of the positions," said Stennett. "So we're having some good, honest dialogue. We're going to sort it out and be prepared next week."

Senate Democrats have three new members, all with House experience: Cherie Buckner-Webb and Branden Durst of Boise and Roy Lacey of Pocatello.

Bock may be nudging Stennett to jump over him to the top spot.

"I think she'd be a good leader, if Michelle wanted to be leader," Bock said. "I would be happy staying assistant."

Stennett repeated that nothing's been settled. "There is a possibility that I would be nominated, but in the end the answer is when the caucus votes we will know."

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