Sausage-making 101: New Idaho lawmakers convene today at Capitol for orientation

The heavy turnover in a post-redistricting election means 44 of 105 Idaho legislators qualify as "new," according to the count of the Legislative Services Office.

Of those are 13 new senators and 31 new representatives. The count includes nine House veterans moving to the Senate, as well as three lawmakers appointed to serve in the 2012 session and one appointed in August.

The group begins three days of meetings at noon Monday with a lunch hosted by Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, and House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale.

The orientation includes 30,000-feet-stuff: BSU's Gary Moncrief on how Idaho's process compares to other legislatures; Idaho's tax structure with Tax Commissioner and former House Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts; and Hill and Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, on decorum, civility and rules.

There's also nuts-and-bolts that help turn the legislative grinder: how bills are drafted and computers and online resources, with LSO staff; the work of committees with Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, Rep. Dell Raybould, R-Rexburg, and Senate Democratic Caucus Chairwoman Michelle Stennett of Ketchum.

Day three on Wednesday is titled, "Law School for Legislators," and includes conflict of interest, bribery and corruption laws, lobbying and Sunshine laws, the latter with Secretary of State Ben Ysursa presenting.

There's even a mud-wrestling session on Tuesday, "Working with the Media," featuring Idaho Public TV's Peter Morrill, John Miller from the Associated Press, Betsy Russell of the Spokesman-Review and some hack called Dan Popkey from the Idaho Statesman.

The full calendar is available here.

After a 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. reception in the Capitol Rotunda on Wednesday, the groups will head to dinner with their respective party caucuses in the House and Senate to elect new leaders. The formal votes will be Thursday, when the organizational session convenes at 9 a.m. The regular session begins Jan. 7, with Gov. Butch Otter's seventh State of the State Address.

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Why two votes? Are they both secret?

Dan, could you write a little more about the voting process for leadership? How exactly do they cast their votes? Who counts? Have the vote counts from Wednesday night and Thursday morning ever differed?

Leadership votes are secret, and I believe always have been

The four caucuses will meet Wednesday over dinner, House Republicans and Democrats, and Senate Republicans and Democrats.

The action is largely on the GOP side, with hot races for all four House majority posts and contests for the No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 Senate posts. (Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill is unopposed).

It typically works like this: three counters are designated by sitting leadership, led by a senior member. They count the ballots and report the winner, though not the vote count. A majority is required; in races with three or more candidates, the low man drops out and voting continues until a candidate gets 50 percent plus one.

Counts rarely leak outside legislative membership. Hand-written paper ballots are destroyed. So dear is the secret ballot in these races that I'm told that many are cast with the off hand -- a right-handed lawmaker scribbling the names with a left hand, and vice versa.

On Thursday, the secret-ballot vote will be ratified by both House and Senate during the biennial organizational session. I'm unaware of any change in the winner.

Thanks for asking,

Dan Popkey


I appreciate the details.