House Speaker Lawerence Denney was defeated in his 57-member Republican caucus Wednesday night, marking the first time in 30 years that a No. 1 legislative leader was deposed by colleagues.
Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, a quiet but convivial Oakley rancher, capitalized on a caucus wearied by a string of embarrassments and Denney overplaying his hand, most recently his supporting an effort to defeat six GOP lawmakers in the May primary.
The gambit failed and roused resentment against the Midvale lawmaker, who works for a rural phone company. But Denney continued his campaign, rather than step aside as some embattled leaders have in the past.
Bedke will face an interesting dynamic because Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, defeated Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, retaining the No. 2 post. Moyle allied with Denney and campaigned on his behalf.
While Bedke wields the institutional power as speaker, Moyle will continue to run the floor, as he has for six years. Bedke's first duties include appointing committee chairmen, plums that could cost some who supported Denney their jobs.
Bedke will be formally be elected Thursday by the full House when members convene for the biennial organizational session at 9 a.m.
House caucus votes were cast by secret ballot at a dinner at Boise’s Crane Creek Country Club. By custom, the vote counts are not announced and the three counters designated by the caucus are sworn to secrecy.
Denney’s ouster was the first such upset since 1982, when Senate Republicans replaced President Pro Tem Reed Budge with Jim Risch, now Idaho’s junior U.S. senator.
In the Senate’s most closely watched race, Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis won a sixth two-year term as the Senate floor leader, besting his senatorial neighbor, Sen. Dean Mortimer. Both men are from Idaho Falls.
Davis' reelection suggests the Senate will remain a check on the more conservative House.
The other three GOP leaders also were re-elected. President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, was unopposed in voting at Boise’s Owyhee Plaza Hotel.
Assistant Majority Leader Chuck Winder defeated challenger Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, and Caucus Chairman Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, survived a bid by Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot.
Mortimer entered the race late, challenging Davis after Winder gave up the contest after seven months of consideration, saying he counted the vote at 14-14.
Back in the House, Rep. Brent Crane of Nampa was elected assistant majority leader over Reps. Jeff Thompson of Idaho Falls and Lynn Luker of Boise.
As of 10:15 p.m., one race was undecided: Candidates for GOP caucus chair are Rep. Christy Perry of Nampa, Steve Hartgen of Twin Falls and John Vander Woude of rural Ada County.
Among the Democrats, who hold 19 percent of the seats in the third-most Republican legislature in the country, House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, was unopposed.
House Democrats filled two vacancies by electing Assistant Minority Leader Grant Burgoyne of Boise and Caucus Chairwoman Donna Pence of Gooding. House Democrats ate and voted at Smoky Mountain Pizza on Parkcenter Boulevard in Boise.
Senate Democrats elected Sen. Michelle Stennett of Ketchum as minority leader, Sen. Elliot Werk of Boise as assistant leader, and Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb of Boise as caucus chair. Senate Democrats met at a senator’s Boise home.