In his final two days as Idaho House speaker, Lawrence Denney offered an odd motivational speech to newbie legislators.
Speaking at an orientation meeting Tuesday, the Midvale Republican welcomed the rookies to "the goldfish bowl," cautioned them not to do anything to embarrass themselves or the institution, and made them an offer.
"If you drink too much, I'm going to give each one of you my cell phone number and I will come and take you home, because I don't want to read about it in the newspaper because everything that we do reflects on every one of us.
So let's summarize. Don't act stupid. Don't get drunk. And if you do get drunk, call me maybe.
No one can accuse Denney of setting the bar too high.
Expectations are a tricky thing, though. Fail to meet them, and you fail.
And that's the challenge awaiting new House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, who deposed Denney Wednesday night.
We'll never know the numbers, or exactly how the caucus vote broke down. But this secret ballot represents a public repudiation of Denney.
During six gaffe-packed years as speaker, Denney forgot his own admonishment. Time and time again, Denney brought embarrassment on himself, and his caucus.
He went easy on Rep. Phil Hart, allowing the House's serial tax dodger to define the terms of his ethics "sanctions." After Rep. Eric Anderson had the gumption to file an ethics complaint against Hart, Denney conveniently forgot to assign Anderson a vice chairman's position he sought. Denney dumped two committee chairs because their voting records were too moderate for his liking. And just to top it off, Denney tried to fire redistricting commissioner Dolores Crow — deeming her too "RINO" despite a solidly conservative 24-year record in the House.
Surely, other factors were part of the mix. But there's no sugar-coating the results. House Republicans fired Denney Wednesday night. And that's a reflection on job performance.
Exit Denney, enter Bedke. And now what?
It bears repeating, but Bedke spent six years on the Denney team, as assistant majority leader. There isn't going to be a major shift in philosophy. And Denney's ally and longtime floor general, Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, survived a challenge and remains in leadership. So, no, Wednesday night's vote was not an overthrow as much as it was a specific personnel move.
The prevailing wisdom: things will change because Bedke will make the House more collegial. And for one simple reason: Bedke isn't Denney, error-prone and ham-handedly ideological. And that alone sets high expectations for Bedke.
Personally, I think Bedke is smart and a straight shooter, with a good disposition for a tough job. I certainly think he's savvy enough to recognize the task at hand: restoring the House's image a giving a fair shake to House Republicans who were exiled during the Denney years.
I think Bedke will be an immediate improvement over Denney. In time, I also think Bedke could grow into a speaker more reminiscent of Denney's previous two predecessors, Mike Simpson and Bruce Newcomb. But let's let him move into the office first.
And let's not anoint Bedke as the guy who will magically and instantaneously right all wrongs in the House. That's unfair. Everyone makes mistakes. Unfortunately, it won't take many mistakes — or more than one big mistake — before Statehouse observers begin shaking their heads and say, "Here we go again."
Welcome to "the goldfish bowl," Speaker Bedke. You asked for it — and all the expectations that come with it.