Printed on: December 03, 2012

Amid GOP leadership fight, campaign cash flowed

JOHN MILLER
Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - As Election Day approached, Moscow Republican House candidate Cindy Agidius noticed her campaign account filling with money from prominent GOP lawmakers, from districts hundreds of miles from hers in northcentral Idaho.

House Speaker Lawerence Denney of Midvale chipped in $1,000 from an internal GOP account, while Majority Leader Mike Moyle of Star gave $500. Cash from Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke of Oakley and Rep. Christy Perry of Nampa also went into her coffers.

"It was always interesting to see where the money came from, especially since I didn't ask for it," said Agidius, who won Nov. 6 by just 123 votes.

More than a show of support for a partisan colleague in a tight race, however, this election cash infusion for Agidius and dozens of other Republican candidates across Idaho underscores the tense internal House GOP fight now being waged for leadership posts.

Denny and Bedke are facing off for House speaker, Moyle has a challenge from Rep. Rich Wills of Glenns Ferry, and Perry has two rivals, Reps. Steve Hartgen of Twin Falls and John Vander Woude of Meridian, for the open House majority caucus chair post.

There's also a three-way competition for Bedke's old job, with Reps. Brent Crane of Nampa, Jeff Thompson of Idaho Falls and Lynn Luker of Boise aiming for assistant majority leader.

Money isn't everything, but Idaho politicians aren't neglecting it as they seek power - or, in Denney's and Moyle's case, to preserve it - at next Wednesday's closed-door, GOP-only dinner at a Boise country club. There, a secret ballot will determine the personalities who will control the chamber when the 2013 session starts Jan. 7.

The Denney-Bedke matchup has garnered the most scrutiny.

Denney, a western Idaho alfalfa farmer, has been speaker for three terms, long enough to win the loyalties of representatives who rallied with him around issues including opposition to President Obama's health insurance overhaul, but also bitter enemies who feel he runs the chamber with a partisan fist.

In six years, he's booted Republicans from committee chairmanships on loyalty grounds and punished lobbyists who supported his rivals. This spring, he contributed $10,000 from a House account he controls, the Victory Fund, to political action committees working to unseat GOP incumbents in May 15's primary.

Though Denney denies he intended the cash be used to beat sitting Republicans, Bedke contends the situation laid bare a management style that favors creating divisions, not good public policy.

"This is about pragmatic problem solving," said Bedke, a rancher. "It's also about being inclusive. And we can be inclusive without compromising our principals."

Denney expects their fight to be decided by 23 Republican House freshmen.

"It's going to come down to new people who really have not built a relationship with either one of us," he said. "I've been talking to the returning people, as well, but the new folks are the ones that don't know us."

Wills didn't return a phone call Friday.

But Moyle, now Denney's right-hand man in the chamber, expects leaders who survive Wednesday night will have a variety of motives to thank.

Some conservative lawmakers will pick leaders most likely to stand up to federal initiatives. Others will choose based on who they believe will reward them with prime committee assignments. Still others may have simple political grudges to settle.

"There's all kinds of different things in play," Moyle said.

And then, of course, there's money.

Amid the speaker's race, Bedke gave more than $26,000 to 37 House GOP candidates. Thirty won and will vote Wednesday.

Denney, meanwhile, chipped in about $28,000 to 36 candidates via the Victory Fund he controls. Twenty-three were victorious.

Like Agidius, some received money from both Denney and Bedke - and will have to decide between them.

Politically savvy, Agidius knows not to tip her hand.

"I'm going to go to Boise with an open mind, and I'm going to listen some more," she said, adding campaign contributions will hardly be decisive.

There's some precedent for that.

In 2006, state Rep. Bill Deal, from Nampa, gave $11,000 to 22 GOP candidates, ahead of his bid for House speaker against Denney.

Denney gave only $3,400 to 13 candidates - but still won.