Printed on: December 09, 2012

A look at Idaho under Bedke's lead

By Melissa Davlin
Twin Falls Times-News

BOISE -- Rep. Scott Bedke succeeded in his bid for speaker of the Idaho House of Representatives on Thursday, successfully ousting former Speaker Lawerence Denney from the position he held for five years.

So, why should you care? It's all about policy and laws that affect your daily life.

The committees

The most visible example of that power: chairmanship selection.

With the help of majority leadership, the speaker places people into committees and picks the committee chairmen. Although it's the committees that pass the legislation, the chairmen have a lot of power over the bills that come into their committees.

Those appointments give the speaker "tremendous power," political scientist Jim Weatherby said.

Although Bedke left most remaining chairmen in place, he made a statement with some of the open chairs.

Last year's Health and Welfare chairman, now-retired Rep. Janice McGeachin, adamantly opposed the insurance exchange and all other parts of the Affordable Care Act.

A bill to establish a health insurance exchange, crafted by Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, never got a print hearing in her committee.

Denney also opposed the Affordable Care Act.

After the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law, Denney and Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, wrote a joint news release urging Idaho to reject all parts of the federal health care law across the board, including the insurance exchange and Medicaid expansion.

Today, the insurance exchange is out of the Legislature's hands.

Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter will release his decision on the state's path forward in the next week. Regardless of what the governor decides, the Health and Welfare Committee needs a strong, sensible leader to guide Idaho through the transition, Bedke said.

This year, Bedke appointed Wood -- a retired physician -- chairman of Health and Welfare.

Wood's background steered the appointment, Bedke said.

"His expertise is recognized and respected, and he brings a pragmatic approach to solving these problems," Bedke said.

Hometown champion

Former Speaker Bruce Newcomb, who served for eight years, said that while the Legislature serves the whole state, the speaker has the power to push bills that matter to him.

Take aquifer recharge, a major issue in southern Idaho and one of Bedke's top priorities. Bedke appointed Denney, a farmer, chairman of the Resources and Conservation Committee.

"As a farmer, it should go without saying he knows the value of a stable water supply," Bedke said. "Rep. Denney has always been very supportive of aquifer enhancement projects."

But should things fail to go the way Bedke wants, expect him to step in, Newcomb said.

Great expectations

Denney received criticism for what some members of his caucus perceived as punishing those who didn't agree with him.

After the 2011 legislative session, Denney removed Reps. Leon Smith and Tom Trail from their committee chairmanships. In 2012, he tried to remove retired Rep. Dolores Crow from the state redistricting commission, calling her a "RINO" -- Republican in Name Only.

Bedke said Thursday he plans to run a united House -- one that can overcome disagreements within its body. What's important, he said, is being able to move on to the next issue.

Wood thinks Bedke won't be heavy handed.

"Rather than legislation being driven from the top down, legislation will percolate up through the two caucuses," Wood said.