BOISE — After six years chairing the Senate Judiciary Committee and seven before that heading the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, state Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, was named chairwoman of the leadership-dominated panel that handles some of the most controversial issues in the Legislature, including legislation regarding abortion, firearms, elections and more.
Her move to chair the Senate State Affairs Committee came amid a big shake-up in Senate committee chairmanships on Thursday, as all but three of the 10 Senate committees got new chairs.
“I wasn’t expecting that at all,” Lodge told the Idaho Press. “I will be one of the only people that’s served as chair of three major committees. That’s what they told me. I know it’s a very difficult assignment.”
Succeeding Lodge as Senate judiciary chair will be Sen. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa, an attorney, former deputy prosecutor and former Canyon County commissioner who is in his fourth Senate term.
“Todd and I work very well together, we have for years,” Lodge said, “and I have a great deal of respect for him. I might not have changed if I hadn’t known Todd was going to be there.”
Lakey said he hopes to follow Lodge’s example in chairing the committee. Lodge also will remain on the panel and will keep some of her current assignments, including working on justice reinvestment.
“It’s my hope to continue a strong relationship with our judiciary, and also our law enforcement officers,” Lakey said.
With justice reinvestment, he said, an effort the state has been involved in for the past four years, “The intent is certainly a good one, to try and make sure that we are incarcerating the right people, and that we also provide opportunities for those who are involved in the system to become productive citizens after their release. But we also have to be keenly aware of public safety.”
The last Senate State Affairs chairman was Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, who gave up chairing the Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee, a spot he prized, to take the post.
“It’s an honor,” Lodge said, “because it’s a prime assignment — it’s a big leadership position, and it’s a real honor to be selected by your leadership to serve in that capacity. And I know the pitfalls of it.”
Lodge, who is in her 10th term in the Senate, said she made sure Senate leaders understood that “I’m no pushover.”
“I feel like I can find a few things to do,” she said.
Meanwhile, Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, was named the new chairman of the Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee. Rice had previously chaired the Senate Agricultural Affairs Committee.
“We’ll have very good discussions,” he said. “You probably won’t see a lot of major issues this year; I think at some point we’re going to get that grocery tax done, in the next little while. I think this year, we’re going to tend to be frugal.”
Rice noted that Gov.-elect Brad Little supports repealing the sales tax on groceries, which many lawmakers have long supported.
“It’s a really excellent committee,” Rice said. “The senators bring a broad range of experience and knowledge, and I think we’ll have good collective wisdom in what we do pass.”
Among other changes during Thursday’s organizational session of the Legislature, Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, was named the new Senate co-chairman of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, whose former Senate chairwoman, Sen. Shawn Keough, retired. That powerful joint committee writes the state budget.
Bair formerly chaired the Senate Resources Committee. It will now be chaired instead by Sen. Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls.
Heider formerly chaired the Senate Health and Welfare Committee; it will now be chaired instead by Sen. Fred Martin, R-Boise.
The new Senate Agriculture Committee chairman is Sen. Jim Guthrie, R-McCammon.
Former Local Government and Taxation Committee Chairman Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, was named vice-chair of JFAC.
Only the Senate Education, Commerce and Transportation committees will have the same chairmen they had last year.
Minority Democrats in the Senate also completed their committee assignments during Thursday’s organizational session, moving back up to two Democrats on each Senate committee.
“This puts us back to where we were when we had Sen. Dan Schmidt,” said Sen. Maryanne Jordan, Senate minority caucus chairwoman. “Last session, we had three committees that only had one Democrat.” That was a problem, she said, because it meant one might make a motion and not be able to get a second to have the committee consider the motion. “To have two folks on every committee, it makes a huge difference,” she said.
Schmidt, D-Moscow, was defeated two years ago by Sen. Dan Foreman, R-Moscow, who then lost this year to new Sen. David Nelson, D-Moscow.
The Idaho House also convened its organizational session on Thursday, but with numerous committee chairs having left office, lots of new representatives and twice the number of members as the 35-member Senate, leaders found the divvying up of committees and chairmanships a daunting task and opted to continue it into Friday.
In the Senate, Little, the current lieutenant governor, presided over the chamber for the final time; come January, he’ll be the governor.
The new lieutenant governor and Senate president will be former state Rep. Janice McGeachin, the first woman to hold that position in Idaho history.