CHUCK MALLOY: These ‘crazy’ House conservatives are building power

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Gov. Butch Otter, who this year completes his third term in office, may not be the only high-profile lame-duck officeholder in the statehouse.

House Speaker Scott Bedke of Oakley also could be out of a job if Congressman Raul Labrador becomes governor and brings with him like-minded conservatives who are bent on slashing spending, reducing taxes and shaking up state government.

By this time next year, we could find Rep. Brent Crane of Nampa, the assistant House majority leader, in the speaker’s chair. His leadership team could include Reps. Priscilla Giddings (White Bird), Ron Nate (Rexburg), or any of the new wave of conservative legislators wanting to create a new order in the House.

As Rep. Karey Hanks (St. Anthony) points out, there will be at least seven open House seats up for grabs this year. Fill those seats with freedom-minded conservatives, add a few upsets in the primary elections, and the newbies will be close to the magic number needed to overthrow Bedke, and possibly Majority Leader Mike Moyle of Star. If the stars line up right, the conservative backbenchers — who often are scoffed at and ridiculed as “crazies,” could end up in the front row of leadership by the end of the year. Labrador, the hero of the Republican Party’s right wing, would be the governor of their dreams.

Last week, the group held a legislative preview session in Meridian, which at times took on the flavor of a tent revival. The 240 people who showed up for the meeting shows there is plenty of public support for the conservative cause.

The conflict between Bedke and the new conservatives surfaced at the beginning of last year’s session when the speaker pulled committee assignments from Rep. Heather Scott of Blanchard, who was overheard suggesting that women legislators used sexual favors to gain favorable committee assignments — the “#MeToo” movement in reverse. What Bedke probably didn’t count on was Giddings and other freshmen going to the floor and requesting they be removed from their committees. The requests were denied, but order was never quite restored after that.

Later in the session, Giddings — who asked that a lengthy bill be read in its entirety — was forced to do the reading. Bedke’s disciplinary actions, which were aimed at teaching rookies a lesson about legislative politics, backfired miserably. Where it goes from here is up to Bedke. If he allows fair treatment for conservative bills, then this year might be a relatively tame session. If not, conservatives are ready to slow the process to a crawl. They have the power to do so, and they know it.

Giddings, in her talk to the crowd, says there is a “political war” on truth in the Statehouse and she plans to keep up the pressure on her end. “I thought I was going to learn how to be a statesman, and how to dive into the techniques of good debate and constitutional law. Instead, I was treated like a mushroom. … The legislative process that I learned about as a kid is broken.”

Giddings was not the only one getting generous applause. Rep. Christy Zito (Hammett) talked about how she was advised — as freshmen generally are — to use her first term to “keep quiet, do as I was told and learn the process.” She wasn’t interested in playing by those rules.

Nate says that Idaho is spending and taxing too much. “We are classified as a red state, but in terms of the budget and in terms of spending, we are far from a red state.” As Hanks sees it, “There’s a very real battle to turn Idaho blue, or in other words, to another moderate, middle of the road, high tax and spend, over-regulated mess of a state.” Scott praised her colleagues for standing up for “what’s right” in the face of attacks by the political establishment.

Four others also spoke to the enthusiastic crowd — Reps. Bryan Zollinger (Idaho Falls) and Dorothy Moon (Stanley), and Sens. Dan Foreman (Moscow) and the newly-appointed Tony Potts (Idaho Falls).

It’s clear where this group of conservatives want to take the state, which leaves voters with some interesting choices in the next primary election. The bad news for moderates is that conservatives are the ones who vote in big numbers in primary elections and understand that the ballot box is where political power begins.

• • •

Chuck Malloy, a Silver Valley native and longtime Idaho journalist, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly and an editorial writer with the Idaho Press-Tribune.

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