With elections over, the power struggle begins

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House Assistant Majority Leader Brent Crane of Nampa has placed himself at a political crossroad.

If he unseats House Speaker Scott Bedke in the next month’s organizational dinner meeting, Crane will become one of the two most powerful figures in the Legislature. If he loses, he’ll likely be relegated to the statehouse basement and political obscurity for at least the next couple of years. He might as well stamp a big “L” on his forehead.

But I’ll give Crane credit. It takes guts to run against a sitting House speaker – the same kind of political courage Bedke showed six years ago when he took away the speaker’s gavel away from Lawerence Denney.

Crane, as Bedke did six years ago, offers a different leadership approach. His platform includes increasing the staff for House members to help with the high volume of emails and constituent communications. In the House, there’s one staff position for roughly 12 members; the Senate has one staffer for every three members. Crane also is calling for House speakers to be limited to three two-year terms to prevent one person from gaining too much power.

“During the 12 years I’ve been here, we’ve never had a discussion about term limits on leadership,” Crane said. “No member would feel comfortable bringing that up, because they’d be crucified if they did.”

Three terms is the normal shelf life for a speaker. Of the last six speakers, only Bruce Newcomb has served longer.

Bedke has a different view about leadership term limits. “That’s why we have these (organizational) elections every two years. The caucus should have the prerogative to choose whomever they want as speaker.”

As for increased staffing for legislators, plans are in the works to expand space to accommodate additional staff. Crane counters that other options should have been implemented sooner.

There’s a lot of inside baseball that goes with these leadership battles that only legislators, lobbyists and political junkies can fully appreciate. On the Republican side, all four leadership positions are being contested in the House; the Senate has one contested race for assistant majority leader.

To those outside the political circles, it does matter who wins these leadership positions – especially the speaker’s job. The House has seven chairmanship vacancies, and the speaker typically has the final say on who gets those coveted assignments. Bedke and Crane will have different views on who should fill those slots.

Forget about predicting a winner in this one. Promises and commitments are made along the way, and often broken. A candidate for a leadership post may have high confidence when the main course is served for dinner, only to be choking on dessert before the night is over.

Crane, intentionally or unintentionally, has been setting up himself for this kind of a run for some time, and has a path to win. Over the years, he has campaigned for many colleagues. His travel schedule for this year have included stops in Pocatello, Gooding, Lewiston, Moscow, Troy, Boise, Grangeville, Caldwell and Kuna. “I go where people ask for help,” he says.

Now, he’s asking for payback.

On Bedke’s end, “I’ll stack up my fundraising efforts with anyone in the party, and not just in House. I don’t take a backseat to anyone.”

That leaves an awkward choice for Republicans. Do they support the guy who gives the money, or the one who gives his time and works in the trenches? Then, there are 15 freshmen Republicans who are coming aboard. If the newcomers lean more to the right, as Crane suspects, then he might have an edge there.

Bedke also has advantages, the main one being that he has the job and the power. Bedke also has long-established relationships.

“Once you serve with someone several years for 80, 90 and 100 days at a time, there are few secrets about personalities, capabilities, or lack thereof,” Bedke said. “So, there’s isn’t much you can tell some of the older folks that they don’t already know. As for the new members, I encourage them to talk to people they trust and ask about me and my reputation. Whatever they learn in the process, I can live with.”

Crane, meanwhile, is bending ears about the Republican caucus being ready for the kind of “fresh, bold and visionary leadership” that he can provide.

It’s raw politics at its best, minus the smoke-filled room. Don’t expect a lopsided victory, either way.

Chuck Malloy, a long-time Idaho journalist, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly. He may be reached at ctmalloy@outlook.com

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