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Idaho GOP lawmakers vote to keep leadership the same

December 1, 2016 GMT

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Secret balloting on Wednesday evening resulted in Idaho Republicans sticking with the same legislative leaders.

Every two years, Democratic and Republican lawmakers from both chambers splintered off into their caucuses in Boise to determine their leadership lineup. Recently, lawmakers have cast votes the night before settling on legislative committee assignments several weeks before the legislative session kicks off. Because the meetings are behind closed doors, exact voting results aren’t released to the public or to the lawmakers who voted.

With Republicans controlling nearly 84 percent of the Idaho Legislature after picking up four seats on Nov. 8, these leadership races are significant, because just who is in charge helps decide which issues become priorities and which legislative proposals can get consideration.

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For example, when House Speaker Scott Bedke ousted former Rep. Lawerence Denney from the top seat in 2012, Bedke then led the effort to push through establishing a state-based health insurance exchange in 2013. Denney had previously rebuffed most attempts to pass a state-based exchange.

Bedke and Majority Leader Mike Moyle didn’t face rivals — the two haven’t face challengers since 2012. However, Assistant Majority Leader Brent Crane and Majority Caucus Chairman John Vander Woude held off opponents.

Crane had faced a challenge from Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, who chairs the House State Affairs Committee. Vander Woude faced a challenge from two-term Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell.

This is Bedke’s third time to be elected to the top legislative leadership position. The only House Speaker to serve more than three terms was former Rep. Bruce Newcomb, R-Burley, who spent four terms at the post from 1998 to 2006.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans stuck with existing leaders. This included keeping Brent Hill as President Pro Tem, Bart Davis as Majority Leader, Chuck Winder as Assistant Majority Leader and Todd Lakey as Majority Caucus chair.

Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, a Democrat from Ketchum, and Senate Assistant Minority Leader Cherie Buckner-Webb kept their seats. However, Sen. Maryanne Jordan, a Democrat from Boise, replaced Sen. Grant Burgoyne, also from Boise, for Senate Minority Caucus chair.

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For House Democrats, Rep. Mat Erpedling, a Democrat from Boise, will be the new Minority Leader after Rep. John Rusche failed to win his bid for a seventh term in the general election

Rep. Ilana Rubel D-Boise, will move into Erpelding’s seat as House Assistant Minority Leader.

Finally, nine-term Rep. Elaine Smith, D-Pocatello, will become the House Minority Caucus chair. She is the only minority leader who lives outside of Boise.