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Another verse, same as the first

Randy Stapilus
April 8, 2013
Idaho Statesman

As this year's Idaho legislative session cranked up in January, many observers noted two significant changes in it: An unusually large number of freshmen, and a new House speaker who, for the first time in decades, had ousted an incumbent who would still be in the chamber in the session ahead.

There was some suggestion that these things might be a big deal in the course of this year's session: New people, a new way of doing or looking at things.

That legislature adjourned just before noon on Thursday, a mid-length session. Now, looking in the rearview mirror, looking at the large picture, it seems reasonable to say: Eh, not so much.

That doesn't mean the commentary from a season ago was totally off base. In the Idaho Legislature, very little of real substance has changed in two decades, even while some (not all) of the names have, so people understandably get excited about anything new that does happen.

And it's not that the new freshman crowd and the new Speaker Scott Bedke have made no difference. Both certainly mattered in what may be the keynote event of the session, the passage of a health insurance exchange bill. A group of 16 freshmen may have provided the legislative lubricant to ease it through to a narrow win in the House, and Bedke may have made possible progress on the bill, period; it had died a year earlier under his predecessor, Lawerence Denney.

Bedke's administration of the House was widely touted as smoother, more efficient and less controversy-prone than Denney's. (There even seemed to be somewhat fewer "quotable quotes," the kind that go viral nationwide, than in the last few sessions.) The Legislature's "climate" - emotional and temperamental - was said to have improved. People inside the building tend to notice and appreciate that sort of thing a lot more than people outside it.

Some of the newcomer legislators did seem to have a better feel for operating in a legislative environment than some of their seniors, taking the relatively sophisticated step of forming their own voting group on the subject of the health insurance exchange. And Bedke seemed to have more sense of responding to outside concerns, as he took steps on ethics (limited as they were).

But looking at the broader range of issues and ideas, and money handled, during the session, you have to conclude that this year's legislature didn't act a lot differently than the legislature of 2011. Or 2009. Et cetera.

Last session probably would have been happy to repeal the personal property tax much as this one did - might have jumped at it with fewer reservations than this session. It would have been comparably tight with the budget bucks. This session was actually somewhat less open to the public, overall, if you consider as a significant decision the end to the one-year effort in opening the legislature's budget committee, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, to public hearing and comment.

These were very much the same kind of legislators, with very much the same outlook on the world, as have been there for two decades. It did not change, much. Nor will it next session. Nor, most likely, assuming no stunning earthquake in Idaho's political culture, in the term beyond that.

Randy Stapilus is a former Idaho newspaper reporter and editor, author of The Idaho Political Field Guide and co-author of Idaho 100: The people who most influenced the Gem State, and blogs at He can be reached at

Originally posted at

The editorial posted here is provided by permission of its original publisher and does not necessarily reflect the views of Idaho Public Television.

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