Republicans and Democrats in the Idaho Senate chose new leaders for the next legislative session, with only one of the seven top officers staying the same.
Both parties chose lawmakers from southeast Idaho for their top spot. Sen. Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, will be the new Senate president pro tem while Sen. Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello, will be the new Senate minority leader. Hill called Malepeai a good friend. He also said he thinks both parties will work well together, and vowed to increase the level of trust in the Capitol.
“I’m thrilled with our leadership team,” said Hill, who runs an accounting company.
Sen. Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, remains the Senate majority leader. He defeated a challenge from Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton. Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise will be the new assistant majority leader, defeating Sen. Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston. Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell, will be the majority caucus leader. He was challenged by Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, and will replace Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, who sought the pro tem position.
Democrats hold seven seats in the Senate, meaning almost half of their caucus holds leadership spots. Joining Malepeai will be new Assistant Minority Leader Les Bock, D-Boise, and Caucus Chair Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum.
Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, said Democrats chose their leaders as a caucus. “Others need a shot to step up,” he said.
The vacancies at the top were created when current Senate President Pro Tem Bob Geddes, R-Soda Springs, announced in November that he would step down from a leadership spot after a decade in charge. Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly, D-Boise, didn’t seek re-election for her Senate seat. Hill and Fulcher’s intentions quickly became public.
Hill said he’s close to Geddes philosophically and that the two have similar leadership styles. Hill, who led the Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee, said he’d like to see better communication with the House on tax issues, so that the Legislature can come up with strategies for tax policy and potential tax incentives or reductions.
Hill wouldn’t say whether he’d support raising “sin taxes” on cigarettes or alcohol. Such a plan would need to pass the House before senators could take up the issue. He said his support would depend on what specific tax would increase and whether it would be targeted for a specific spending program.
Winder said he may have been chosen because he’s seen as more conservative than Stegner. “I think our whole caucus has become more conservative in its makeup,” Winder told IdahoReporter.com. He said that having three new GOP leaders in the Senate could change how business gets done but wouldn’t change the direction of the Senate.
McGee, who headed the Senate Transportation Committee, said he was encouraged to run for leadership by another GOP senator. He said that Republicans had a deep bench from which to pick its leaders. He also said that during the caucus, the elections were the focus, not policy issues. “Tonight was the election of our leaders and tomorrow we go to work,” McGee said.