TWIN FALLS • House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, publicly announced he is running for speaker of the Idaho House.
Bedke, who was first elected to the Legislature in 2000, is challenging current House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale. Denney has held the position for six years.
“It’s time for a change,” Bedke told the Times-News.
Rumors have circulated about the House speaker race for months, with the Idaho Statesman interviewing Denney about his intent to seek another term. Bedke had previously declined to comment.
Denney couldn’t be reached for comment for this story, but last week he told the Statesman he would campaign aggressively to keep his position.
In an interview with the Times-News, Bedke was hesitant to talk about specific problems within the Republican caucus, but the tensions have been documented in both the press and public records.
The biggest of those conflicts: During the 2012 primary, Denney and House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, donated tens of thousands of dollars to political action committees that aimed to defeat fellow Republicans, including House Majority Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly.
That money came from the House Victory Fund. The bulk of donations to that fund came from House Republicans; Previously, Victory Fund money went to help incumbents.
There have been other controversies. In 2011, Denney received criticism for removing Rep. Tom Trail, R-Moscow, and Rep. Leon Smith, R-Twin Falls, as committee chairmen at the very end of that year’s legislative session. (Both Smith and Trail retired after the 2012 session.)
In January, Denney was part of an effort remove former Reps. Dolores Crow and Randy Hansen — both fellow Republicans —from the state commission charged with creating new legislative districts following the census. (That effort failed in the Idaho Supreme Court.)
Bedke has been critical of Denney’s actions in recent months.
“For the past six years, we’ve worked well as a leadership team. And I cannot condone any of these tactics,” Bedke told the Times-News in May after the campaign finance scandal became public.
The scandal surprised Republicans who had donated to the fund.
“It did not occur to me at the time that that money would be used to pit candidates against sitting House members,” said Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, in May. “And frankly, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
Since the primary, neither the House Victory Fund nor the House Republican Caucus Fund have received any donations from Idaho PACs or House Republicans who had previously contributed.
Denney’s wife, Donna Denney, is treasurer of the Victory Fund.
In the months leading to the Nov. 6 general election, Bedke, who was unchallenged, donated thousands of dollars to Republican candidates across the state.
Bedke isn’t the only Magic Valley legislator running for leadership. In July, Hartgen confirmed he is running to be House caucus chairman. Roberts resigned in July after being appointed to the state Tax Commission.
Each party votes for leadership on Dec. 5 in a private caucus meeting in Boise.