Julie VanOrden’s waiting game

When Kate Haas was asked to handicap the makeup of the 2017 Legislature Wednesday, the Boise lobbyist worked in a little bit of lobbying.

Julie VanOrden
Rep. Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree, speaks to school administrators during a panel discussion in Boise Wednesday. (Andrew Reed, Idaho Education News.)

Speaking at the Idaho Association of School Administrators’ annual conference, Haas hopes Rep. Julie VanOrden will get the chance to head the House Education Committee. After Haas offered her endorsement, one school administrator shouted out his approval.

But the process of filling out committee chair positions is much more low-key and much less public. VanOrden, R-Pingree, has told House Speaker Scott Bedke that she wants the job. However, nothing will happen until after the November elections, and after lawmakers select their leadership team for 2017.

House leadership will be shopping for a new Education Committee chair to replace Rep. Reed DeMordaunt. The Eagle Republican did not seek a fourth term this year.

As DeMordaunt’s vice chair, VanOrden is next in line. In theory, anyway, and often in practice.

Frequently, legislative leadership promotes a vice chair. That was the case two years ago, when Sen. Dean Mortimer took over as chair of the Senate Education Committee. And it was the case a year ago, when Sen. Shawn Keough became a chair of the budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.

However, there are no guarantees. While a vice chair has some built-in advantages — including a detailed knowledge of the issues that have come before a committee — leadership is by no means beholden to choose a vice chair. For example, leadership can pick a different chair in order to change the philosophical direction of a committee — or to reward an ally.

And if the leadership team itself changes, all bets are off.

There has been some Statehouse chatter about the House leadership races, and whether Bedke could be vulnerable to a challenge from the right. The outcome from the topsy-turvy May 17 GOP primary contributes to that speculation.

The primary results were certainly a mixed bag, with six House Republican incumbents losing. Conservative Reps. Kathleen Sims, Pete Nielsen and Shannon McMillan lost. Several moderates (and likely Bedke allies) survived conservative challenges. But three other moderates lost: Reps. Merrill Beyeler, Paul Romrell and Rich Wills, a House Education member who chaired the Judiciary and Rules Committee.

Will the primary results make the House GOP caucus more moderate — or more conservative? There has been plenty of chatter on that topic as well, and some disagreement. VanOrden downplays the results, saying the primary was more or less a wash.

After touting VanOrden as a prospective committee chair Wednesday, Haas talked up her prospects. “She would never say it, but I would say her chances are very, very good,” said Haas, a member of IASA’s lobbying team.

No one will know for sure for several months.

After the Nov. 8 election — an election that could further reshape the House GOP caucus — the jockeying begins. Candidates for leadership seats will make their case in a caucus during a post-election tour of North Idaho. Then, at the end of November, House Republicans will elect floor leaders — who will, in turn, select a new House Education chair.