Control of Senate Ed up for grabs

Leadership positions and committee assignments are on the line this week as lawmakers return to the Statehouse in Boise.

The new legislators’ orientation session and the Legislature’s organizational session take place this week even though the 2015 legislative session does not kick off until Jan. 12.

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Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls

In education circles, the biggest news to watch will be the reshuffling of the Senate Education Committee on Thursday.

One-third of the seats on the nine-member committee are vacant – starting with the top post of chairman. In May, Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, lost his re-election bid in the primary, opening up the chairmanship.

Sens. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, and Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, also are not returning to the Legislature.

Possible successors to Goedde include Sen. Dean Mortimer, an Idaho Falls Republican who has served as vice chairman of the committee and was elected to his fourth term last month, making him the most experienced senator on the committee. Mortimer has also confirmed his interest in the position, saying “there’s an opportunity to make a significant difference in the educational community.”

Other potential candidates include Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, who served as chairman of the House Education Committee until he was elected to the Senate in 2012. Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, also amassed experience on the House Education Committee before jumping to the Senate and the Senate Education Committee.

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Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, the Senate’s highest-ranking Republican, will have the final say in who gets the body’s top post in education.

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Senate Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg

Hill said factors he will consider include lawmakers’ seniority and expertise on the subject. Even more so than in the House, seniority will be a factor in the tradition-conscious Senate, Hill said in an interview last week.

“I will consult with the leadership team, but when it comes down to it, the buck stops with me,” Hill said.

Hill didn’t tip his hand when it comes to the education chairmanship, but the decision could prove interesting. Mortimer also serves on the powerful Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee that sets the budget each year. Typically, members of the joint budget committee don’t serve as committee chairmen – a tradition Hill said was established to avoid putting too much power in the hands of a small group of lawmakers.

“There is not a rule, but it has been (that way) by tradition,” Hill said. “It may be something we want to look at this year.”

Hill and Mortimer are both Republicans hailing from eastern Idaho and have known each other for years. One other interesting footnote — two years ago, Mortimer launched an unsuccessful attempt to wrest the office of majority leader away from fellow Idaho Falls Republican Sen. Bart Davis – Hill’s top lieutenant and a major ally in the Senate.

House Education Committee

Chairman Reed DeMourdant, R-Eagle, and each of the 15 other committee members were all re-elected last month. That said, there could still be movement within the House Education Committee ranks come Thursday, especially if the House leadership team wants to find a spot for New Plymouth Superintendent Ryan Kerby, who was elected in District Nine last month.

Legislative activities actually kicked off today, when rookie lawmakers began participating in a three-day orientation session. There, they will learn the basics of campaign finance, interacting with lobbyists and the media, conflicts of interest and parliamentary procedure and legislative protocol.

On Wednesday night, members of both political parties in the House and Senate will meet separately – and in private – to elect leadership positions.

Hill said he expects himself, Davis and Assistant Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Boise, to retain their leadership seats without a challenge. He expects at least four senators to run for Fulcher’s vacant position of majority party caucus chairman.

In the House, Assistant Majority Leader Brent Crane, R-Nampa, has reconsidered and will not challenge Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, the Spokesman-Review reported.

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