New House Speaker Bedke's pioneer roots central to his worldview (cont.)

Dan Popkey
January 7, 2013
Idaho Statesman

THE 'IDIOT COWBOY'

Bedke said he has three avocations: gardening, golf and the Legislature. He's also a wisecracker.

Asked about Gatorade, Pepsi or water for his guests on a daylong ranch tour, he tells his wife, "They can drink from the trough."

A trampled fence? "Cows just jump over the moon in nursery rhymes." Four dead cattle? "Dog food."

On his first day in the Legislature - he was appointed to fill a vacancy just before the opening of the 2001 session - Bedke's wit got the better of him. The last person to speak in the Education Committee, he'd grown weary of what he considered unwarranted trashing of the K-12 system that had produced him and most of his colleagues.

"So, I introduced myself as a 'survivor' of the public school system, in a smart-aleck way," Bedke recalled. "I was immediately stereotyped: 'Who is this idiot cowboy you've sent us?'"

The Idaho Education Association targeted him for defeat in 2002 and 2004, unsuccessfully. He's still torqued about the incident, which prompted a 20-minute soliloquy in the cab of his pickup.

"I am a lot of things, but anti-education is not one of them," Bedke said. "No one has led their life, or tried to influence the lives of their kids, in a more pro-education way than I have mine."

At the time, Bedke responded by making himself an expert on No Child Left Behind, tangling with the Bush administration over Idaho's tweaking of the law and leading the budget committee's move to split the K-12 budget into five parts.

One bad experience didn't blunt his humor. "It's what I call the Bedke twinkle," said former Speaker Bruce Newcomb, a close friend who's also from Cassia County. "He's one of the brightest guys around, very compassionate and complex. In the back of his mind, he's got a puzzle and he's trying to figure out the solution."

Sometimes, Bedke's attention drifts; Newcomb said it's usually because he's working on his internal Rubik's Cube. "When he thinks the conversation's run to the end of its rope, that's where his mind goes," Newcomb said.

Bedke also said he's trying to give more succinct answers, rather than explaining watchmaking before giving the time of day. "I'm going to try to be less obtuse. I've been counseled to get to the point," he said.

SENDING A MESSAGE

Newcomb said Bedke signaled a major shift in appointing Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, as chairman of Ways & Means, known as "the speaker's committee." Under Denney, Anderson lost his vice chairmanship after complaining about the ethical lapses of tax-dodging former Rep. Phil Hart.

"What does that say? There will be none of this crap going on," Newcomb said. "He's in charge."

Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, backed Denney but retained his No. 2 post. Some observers say Moyle is itching to stab Bedke, but Moyle says that's nonsense: "He doesn't have to look over his shoulder at Moyle because Scott is my friend."

During six years as assistant majority leader, Bedke was sometimes viewed suspiciously for socializing too often with senators, including Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, and Finance Committee Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert. He even got the demeaning moniker, "the 36th Senator."

"He was invited because he was smart," said Cameron. "If people thought that changed his opinion or manipulated his thinking process, they were mistaken."

"Scott's his own man," Davis said. "Because of his skills, he's been able to influence the Senate to embrace things that were important to the House."

SEIZING THE MOMENT

Bedke's decision to challenge Denney came a year after a near-death experience in 2011, when a wall of stacked hay fell on him and the loader he was operating. "It was pilot error," Bedke said.

"He's pretty lucky he's alive," said Mike Munsee, a friend and livestock broker in Burley.

When Denney targeted Anderson, Cameron and four other GOP incumbents for defeat in the primary, Bedke decided his time had come.

"He wanted to distance himself," said Brackett. "There's no way to make a louder statement than what he did."

Bedke waved off public self-analysis, but said he will reform House practices, including establishing a standing Ethics Committee.

Most important, he said, is an inclusive culture where all viewpoints are heard.

"I believe if we all feel comfortable laying our cards on the table, we'll be able to make a better hand, if you will, that is superior to any of the hands we could have made individually," he said.

Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics

Originally posted at http://www.idahostatesman.com/2013/01/06/2402557/the-bedkes-stayed.html

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