Idaho House GOP leaders put the ‘fun’ in dysfunction

By Lauren Necochea
Idaho Democratic Party Chair

Lauren NecocheaFor democracy to work, elected leaders must have the freedom to act in the best interest of their constituents. This bedrock principle is now being severely undermined by Idaho’s House GOP leadership. We’re seeing historic levels of strong-arming around votes behind closed doors and harsh punishment for dissent. With the Idaho House looking more like the dysfunctional U.S. House of Representatives, there are harmful repercussions for Idahoans.

At the heart of the conflict is our Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee. The committee’s recent departure from our decades-old budget-setting process consolidates power in the hands of a few people. The committee co-chairs are ramming through skeletal budgets they constructed without study and input from other committee members. Skeletal budgets leave out critical investments like raises earned by educators through Idaho’s teacher career ladder, the LAUNCH scholarships propelling young Idahoans to in-demand careers and certain transportation funds. While the co-chairs claim they will go back and plug budget holes, services are now at risk.

The first House vote on a skeletal budget was a test case. The bill passed 38-31 (with all 11 Democrats opposed), showing many Republicans objected to the new budget-setting scheme.

That’s when the hammer came down.

The next day saw an unprecedented vote on the House Floor in support of Speaker Moyle. The motion “to retain the speaker” received unanimous “yes” votes because no one was willing to fall into the trap of expressing disloyalty publicly. The Legislative Services Office couldn’t find any other instances of such a motion in state history.

Immediately after, in a private caucus, House Republicans ousted the first female majority leader because she was among those opposing the new budgeting scheme. Research turned up only one other instance of a leadership change in the middle of a session, which occurred when a Senate leader was battling cancer.

By making a historic example of the majority leader, the speaker sent a chilling message about the consequences of dissent. Skeletal budgets for different agencies are now zooming across the House Floor. Almost all pass on party-line votes, signaling Republicans are under immense pressure to toe the line.

This budget scheme has given Speaker Moyle the singular power to block second-round funding bills that plug budget holes. It won’t matter what the Legislature as a whole wants because he can prevent votes from even taking place. And the speaker is on the record opposing LAUNCH scholarships, Medicaid services, and other crucial investments that make life better for Idahoans.

The stakes are high, and the need for a government that faithfully represents the people is more crucial than ever. Idaho Democrats will continue to vote our conscience and defend a strong, transparent democracy.