Bringing the Economy Home

Power Brokers: Meet Five of Idaho’s Most Influential Legislators

We’ve been asking policy makers, news media and special interest groups, “Who are the Idaho legislators with the most influence?”  The list we came up with isn’t especially scientific.  But by and large, these names came up repeatedly.  That’s not surprising because each lawmaker who made our list is either a party leader or chairperson of a critical economic policy committee.

Brent Hill (R-Rexburg), Senate President Pro-Tem:

Brent Hill / Flickr

Senator Brent Hill joined the Idaho legislature in 2001.  His colleagues voted him President Pro Tempore at the start of the 2011 session.  It’s the Pro-Tem’s job to set the daily schedule of hearing bills on the Senate floor and to assign bills to committee.  The Pro-Tem and the Speaker of the House are the two people who can single-handedly control the discussion and debate at the legislature. Hill recently retired from his Rexburg accounting practice.  He says the key to economic growth in the state is maintaining a stable tax structure and providing a solid public education.  “For the most part, our legislature is very committed to our public education system,” Hill says.  “Our first priority is to restore some of the cuts that went to public education.  Our education is an investment in the economic future as well as the future of our citizens.”

Sen. Hill’s website lists some of his priorities which include education funding, maintaining a pro-business tax structure, protecting Idaho’s natural resources from “federal intrusion” and upholding family values, which for Hill includes rejecting abortion rights and gay marriage.

Lawerence Denney (R-Midvale), Speaker of the House

Molly Messick / StateImpact Idaho

Rep. Lawerence Denney was first elected to the Idaho Legislature in 1990.  He’s been Speaker of the House since 2006.  Being Speaker comes with a certain amount of power.  The Speaker can decide when or if a bill is debated.  He can choose which committee gets first crack at a piece of legislation, and he can determine the daily schedule of votes — all of which can be used very strategically at times.

Denney’s background is in agriculture, and he’s also a Vietnam veteran.  Rep. Denney believes in as little government as possible, and while he says on his website the legislature should do all it can to assure children get a good education, it’s up to parents not government, to make sure kids get that education.

Senator Dean Cameron (R-Rupert)

Courtesy of Dean Cameron

Sen. Dean Cameron made our list of most influential legislators because he chairs the Senate Finance Committee and co-chairs the Joint Finance Appropriations Committee or JFAC.  It’s where Idaho’s multi-billion dollar budget is created and shaped every year.

The last three legislative sessions are remembered mostly for budget cuts.  Cameron hopes the state has hit the bottom of additional cuts.  “We still won’t have enough money to restore everybody back to where they were,” Cameron says.  “There will be a philosophical debate between how much money should go toward restoration for agencies, how much should go toward reserves, and how much money should be used for economic development or tax relief.”

Cameron’s number one funding priority for the 2012 session is education, both K-12 public schools and colleges and universities.  When Cameron isn’t in Boise, he’s running his insurance agency in Rupert.

The Spokesman Review

Representative Maxine Bell (R-Jerome)

Rep. Maxine Bell chairs the House Appropriations Committee and she co-chairs JFAC with Sen. Dean Cameron.  She was first elected to the Idaho Legislature in 1988.  She’s currently serving her 12th term.

Rep. Bell says the state budget is always the overriding issue during any legislative session, whether the state is flush with cash, or facing budget cuts.  She says it’s always a challenge “trying to separate the needs from the wants and to apportion out the limited resources.”  Bell says, “It’s a difficult situation that we’re still in.”

Idaho State Legislature

Representative Dennis Lake (R-Blackfoot)

Rep. Dennis Lake was first elected to the Idaho Legislature in 1996.  He’s currently chairman of the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, commonly referred to as Rev & Tax.  That’s the place where all tax bills are required to start in the legislative process.  So if there is a proposal to raise the tobacco tax or lower the corporate income tax, Lake’s committee will get a first look at shaping the proposals into law and deciding whether the bill should move forward to the House.

Honorable mentions:

You may have noticed our list of Idaho’s five most influential legislators doesn’t include any Democrats.  Part of the reason is because Democrats don’t hold any majority leadership positions or committee chairmanships.  Democrats are far outnumbered in the Idaho Legislature. In the House there are 13 Democrats and 57 Republicans. In the Senate there are seven Democrats and 27 Republicans.

Still, two Democrats stand out as leaders in their own party: House Minority Leader John Rusche (D-Lewiston) and Senator Elliot Werk (D-Boise). 

Any list of influential lawmakers wouldn’t be complete without naming Idaho’s Governor,  Republican C.L. “Butch” Otter.  While the governor doesn’t have the authority to appropriate money, he has the power to veto any bill legislators send to his desk.

Editors Note:

We reported that Democrats in the Idaho Legislature do not hold any committee chairmanships, when in fact, Sen. Elliot Werk (D-Boise) is co-chairman of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee.


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