Democrats acting like 2012 was a mandate

Watching the Fiscal Cliff debate it is hard not to get the feeling that Democrats feel like they won a mandate in 2012.  Barack Obama won 332 electoral votes and garnered almost four million more votes than Mitt Romney.  Senate Democratic candidates nationally won 55%-45% and House Democrats garnered just under a million more votes than the GOP.  Against this backdrop it is not hard to see why partisans on the Left would believe 2012 gave them a mandate.  But details to matter more than partisan’s personal beliefs.

Democrats only won two more Senate seats in 2012 and they only gained 8 House seats.  Of those 8 House seats almost all of them came in blue California and Illinois after redistricting.  At the Presidential level Obama won every swing states minus North Carolina but his wins in Ohio and Florida, where large swathes of the rich live, was hardly convincing.  Furthermore, in 2008 Barack Obama tied John McCain among those earning over $100K a year.  This year, Mitt Romney won every income group except those earning less than $50,000 a year.  Unfortunately for Romney and Republicans these voters made up 41% of the electorate and backed Obama 60%-40%.

Obama’s coalition, and by extension the Democratic coalition is not nearly as diverse or deep as Bill Clinton’s coalition.  Instead, Democrats relied almost solely on young and minority voters to carry them to victory.  Obama’s wins in Iowa, Wisconsin, Nevada, Colorado and Michigan while convincing were hardly overwhelming.  A mandate this does not make.  One does not have to dig deeply to see that Obama lost deeply among formerly traditional Democratic voters.  In the South, excluding Florida, he failed to carry a majority white Congressional District.  In the Midwest he was crushed in every state minus the swing states.  Again, a mandate this does not make.

In 2008 Barack Obama won an astounding 365 electoral votes and 70 million votes to McCain’s 60 million.  This year the President barely won over 61 million votes and fewer electoral votes.  In short, the President and Democrats may have had a better night on November 6th but this win surely did not provide a mandate.

Yet throughout the Fiscal Cliff debate the President and his liberal allies have acted like the election was a mandate to not only increase taxes on the rich but also push for more Stimulus spending.  Hush, don’t tell anybody but in 2011 the President said he would cut spending if given a second term.

As a starting point for the Fiscal Cliff talks Obama proposed no spending cuts and a massive $1.6 trillion tax increase on the wealthy and businesses.  By the way, basic economics 101 says any tax increase on a business indirectly is a tax on consumers as businesses simply pass on the costs to said consumers (including Obama’s core $50K and under supporters).  When Republicans balked at such a ridiculous proposal the President labelled them as obstructionist.

Little has changed from the President’s initial stance.  His latest proposal calls for a $1.4 trillion tax increase and he has promised to find $400 billion in cuts in the new year.  Republicans for their part know that defending the wealthy is a bad PR move but they are fundamentally opposed to raising rates on anybody.  Instead, the GOP has provided $800 billion  in new revenue through the elimination of high income and big business tax deductions.  For a President and his allies who believe 2012 was a mandate this is woefully inadequate.

The election gives Obama cover to pursue an ideological agenda of raising rates on wealthy individuals and business under the guise of fairness.  Republicans blocking his efforts are in a precarious situation as they lack a clear voice on what they would like instead.  Both sides seem locked into their positions and the Cliff looms closer and closer.  How this drama plays out remains to be seen but if Democrats continue to act as if 2012 was a mandate all Americans, even Democratic voters, will see their taxes go up, wages decrease and a sluggish economic recovery dip into another deep recession.  Perhaps in 2014 or 16 that will give Republican victors a mandate to govern after the short-term blame wears off and voters see Obama for what he is.  A purely partisan liberal President.

The Minority Problem for the GOP

With the 2012 election settled the pundits have had over a month and a half to blabber away on their conclusions about what the election results mean.  Time’s magazine with Obama as their “Man of the Year” is a perfect example.  According to Time he has reshaped the American political landscape and brought about a demographic and political shift in the country.  Apparently 2010’s interruption of this trend does not matter.  Others, many of them intelligent political strategists on both sides of the aisle, say that if the GOP does not make inroads with minorities, young voters and women the party is doomed to be a permanent minority party (outside of the House).

In a prior posts I have explained how the GOP’s issues with many voters run deep.  Among singles the GOP message of social conservatism does not resonate.  Among minorities the image of being a white-male dominated party does not endear itself to an increasingly young and diverse nation.  And for women, well, a staunchly anti-abortion stance makes the GOP ripe for attacks on the issue.

Yet if one digs through the numbers, at least in this election, one can see that the GOP’s issue with voters can really be lumped down to a problem with one growing group of voters, minorities.  Indeed, Romney won white voters 59%-39% but he lost all other voters (minorities) by over 60 points.  Even though whites were 72% of the electorate their distribution is smaller in swing states such as NV, CO, FL, etc. which Romney needed to win to take the White House.

Much of the GOP’s media hyped problems with singles, women and young voters can also be lumped down to their issues with the minority voters among these groups.  Romney did lose white single men and women but not nearly by as much as he did among single blacks, Hispanics and Asians.  Romney won white women 56%-42% but lost black women 96%-4% and Hispanic women 76%-23%.  Romney even managed to win 18-29 year old white voters 51%-44% but he lost 18-29 year old blacks, Hispanics and Asians by massive margins.

There is no easy fix for the GOP among these voters.  These voters have been ignored by the GOP since the 1980’s when it started to become clear that in the future they would be a serious electoral bloc.  Now that the GOP has been prevented the White House, twice, by these voters the party is finally taking them seriously.  But the issues the GOP has won on in the past seem to be the very issues these voters seem to have more nuanced views on.

Without a doubt the lack of a clear standard-bearer for the GOP post-Bush has hurt them among these voters.  In the campaign this damaged Mitt Romney before he even made it out of the primary.  Since GW’s exit from the White House these voters have been left with the notion that firebrands like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter, etc. are the ones that head the GOP of today.

As fast as it possibly can the GOP is trying to push 2010 victors such as Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) to the forefront of the what the party represents.  The election of 2010 represented the deepest diversity the GOP ever has had.  Hispanic Governors in New Mexico and Nevada were elected.  Indian-American Nikki Haley was elected in South Carolina.  In 2011 Bobby Jindal (R-LA) was easily reelected.  Even now the GOP is trying to bring more diversity to its Caucus with Nikki Haley’s nomination of African-American Congressman Tim Scott to replace Tea Party icon Senator Jim Demint.

But presenting an image of diversity is a far cry from actually winning voters on the issues.  The GOP has long ceded numerous issues like Healthcare and Education to Democrats.  On Entitlement programs the GOP is also seen as uncaring in its reforms among younger voters.  Even on national defense and security, the GOP’s bread and butter issue, they have lost their significant edge in trust among voters on the issue.  Only on taxes and fiscal issues does the GOP maintain a close edge with Democrats.

Younger voters are a different kettle of fish than older voters.  This presents the GOP with a difficult and yet possible way forward.  Embracing the issues that young voters care about, gay marriage, pragmatism on abortion, education reform, a reformed tax code and so on are the very things that might anger the party’s older, white base.  Yet if this election proved anything it is that these voters are becoming a much smaller share of the electorate.  For the GOP to survive in the new political environment they must embrace reform and change and aggressively push it.

In Wisconsin, Louisiana, Virginia, Michigan and elsewhere GOP Governors have been at the forefront of reforming their states.  In Louisiana,  Jindal has reformed his state’s pension and education systems.  In Virginia, Bob McDonnell has balanced the state’s budget and presided over a massive expansion of the state’s economy.  In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker fought back against unions and reformed the state’s education pension system.  In Michigan, Rick Snyder just made the state the nation’s 24th right to work state (Mitch Daniels and Indiana became the 23rd in 2011).

Pragmatic/intelligent governance and increasing diversity are not instant panaceas for the GOP among these voters.  The GOP has not only ceded issues to Democrats but it also has ceded the media and especially social media to the Left.  This means that younger voters have been inundated with Leftist messages and propaganda.  At some level, all these young voters have internally absorbed these biased views of the GOP and what it stands for.  Fighting these messages will not be easy for the GOP.  Nor will being labelled the party of white males no matter what the GOP does.  But the GOP must, lest it become irrelevant in the future.

Gun Control push could backfire on the Democrats

Several prominent Democratic lawmakers, most notably California Senator Diane Feinstein, have vowed to renew their push to reinstate the assault weapons ban in the wake of the horrific tragedy at Sandy Hook, CT.  However, the White House does not seem so keen to jump onto the bandwagon.  At a time when the nation is recovering from the horrific tragedy injecting politics into the debate would likely have disastrous consequences for the President and Democrats.  For Feinstein in deep blue California that may not matter but in the rest of the nation it does.

Certainly some conservative Democrats seem willing to risk their political futures on such a move.  But for the majority it seems they would rather have the issue go away.  And it would make sense.  Senate Democrats up this cycle in Romney states would surely like this issue to disappear.  Democrats in swing to moderate districts where gun control is a settled issue certainly do not want to fight a campaign dragged down by a national party advocating for renewed gun control efforts.

A number of notable liberal authors such as Nate Cohn, Steve Kornacki, and Jamelle Bouie have all argued that the politics of gun control are not damaging to Democrats.  Cohn cities the rise in urban and suburban areas where voters do not care much about guns as a reason for Democrats to renew the issue.  Kornacki echoes much the same sentiment.  Bouie argues that rural Democrats were willing to stick with Clinton in 1996 so why not have Democrats push the issue today?  Nevermind many Democratic Congressmen and Senators were wiped out in 94 partly in response to the Brady Bill and other gun control efforts pushed by Clinton.

But let’s leave the political repercussions of such a move by Democrats alone for a second.  According to data compiled by the FBI in the year 1992, the violent crime rate per 100,000 residents was 758.  BY this year that number had fallen to 386.  Between 2000 and 2009 use of firearms in violent crime had dropped from a rate of 2.4 per 1,000 to 1.4 per 1000.  Certainly in some years over these periods the rate has increased and dipped (think Columbine, 2000 or V. Tech, 2007) but the overall trends are to the downside.  So from a statistical standpoint the policy reaction to renew gun bans of any sort is inappropriate.

Now let’s move back to the political repercussions of such an action.  Gallup data from this year found that 45% of all Americans have guns in their homes.  The data also found that only 44% want stricter gun control laws while a majority, 54%, want the laws kept the same or made less strict.  In an October 2011 survey Gallup found that 60% wanted the current gun regulations strictly enforced and only 36% favored new legislation on regulating firearms.  Do Democrats really want to approach an issue with those kinds of numbers for their position?  Probably not.

Yet they may have to regardless.  President Obama has actually been fairly laissez-faire in terms of gun regulations.  He may see this as the perfect opportunity to reconnect with his base on the issue.  But many Democratic Congressmen and Senators who hail from red states or districts fear the repercussions of such an action.  Visions of 1994 and 2010 surely dance through their heads.

For future Democratic Presidential candidates having this be a front and center issue for the party could be a major issue.  Thinking short-term the best looking viable candidates for Democrats in 2016 look to be Governor Mario Cuomo (NY), Senator Mark Warner (VA) and Vice President Joe Biden (I exclude Hilary because she has not stated much preference to run one way or the other).  Short of Biden none of these candidates have pushed left on gun issues.  Rather they have been moderate politicians in a blue or purple state.  Having a national platform that emphasizes gun control could seriously jeopardize their claim to being right for the White House.

Here is how.  Liberal bloggers such as Cohn and Kornacki seem pretty assured that Democrats can still win national elections without the rural vote.  They may be right.  But the margin of error to do so would be much smaller.  Democrats do not overwhelmingly win the suburbs.  In fact the President owes his reelection to urban not suburban voters.  But if Democrats were to suddenly shift left on gun control they would be in danger of losing an even larger share of the rural vote.

Let’s look at how this could change the outcome in two key states.  In 2012 Obama won Wisconsin by six points.   The urban vote made up 26% of the electorate, suburbia 42% and rural areas 31%.  Obama won 69% of the urban vote, 47% of the suburban vote and, this is the biggie, 46% of the rural vote.  If Obama had seen his share of the rural vote drop down to 30%-35% Romney would have won the state easily. Wisconsin’s rural voters tend to be more moderate but staunchly pro-gun.  If the Democratic party moves left on the issue they could lose these voters.  Now let’s look at another state.  In 2012 Obama won Iowa quite handily.  He won urban voters easily, basically split the suburban vote and racked up 46% of the rural vote.  The rural vote made up an eye-popping 53% of the electorate in Iowa that year.  If Obama had not won 40% of rural voters he would have lost Iowa.  These two states illustrate how Democrats at the presidential level could feel the pain from pushing new gun control legislation.

Any renewed effort by Democrats to renew gun control legislation would not destroy their party.  But it could seriously weaken it going into 2016.  Looking beyond if current American migration and demographic patterns hold up the suburbs could become the new rural areas.  Many rural voters have already migrated to these areas.  So there is no guarantee that suburban voters care less about gun control than rural voters.

Democrats would be wise to consider that pushing gun control could backfire on them in the short and long-term at every level of governance.

Another GOP Issue: Singles

In a prior post I noted a little noticed survey conducted by Gallup about a month before the election.  It showed singles overwhelmingly supporting Obama and married men and women backing Romney.  In the end exit polls showed married couples backed Romney 56%-42% but singles went for Obama by a 62%-35% margin and among single women Obama won by an eye-popping 67%-31%.  The GOP has focused a lot on what it needs to do to attract Hispanics and other minorities to the party.  However, they would also be smart to consider how to talk to young, single women that live in urban areas and have very liberal social views yet can lean to the right on fiscal issues (see 2010 exit polls).

Most of the reporting of this result has likely been overstated.  According to the 2010 census there are more single women among Hispanics and blacks.  These groups went overwhelmingly for Obama meaning that Romney likely did better with single white men and women.  So in truth it is likely that the GOP’s issues with single women and men are tied to their struggles with minorities in general.  However, it cannot be overlooked in this election that Obama’s campaign completely outworked Romney’s campaign in reaching these voters.

Singles have never backed a Republican candidate for President since 1992.  Many credit Bill Clinton with turning young, single voters to the Democratic Party with a socially moderate and fiscally conservative message.  George Bush in 2004 did the best with these voters for any Republican since 1992, though this can likely be credited to his strong showing among Hispanics.   In 2008 Obama gobbled up these voters in the Democratic Primary and never looked back.  In 2012 his young, diverse coalition held together long enough to get him reelected.

Many of these young, diverse single voters are scattered in the major metropolitan areas of the country.  However, they also have trended to move to the suburbs and have likely helped make these places bluer than ever before.    In Pennsylvania for example, Romney won only one of the four suburban counties surrounding Philly (Chester).  Obama won three (Bucks, Delaware and Montgomery).  In Virginia Obama won the big DC suburban counties of Prince William, Fairfax and Loundon counties.  Even in North Carolina which Romney carried the only suburbs he won were those around Charlotte in the Southwestern region of the state.

It certainly did not help Republicans this cycle when Senate candidates like Richard Murdock (IN) and Todd Akin (MO) brought emotionally fueled comments about rape into the campaign discussion.  Romney’s campaign could never distance itself from these comments and Obama’s team skillfully used it to point out to singles how out of touch and crazy the GOP was.  Obama’s campaign hit Romney hard on his goal to repeal Roe vs. Wade and Romney’s campaign never had a good response to the allegations.  Eventually they faded into the campaign background but the damage was done.

For Republicans singles remain a major issue.  The party is socially right-wing yet many of these voters are left-wing on social issues.  On fiscal issues singles seem to favor some elements of fiscal conservatism but they also favor a social safety net the GOP thinks needs to be shrunk.  In 2010 (as mentioned above) the GOP won many singles on angst about the economy but in places such as Colorado and Nevada Democrats used social issues to win close elections.

Republican strategists continue to claim that these voters can still be lured to the GOP on fiscal issues.  But that is unlikely to be enough.  Former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels perhaps foresaw the results of this election when he famously said “We need a truce on social issues.”  That message did not play well in first in the nation caucus in Iowa.  Yet, when it came down to it he was probably right.  While many men focused on the economy as the top issue women said social issues topped their priorities.

For the GOP there does not seem to be a magic bullet to fix their issues with these voters.  Instead, it seems the best the GOP can hope for in the immediate future is a slight improvement with these voters.  However, if the GOP can find new ways to appeal to minorities their numbers with singles are likely to improve.  Until that time though the GOP will continuously have a narrow margin of error in winning the White House and a majority in the Senate (redistricting likely ensures them a House majority until 2020 minus a wave election).

What Michigan says about the state of organized labor

I don’t want to sound like a broken record here but what is happening in Michigan truly is amazing.  When tied into the Presidential election results, the ruckus in Wisconsin and Indiana becoming a right-to-work state it becomes astounding.  For perhaps the first time in decades, despite having a liberal Democratic President in office, Labor is on the retreat.  Just as in Wisconsin and Indiana they have vowed to fight back however.

In truth Michigan’s recent actions have been in the works since 2011 when two newly elected state Senators brought up the idea of right to work legislation.  That legislation went nowhere though as the state grappled with severe budget woes.  But despite stalled momentum Labor’s decision to push Prop 2 in 2012 which would have enshrined CBA rights in the state Constitution gave Republican legislators the unofficial support of the public and more importantly solid backing from the business community.  The business community had been sitting on the sideline of this possible fight until Prop 2.  With the stars perfectly aligned in Michigan for right-to-work it is little wonder why Governor Snyder had a change of heart and signed the law.

But the actions in Michigan point to a deeper issue for Labor.  An issue that Labor (at least in the private sector) has been dealing with for decades.  This issue, unsustainable wages and benefits while forcing companies to pay more and more, has come to a head since 2011.  Along the same lines to keep providing these benefits to its base labor has blocked entry into unions and actually helped create its own downfall.  It is striking that in the heartland of Labor country (ie. Midwest) they have been targeted for reforms from numerous states.

However, these reforms have been a bipartisan affair.  Since 2010 unions, public and private, have been targeted by both GOP and Democratic Governors.  In deep blue states in the Northeast such as NY and CT which have Democratic Governors unions have had to make deep concessions.  In states like Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and now Michigan they have seen what they perceive as their very existence threatened.  In Ohio they were able to beat this threat back but in Wisconsin, Indiana and now Michigan they were not.

Today Labor has many internal factions.  In the past Labor used to only represent blue-collar, industrial workers.  With the creation of the SEIU, the powerful Nursing Union and others that traditional union presence has disappeared.  Instead, you have numerous unions constantly vying with one another for an ever diminishing number of private sector members.  When unions are threatened however in any way these divisions seem to disappear and they respond with a vengeance.  Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio provide pertinent examples of this.

In Wisconsin starting in early 2011 Governor Scott Walker reformed CBA rights for public and private sector workers (excluding police and firefighters).  The backlash was fierce with protests and violence in Madison.  The union opposition culminated in several bitter election fights (State Supreme Court-mid 2011, recall of six sitting senators-summer 2011 and recall of Governor Scott Walker-June 2012) and Labor ultimately not getting its way.

In Ohio, Governor John Kasich went even further than Scott Walker and had his CBA reforms hit firefighters and policemen.  In 2011 the reform was put on the ballot through a statewide referendum and it fell with over 65% opposed.  Since then the legislature and Governor have been limited in their reform efforts.

Indiana went the furthest in its efforts.  Indiana’s turn to a right-to-work state has been a decade in the making.  Market and spending trends helped accelerate the process however.  In 2011, after opposition from Labor and Democratic legislators who fled the state (this tactic was employed in Wisconsin as well) a right-to-work law was passed and signed by Governor Mitch Daniels.

Unions recorded significant victories in 2012.  They helped reelect Barack Obama (or so the conventional wisdom holds), knocked out several controversial Republican public officials in Indiana and Ohio and helped Democrats make deep gains at the Congressional level in California.  They also helped Tammy Baldwin (WI) and Senator Sherrod Brown (OH) win their tough races.  However, in both CA and WI they saw their efforts to strengthen Collective Bargaining rights fall flat.

The media coverage of Michigan’s action has been mixed.  Fox News has covered it from the aspect of unions behaving as organized gangs.  The rest of the media (minus foreign media) has covered it has a political shock and been deferential to union protests (big shock).  But the one thing all the media coverage has agreed on is that Labor’s victories in 2012 did not scare GOP reformers nor change the fundamental problem unions face today.

Michigan points to the fundamental flaws of Labor today: a shrinking workforce, unsustainable benefits and wages for its members and its negative effects on business.  Even if we take the choice argument out of the debate which basically is that in a right-to-work state you have a choice not to pay dues to a union.  In a non-right-to-work state you do have to pay dues to a union whether you belong to it or not.  The economy and the public is changing, state budgets are shrinking, and reforming CBA rights is not the political no-no it used to be.  Michigan shows this and says a lot about the state of organized Labor in the US.

Michigan Republicans appear to be in for the fight of their lives

In early December Michigan Republicans appear to have stepped into the political fight of their lives.  Right after the 2012 elections ended Republicans began to make noise about passing right to work legislation.  Republicans, despite the loss of their Senate and Presidential nominees, were heartened by the fact that a strong union effort to get CBA rights enshrined in Michigan’s Constitution failed overwhelmingly.  To many Republicans this seemed to signal the state was ready for right to work legislation.

But is Michigan ready for right to work legislation?  Furthermore, are Republicans willing to take the heat from the action come 2014?  There is substantial evidence Republicans are willing to take the heat but little evidence on the former.  If Wisconsin, Ohio or Indiana prove anything to the GOP it is that unions will fight back and fight back hard and the public is fickle in its views.

At last count Michigan is the 5th most heavily unionized state in the nation with 17.5% of its workforce unionized.  Michigan, like Wisconsin, is home to the heart of the industrial union base.  However, in recent years union power in the state has waned as Republicans swept statewide executive offices in 2010 and took control of both chambers of the legislature.  Even before 2010 former Governor Jennifer Granholm (D) was urging unions to work with local and municipal governments to reform their pension and benefit plans.

In the recent 2012 election unions across the country scored numerous wins.  In Indiana which recently became a right to work state and reformed its education system the Superintendent of Education lost.  In Michigan and Ohio President Obama and Democratic Senate incumbents won.  In Wisconsin unions helped elect Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin (D) to the Senate (though the state Senate flipped to the GOP).

But despite unions bragging about their victories in 2010 Republicans seem more willing than ever to take them on.  In Michigan, where Mitt Romney lost to Barack Obama by almost 10 points, Republicans lost a mere four seats in the state House which left them with a solid majority.  In Ohio the GOP held onto both chambers of the Legislature.

Enter the GOP controlled Michigan legislature.  Since 2011 the legislature had been making noise about making Michigan a right to work state.  However, Governor Rick Snyder (R) was always non-committal about the idea and the major debates Wisconsin and Ohio seemed to suck the enthusiasm for passing such a law out of the legislature.  But after Republicans held the legislature enthusiasm was renewed.  Governor Rick Snyder has also had a change of heart and said he would sign such legislation when (not if) it reached his desk.

Unions have vowed to make Republicans lives (just as in WI) miserable and they got a head start on that Thursday and Friday.  As the GOP controlled legislature was passing right to work legislation before the weekend unions and political activists swarmed the state capitol building.  Not surprisingly, this had little impact on the legislature’s actions.

Taking a page from Wisconsin’s book the Michigan right to work legislation exempts firefighters and police unions.  In the Midwest these unions tend to lean or at least consider supporting Republicans for office.  In 2010 they threw their support and money behind Walker, Snyder and Kasich then worked to defeat Kasich’s CBA reform in 2011 when it did not exempt them.  This likely means Republicans will not face unified union opposition but the opposition will be fierce none the less.

In Wisconsin conservatives, libertarians and Republicans had a charismatic standard-bearer in Scott Walker to rally behind.  In Michigan Snyder is hardly a Scott Walker.  He is a policy wonk and a geek at heart.  He is nothing to look at but behind his eyes is the mind of a brilliant and pragmatic businessman.  His late conversion to supporting the idea also means he has not been advocating the idea since elected like Walker and Kasich (though Kasich’s idea fell flat) have.

Still, the idea in itself can unify support.  The union opposition is stiff and they likely saw something like this coming.  Unions spent north of a billion dollars in the last few years fighting CBA reform and right to work legislation in numerous states.  There is no sign they will not spend more to defend themselves, especially in a state such as Michigan.  Michigan Republicans opted to take this fight head on, gambling the public is with them.  Time will tell whether they were right or not.

What the Idaho GOP Legislative vote says about the upcoming session

On Wednesday night, December 6th of 2012, the Democratic and Republican Caucuses had their leadership elections for the upcoming session.  The Democratic Caucus elections were not startling or bring any surprises.  Democrats in the Senate (all 7 of them) chose Michelle Stennett-Ketchum to lead their caucus for the next two years.  Senators Eliot Werk and Cherie Buckner Webb round out the leadership team for the caucus.  As for the House Democrats they reelected John Rusche-Lewiston as their leader, Grant Burgoyne-Boise as their assistant leader and Donna Pence-Gooding as their caucus chair.

There were no surprises in the GOP Senate caucus appointments.  The entire leadership team, starting with Senate Pro Tempore Brent Hill were reelected.  Hill was unopposed for his position in the Caucus.  The results in the GOP House Caucus elections were completely different.  In what can only be called an upset, Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke-Oakley defeated three-tier speaker Lawrence Denney.  Mike Moyle-Star, the current Majority Leader, stayed put.

Denney’s tenure as Speaker in the House stands in stark contrast to prior speakers such as Bruce Newcomb and Mike Simpson.  Both Simpson and Newcomb cultivated relationships with every member and had a more easy-going leadership style.  By contrast, Denney exerted more control than any other speaker in recent history.  The list of deeds that Denney has done to anger some in his party goes back to 2010 when he deposed Rep Eric Anderson-Priest Lake as a vice committee chairman for calling for an ethics investigation into former Rep. Phil Hart’s tax returns (Hart lost in the 2012 primary).

In the same year, at the closing of the session, Denney turned heads when he removed two moderate (being relative here) committee chairmen, Tom Trail-Moscow and Leon Smith-Post Falls, from their leaderships posts and put younger more leadership friendly lawmakers in their place.

It does not end there.  In 2011, Denney was unhappy with the way the redistricting committee drew his new district’s lines and appointed his own Commissioner, former Rep. Dolores Crow-Nampa, to the Commission.  The move was later declared illegal by Secretary of State Ysursa and he had to withdraw his appointment.

However, nothing compares to Denney using funds he had collected from party members to try to defeat a number of incumbents seen as hostile to him, including majority Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts-Donnelly.  However, almost all those lawmakers decided and it is safe to say many probably voted against Denney as Speaker.

So what do these elections say about the upcoming session?  They do not signal a more moderate legislature in the upcoming session but it does likely signal a less antagonistic Speaker in the upcoming session.  Furthermore, Bedke has worked well with Moyle in the past and Moyle has seemed content the last few cycles to stay in his role as second in the Caucus.  A more unified, if not ideologically divided, Caucus that feels the environment is more conducive to governing would benefit the state.

The election of Bedke could set off an interesting scramble for Committee Chairs and appointments.  There will be at least 30 new faces in the House this year compared to four in the Senate.  These new members in the House may feel like they can get plum Committee positions with a new Speaker at the helm.  More moderate members may feel they now have a better shot at winning Committee positions.

Then there is the open question of what happens to Denney.  According to the Idaho Reporter, not since 1921 has a Speaker of a Party that has been ousted stayed in the Chamber.  Denney still has many friends within the Caucus and a reportedly good relationship with Hill.  But the bridges he burned by his actions may haunt him.

This is not to say anything bad of Denney.  Everybody has their leadership style.  Perhaps analysts and journalists and yes even Republican members of the legislature became used to the more relaxed leadership styles of Newcomb and Simpson.  Denney was simply somebody different.  But Bedke’s election does not signify the legislature will be any less conservative.  Their agenda for the session says it all: look at eliminating the personal property tax, voting on a state Healthcare exchange, reforming education while cutting spending.  These three priorities are sure to clash with Governor Otter’s and the minority party’s agenda.

Ultimately, what did these elections say about the upcoming session.  Just like the last few, hold on to your britches, this is going to be a wild ride.