House Democrats looking to shake up leadership team


Tom Schultz, director of the Idaho Department of Lands, told a legislative interim committee that investments from the endowment lands produced a record return in fiscal year 2014.

Though much of the focus of media coverage surrounding the Idaho Legislature in the past few weeks has been about potential shake-ups of Republican leadership teams in the House and Senate, Democrats in the lower chamber are also looking to make changes to their hierarchy as well.  Several members of the Democratic caucus are vying for top spots, though one post may be safe from opposition.

Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, served as minority leader in the past two years with Rep. James Ruchti, D-Pocatello, as the assistant and Rep. Bill Killen, D-Boise, as the minority caucus chair.  Rusche told IdahoReporter.com Monday that he isn’t aware of any lawmakers looking to challenge him for his post, though he expects several Democrats to push for the lower posts.

The assistant majority leader position was vacated by Ruchti who retired this year.  Rusche says that Rep. Elaine Smith, D-Pocatello, and Rep. Elfreda Higgins, D-Garden City, are lining up to fill the spot.  Smith confirmed her candidacy to IdahoReporter.com Tuesday and said that her work in her five previous terms qualifies her to serve in the spot.  She also says that if elected by her Democratic colleagues Wednesday, she will collaborate with Republicans to accomplish objectives on the party’s agenda.  “I’ve worked with Republicans in the past on getting legislation passed,” Smith explained.

Higgins believes her business background – she has a degree in business and has worked in the private sector for many years – will help reconstruct the party after Democrats lost five seats in the general elections held earlier this month.  “Our party needs some rebuilding,” explained Higgins.  “I think I’m the person to do that.”

The third-ranking position for Democrats has been held by Killen since 2008, but the Boise Democrat has decided not to run for re-election this time around.  “I think we need some new blood in there,” Killen said.  Rusche said that Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, and Rep. Brian Cronin, D-Boise, will compete for the post, but Killen declined to back either legislator.  “I’m not endorsing,” he explained.  “I’ll make my mind up when we vote.”

Cronin says that part of the reason he is pursuing the position is to show voters that the Democratic Party has young leaders who are willing to step up.  “I think it’s important that we have people who are up-and-coming in the party who are willing to assume leadership roles.”  Cronin says that because the Idaho Legislature is comprised of an older demographic, he isn’t sure younger Gem State citizens are having their interests represented.

King was unavailable for comment on her candidacy for the post.

Elections are set for Wednesday night in Boise for both parties.

Note: Picture used in conjunction with this story is from Rusche’s campaign website.

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The leadership team for Democrats in the Idaho House is set to change Wednesday, The leadership team for Democrats in the Idaho House is set to change Wednesday
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