State Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, was voted Senate minority leader Wednesday night in Boise when party caucuses met to elect new leadership.
Stennett was previously the Democratic caucus chair in the Senate, but said that being minority leader would mean being the “face and voice” of the minority caucus.
Stennett replaces Sen. Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello, who served as minority leader from 2010 to 2012 but did not run for re-election.
Stennett said that while she admires Malepeai, her style of leadership is likely to be quite different.
“He was very well respected,” she said. “[He had] a very different, silent and gently mentoring type of leadership. For me, I tend to sink my teeth into it a little more, and I tend to speak up about issues I feel passionately about. I think I have a more interactive style.”
Stennett will be joined by Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, as assistant minority leader. Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, replaced Stennett as minority caucus chair, and Stennett said she was glad to see two women on the leadership team this year.
“It’s the greatest thing,” she said. “I’m pleased to have Cherie as caucus chair. We have a really tremendous team this year—very professional with a lot of talent.”
While there are descriptions for each of the positions set out in Idaho code, Stennett said the leadership designates particular jobs to each person every year, and day-to-day responsibilities tend to be more informal.
Her responsibilities will include speaking engagements and working with majority leadership in the Senate as well as with Gov. Butch Otter to ensure that they understand the Democratic caucus’s position on any issue facing the Legislature.
“You take the first line of fire on anything,” she said with a laugh.
Stennett said the caucus chose her for the position because she has a good relationships with members of the Legislature on both sides of the aisle, and is in a good position to negotiate with them while representing the Democratic Party.
“We looked at [the leadership] as a team, and what I brought to the table is my relationships with the majority party and the House,” she said. “[Democrats] are lopsidedly underrepresented, so the only way you get anything done is to work with the other side. It’s good politics and good governing to work collaboratively with the other side, but ... it’s something we have to do anyway. You have to have that relationship, and I feel it’s a strength that I bring to the table.”
District 26 Rep. Donna Pence, D-Gooding, was elected as House Minority caucus chair on Wednesday as well, and said her job also will involve a lot of negotiation.
“A lot of it is keeping the caucus happy and organized,” she said, adding with a laugh, “It’s not a lot different from my teaching job.”
Pence, a former physical education and health teacher, has served in the Legislature for eight years, and said she felt it was time to step up in party leadership—especially when it comes to helping new House members navigate their first legislative session.
“A lot of it is being willing to lead them and give them information that they need, watch out for them and watch what they are doing and give them any advice I possibly can,” she said. “I know how things function. I sat back and watched, and watched Wendy [Jaquet, former representative for District 26], and now I’m ready to try my wings.”
Rep. Steve Miller, R-Fairfield, the newest District 26 representative, last week was appointed to the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee, as well as to the Resources and Conservation Committee. Pence will serve on the House Agricultural Affairs, Education, Resources and Conservation, and Ways and Means committees.
Stennett, who will serve on the Senate State Affairs and the Resources and Environment committees, said the district will be well represented in the upcoming session.
“We did come out being in pretty prominent positions,” she said.
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