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OPINION: Speaker Moyle settles into new role

by CHUCK MALLOY/Guest opinion
| January 25, 2023 1:00 AM

After 15 years as House majority leader and 24 years in the Legislature, Rep. Mike Moyle of Star has taken one of the two most powerful positions in the Idaho Legislature — speaker of the House. And there is no shortage of role models for him to follow, having worked with three former House speakers.

Bruce Newcomb was known for his humor, but could be firm and decisive. Lawerence Denney, who recently retired as Idaho’s secretary of state, had a sense of calmness and gave considerable latitude to members of the leadership. Scott Bedke, Idaho’s new lieutenant governor, had expertise on almost all parts of state government — including budgeting.

What will people be saying about Mike Moyle when it’s over?

“Ah, they’ll probably hate my guts,” he said.

Maybe they won’t go that far, because Moyle is likeable and he leaves no one guessing about what he thinks — especially when it comes to taxes. His frankness will put him on the wrong side of his colleagues from time to time, but there is no question about his ability to work around (and through) the legislative process. That’s why he stayed on as majority leader for so long.

Now, he’s holding the gavel in the House — a position that he never really wanted. There’s a lot of administrative work and egos to manage, that goes with being the speaker. And, as he well knows, the speakership signifies a countdown to the end of a legislative career. Most likely, the 58-year-old Moyle will be out of there after two or three terms.

Moyle is the longest-serving member of the Idaho House, which reminds me about how much older I am. He was a 34-year-old freshman representative when I met him in 1999, soon after I came to the Idaho Statesman as opinion page editor. He dropped by the office at least a couple of times, probably to check out that “new guy” writing editorials. Later, I was communication adviser for the Idaho House during Moyle’s early days as majority leader.

In the beginning of his career, Moyle was brash and full of confidence — with no shortage of opinions about state government. Reporters generally liked him, because he’d say what he “really” thought, rather than what made good sound bites. Taxes were too high, spending was out of control and government was too big. Everything pretty much was black and white to Moyle in those days.

Then he advanced in leadership.

“There’s a lot of gray … there’s gray all over the place, and I hate gray,” he said, laughing. “There are two sides to every story, and that was a hard part for me to learn. Gray makes it tough, but there are areas that we can agree on and we need to focus on those areas.”

Of course, that’s easier said than done in a room full of legislators who see no gray beyond the color of suits.

Something else that he learned over the years was that success in the Legislature doesn’t mean hitting home runs. “Generally, if you swing for the fences, you lose. You need to work with everybody … and that’s what I’d like to bring back to Idaho. Back in the olden days, people didn’t have offices. They had to sit at their desk on the floor and look at each other — and they could work things out. You used to have a good debate, then go to lunch and it was no big deal. Now everything is personal. People don’t necessarily say the truth. Now, it’s all about the money — and I don’t care if it’s IACI or the Freedom Foundation — it’s all about money and control. We’ve gotten away from ‘let’s do something right for Idaho.’”

Moyle’s reign as speaker got off to a rocky start. He took away one of the two House seats reserved for Democrats on the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, then removed senior Democrats from private office spaces — putting junior Republicans in those offices. Recently, he received some criticism for plans to change the method for voting on budgets in the joint committee.

None of those actions went over well with Democrats, but Moyle says that in the end, “It will work out fine.”

Considering the scrutiny that comes with his new job, and controversy that is sure to come with legislation, things like office space most likely will be the least of Moyle’s worries as time goes.


Chuck Malloy is a long-time Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at ctmalloy@outlook.com.

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