Idaho Sen. Schmidt on when not to pick a fight

Sen. Dan Schmidt is among four Democrats on the 20-member Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee who won praise from the committee’s GOP co-chairs, Sen. Dean Cameron of Rupert and Rep. Maxine Bell of Jerome, in my story Sunday about the heightened influence of Democrats in 2013.

Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow,

Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow

I wasn’t able to use an anecdote from Schmidt and his colleague, Sen. Roy Lacey, D-Pocatello. But I like it a lot, so here’s one from the vault:

Schmidt was making the point that outnumbered Democrats need to reach out to the majority party and not unnecessarily tick them off. Early in JFAC’s deliberations this year, the committee Democrats had decided to accept a 3 percent growth target for fiscal 2014 budgets.  Democrats feared some Republicans would seek to undercut the figure. When he learned the majority would back 3 percent, Schmidt recalled, “I was just ecstatic.”

Schmidt had prepared to make another motion in committee, echoing the 3 percent budget growth target, but affirming the 5.3 percent revenue growth projection produced by the Legislature’s Economic Outlook and Revenue Assessment Committee. The motion would have no practical impact, but would reflect the Democrats’ rosier outlook about the economy.

After Bell made the GOP-backed motion for 3 percent growth, the plan was for Schmidt to follow with the Democratic alternative. Schmidt, however, remained silent.

“I thought, it’s the same number,” Schmidt told me last week. “Why do we want to pick a fight with Maxine and Dean when we’ll get the same thing out of this? All we’re doing is making a point. And we’re picking a fight to make a point. I’m sorry, let’s not do it.”

Afterward, Schmidt said the senior Democrat on JFAC, Rep. Shirley Ringo, also of Moscow, confronted him. “Shirley was mad as hell at me. And I said, ‘Shirley, we gotta be careful about the fights we pick.’ Over time, that’ll wear people down.”

Sen. Lacey said that early signal of collaboration helped the Democrats boost their influence as budgets were set.

“That started the tone and we carried that tone through the whole time,” Lacey said.

Ringo declined comment.




Dan Popkey came to Idaho in 1984 to work as a police reporter. Since 1987, he has covered politics and has reported on 25 sessions of the Legislature. Dan has a bachelor's in political science from Santa Clara University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association and a Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. A former page in the U.S. House of Representatives, he graduated Capitol Page High School in 1976. In 2007, he led the Statesman’s coverage of the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho’s troubled real estate development in Boise. Dan helped start the community reading project "Big Read." He has two children in college and lives on the Boise Bench with an old gray cat.

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