Two lawmakers from north central Idaho hope to have greater say on education and/or transportation issues following the Legislature’s upcoming organizational session.

The Dec. 3 meeting is when lawmakers get their seating and office assignments for the next two years.

More importantly, it’s when membership on the various House and Senate committees is determined, and when coveted committee chairmanship assignments are made.

Adding to the intrigue this year, several key chairmen chose not to run for reelection. That includes Rep. Gary Collins, R-Nampa, chairman of the powerful House Revenue and Taxation Committee, as well as Senate Education Chairman Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, and Senate Transportation Chairman Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson.

The turnover on the two Senate committees creates an opportunity for Sen. Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville.

He currently serves on both the education and transportation committees — including being vice-chairman on transportation — and has asked to be considered for the vacant chairmanship post for either committee.

“My whole goal is to try and be an effective voice for north Idaho, not just a loud voice,” he said.

Sen. David Nelson, D-Moscow, also serves on the Transportation Committee — a seat he’d like to retain — and hopes to secure one of the two Democratic seats on the Education Committee as well.

“I’m not an education expert, but with my business experience, I know how to manage systems without micro-managing people,” he said during a recent interview. “And education really is such a core mission for the state. Too many Idahoans enter the workforce as low-income earners. Education is the pathway out of that.”

Having multiple lawmakers from one area on the same committee doesn’t necessarily guarantee that they’ll wield greater influence, but if they work well together, it certainly doesn’t hurt.

That’s been the case in recent years, for example, with the joint budget committee, whose membership includes Crabtree; Rep. Caroline Troy, R-Genesee; and Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston. They’ve been able to at least partially shield Lewis-Clark State College from some onerous budget cuts, as well as advancing the interests of the University of Idaho.

Although it’s unusual for committee chairmen to concurrently serve on the joint budget committee, Crabtree said he hopes to accomplish that feat this coming session.

Doing so, he said, would allow him to “have an extremely strong voice in a subject area.”

The last lawmakers from north central Idaho to serve as committee chairmen include Johnson, who headed up the Senate Taxation and Local Government Committee for two years, and House Agricultural Affairs Chairman Tom Trail.

William L. Spence may be contacted at or (208) 791-9168.

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