Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Idaho Democratic lawmakers elect leaders

The Idaho Democratic Legislative Caucus elected new leadership at its organizational meeting in Boise tonight. Clint Stennett (D-Ketchum) remains Senate Minority Leader while former House caucus chair John Rusche (D-Lewiston) was elected House Minority Leader. In addition to Stennett, the Senate leadership will include Kate Kelly (D-Boise) as assistant minority leader and Elliot Werk (D-Boise) as caucus chair. In addition to Rusche, the House leadership will include James Ruchti (D-Pocatello) as assistant leader and Bill Killen (D-Boise) as caucus chair.

Meanwhile, longtime House Minority Leader Wendy Jaquet begins a new chapter in public service as a member of the Joint Finance Appropriations Committee. Jaquet (D-Ketchum) became House Minority Leader in 1998. During her decade in the job, she increased the size of the caucus, established a year-round caucus operation with a professional staff member, started the popular statewide “Pizza and Politics” series and helped build the Democratic brand across the state. But she has been interested in JFAC since her first run for the legislature in 1994, and she said the time is right to move into that role.

“JFAC, with key members of both the Senate and House, wields enormous power in the state, deciding which agencies and programs receive adequate financing and which are left to struggle,” said Jaquet. “These funding decisions are critical to the success of many issues that concern us all, and I'm looking forward to this new challenge.”

Leaders Stennett and Rusche are also members of the bipartisan Legislative Council. Joining them will be Kate Kelly and Nicole LeFavour from the Senate and Anne Pasley-Stuart and Donna Pence from the House. Here are brief biographies of each lawmaker in leadership:

Clint Stennett (Senate Minority Leader) – Raised on a dairy farm in southern Idaho, Stennett attended the College of Southern Idaho and graduated from Idaho State University with a degree in journalism and a minor in marketing. He owned and operated several media companies in the Wood River Valley, where he has lived since 1979. He is one of the founders of the First Bank of Idaho and served as a director of the Ketchum/Sun Valley Chamber of Commerce for nine years. Currently representing the four northern Magic Valley counties as State Senator, Stennett was recently elected to his 10th term in the Idaho Legislature.

Kate Kelly (Assistant Senate Minority Leader) – A 22-year resident of District 18, Kelly was a manager at the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality and served six years as a deputy attorney general before her 2004 election to the State Senate. She is a graduate of the University of Idaho College of Mines, the University of Utah College of Law, Boise State University’s Program for Management Development and the Program for Emerging Political Leaders at the University of Virginia Darden Graduate School of Business Administration.

Elliot Werk (Senate Caucus Chair) - A member of the Idaho State Senate since 2003, Werk has served on the education, health and welfare, local government and taxation, commerce, and finance committees. Werk is the president of the Borah Neighborhood Association and is very active in quality of life issues in Boise and the Treasure Valley. He also serves as board chairman of The Friendship Clinic, a free medical clinic located on the Boise Bench.

John Rusche (House Minority Leader) - Born in Wisconsin, Rusche is an engineering graduate of Notre Dame and the medical school at Washington University in St. Louis. Drs. John and Kay Rusche started practice at Valley Medical Center in Lewiston in 1980. In 1995, Rusche moved to BlueShield of Idaho (now Regence) as Medical Director, retiring in 2006 as the Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer for Regence BlueShield of Idaho and Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Utah. His community involvement includes the United Way, Lewis-Clark State College Artist Series, Northwest Children’s Home, and CASA (Court Appointed Child Advocates). He was elected to the Legislature in 2004 and ran unopposed for reelection in 2006 and 2008.

James Ruchti (Assistant House Minority Leader) – A West Point graduate, Ruchti graduated from served as an Army military intelligence officer from 1993-98 before being honorably discharged as a captain. While in the military, Representative Ruchti served in Germany, Arizona, Georgia and Kuwait. He graduated from law school in 2001 at the University of Idaho and currently practices law with Cooper & Larsen, Chartered, a law firm in Pocatello. Ruchti was elected to the Idaho House of Representatives from Bannock County in 2006 and re-elected in 2008.

Bill Killen (House Caucus Chair) – A Northwest native who grew up in Washington and Oregon, Killen attended Stanford University on an ROTC scholarship. He served four years in the U.S. Navy, then went to work for Hewlett Packard while earning a master’s degree in electrical engineering and administration at Stanford. He later attended law school at the University of Idaho, then settled in McCall, where he practiced law for 28 years and served on the City Council and as mayor of McCall. He also served on the Idaho Personnel Commission from 1987 to 1993. Killen moved to Boise after his retirement and was elected to the Legislature in 2006.